Freedom to Waste

I got an email this morning and it appears that it’s my lucky day, Not only have I won the UK lottery but a barrister in South Africa has a client with an enormous estate who has left me millions. This makes total sense to me being that the deceased gentleman had no living relatives, so it seems perfectly natural that I would be next in line to inherit his money. I also found out this morning that a company called FedEX Couriers has a package that they’ve been trying to deliver to me. I suspect that this box might also contain cash.

These things are funny and relatively easy to delete from my in-box but there’s still some sort of energy I have to exert to do so. A few spam emails are fine—but hundreds can seem exhausting, even though it’s more mentally exhausting than physically so. Still, even though I know it’s junk mail, I must have a vitamin deficiency because I actually read some of them and get my hopes up. I know it’s crazy but I seriously do get a little excited. My gullability is lessening somewhat having read dozens but I still fall for it for a split second. I know what you’re thinking: I am a chump. And I admit it—it’s pathetic! But then I think, who knows, maybe there is a package of cash waiting for me. It could happen. Couldn’t it?

In between reading my morning spam and trying to figure out how to reduce the energy exerted in deleting all of them, I’ve been thinking about a sustainability competition. The focus is on concepts that address air, water or energy improvements. It’s sponsored every other year by the Japanese Design Foundation (www.jdf.or.jp/eng/) and I try to have my product design company enter whenever we have an interesting product idea that relates to the theme that year.

It’s a very competitive design competition and although we’ve never won, a couple of years ago we were close to qualifying with an energy monitoring concept. So, I was thinking about that and brainstorming about possible new ways to reduce energy consumption. And I started thinking that you only really hear about very specific kinds of energy waste: cars, batteries, light bulbs, coal power plants, appliances, etc.

But what about all of the other kinds of wasted energy that happen around us everyday? Like deleting emails. Or like working out. About nine years ago Michael DiTullo and I created a concept for a competition which was a fitness center that harnessed all of the wasted energy expelled in fitness centers. It takes energy to move weights and run on a treadmill and that energy comes from the food we eat. That food takes energy to produce. Could it be seen as a waste of time and energy to grow, ship and package food that’s eaten to excess only to be intentionally burned off? Perhaps I’m thinking like this because I really hate working out but still, I wonder what the energy savings would be if we all consumed just enough food to go on with our daily life, but not a calorie more.

I started to think about other kinds of energy waste like creating, emailing, reading and deleting spam. And certainly junk mail being carried by the mailman fits the description. And what about newspapers? Does anyone still do recreational “Sunday drives”? For that matter, why is there still petroleum-powered racing? What would the impact be if we all agreed to not cut down Christmas trees for a few years and just planted new ones? Imagine the energy savings. It seems like to me that the only way to change these things is to take away some freedom. Freedom to cut trees, send spam and eat too much.

Okay, taking these things away is going to annoy and offend people, but what about some changes that are less confrontational? So I put down my coffee and wonder why is it that I can’t seem to remember to bring a reusable cup to Dunkin Donuts? I mean seriously what is my problem? Can you imagine how much energy has been wasted to make me a new cup every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and deliver to me? Maybe they could stop giving away cups and make it so only people with their own cups could get coffee. No cup, no coffee. Is that crazy? It seems like it would be simpler for me to just remember my cup but experience tells me that this is as likely as being able to stop people from sending me spam.

Everyone agrees that changes are need. But would people accept it if their disposable cup privileges were taken away? I think not. No one wants to deal with an angry mob who hasn’t had their cup of coffee in the morning.

  1. chrisp

    I say take the disposable things away as fast as possible! People will adapt, and quickly. If we continue to give them excuses they will continue to just throw things away, when in fact it is easier and less expensive to reuse.

    Prime example is Trader Joes food store… they don’t bag groceries in disposable plastic bags, only recycled bags. People actually remember to bring bags from home and fill them at the checkout line (imagine that) and the store in East Sacramento is always packed with people.

    Now if they can just reduce the packaging the food comes in… that is the biggest problem of waste!

    Or maybe reduce household trash pickup to once a month. Then people will be forced to reduce the trash or it will pile up. This would be a cost savings to the community.

    But the end all will be to start charging people for use of disposable items. It will pay for the disposal of that item. People would end up looking at products in a completely different light, not how convenient it is but how much it will cost to dispose of the packaging

  2. Anne Karine

    My biggest peeve when it comes to excessive packaging…are “bulk” products that are just a bunch of fully-packaged regular size items tossed into yet another box.

    As for reducing trash pickups to once a month…I don’t think that would work. There are plenty of people who would set out their garbage anyway, and then it would end up allover the community.

  3. Concetta

    I’ve oft wondered that about fitness centers myself. Think of how much power we could generate by ourselves. I think it would be motivating to see the power meter go up as we struggle to run that last mile or climb the last ten stairs.

    Regarding disposables, I think Aldi and Ikea have proved that given the opportunity to bring your own bags or pay 10 cents each, people would rather bring their own. I think its impossible to eliminate ALL of them, but I think eliminating the useless ones would be a good idea. Why does the convenience store try to thrust a bag on me when all I bought was a bottle of water? Or CVS when I’m buying a water and a bag of chips? If I’m buying a slice of pizza at the corner pizzeria, why do I need a togo container AND a plastic bag? These things could SO easily be eliminated. In fact, many times the clerks now ASK me if I want a bag, which is a good start.

    I think with coffee, though, a small charge for a disposable container would take care of it. Most people would use rather reuse their Starbucks mug than pay for a cup.

  4. Steven Earl Salmony

    Freedom to steal.

    Billions are paid in bonuses and bailouts to the “wonder boys” on Wall Street. Precisely what have these self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe been doing for billion dollar year-end paydays?

    Yesterday we found out.

    In recent years “the brightest and best” have perfected the rule-making governing the manipulation of ‘free’ markets and the institutionalization of fraudulent financial instruments and business models.

    What still mystifies me is this: What have these heirs of Ozymandias done in 2008 to merit this self-enrichment? More manipulation and more fraud for more ill-gotten gains, I suppose.

    What can done for the benefit of the human community to put right this massive wrongdoing?

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  5. Aaron Szymanski

    Steven, For me the worst thing about the bail out is that we elected the people that are allowing it to happen and yet we blame the people getting the money. My kids ask for things all the time and if I give it to them is it their fault they have too much? I think we should accept responsibility for and believe that until we do it will be difficult to hold the people we elect responsible for anything.

  6. nikki

    I too have emails from all over the world telling me how a rich texan has left me all his money. A friend got one from Spain too which asked for her bank details before they gave her any money…I said NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…luckily she didnt send off her bank details…phew

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