Planned Obsolescence

A reader kindly sent me a link to the documentary “Planned Obsolescence”.  You can watch it here http://archive.org/details/PlannedObsolescenceDocumentary.

Did you know that in Livermore, California, there is a light bulb that has been burning since 1901 continuously?  Apparently there was a light bulb conspiracy in which bulb manufacturers all agreed as a cartel of sorts that bulb life should be set at 1,000 hours to drive consumption of the product.

Apparently, many printers have a small chip in them that pre-sets the number of prints the machine will make before it just shuts down.  A Russian programmer has developed free-ware that can be downloaded to reset the counter.

Lots of interesting snippets.

Watch the documentary for discussion on the evolution of planned obsolescence and the growth society.  Also amazing to see the shipping containers of e-waste (obsolete computers and other electronics) that are shipped to Ghana for dumping using the loophole of the dumping developed countries declaring the goods as “second hand” and somehow bridging the electronic divide.  The images are quite shocking.

Here in Fiji, there are container loads and container loads of second hand clothing that are sent here for sale.  Often the price of the clothes second hand is more than the original new price in the developed country.  I suspect that a lot of the stores selling these goods which look like they have been thrown away, rather than donated, are set up as “Charitable Organisations” which saves thousands of dollars on sea freight.  I have yet to see any chartiable works that they are involved in.

I also wonder how Fijian people got conned into the mindset that you must wear old and worn out Western clothing, purchased at a price that financially disadvantages the family, to be appropriately dressed.  For example, the other day I wanted to buy a long sleeve Tshirt as it is a bit cool in the evenings here.  I found a black really old one that looked worn and comfortable.  Perfect!  I thought.  I can wear it after my bath and pad around the house and wear it to bed.  The cost was $7.99 Fijian dollars.  I declined to buy it saying that the new price for the product at Kmart in Australia was $4 (I know because I bought the exact shirt last year).  I was then asked what I wanted to pay for it.  I said I would only think it was worth $1.99 at the most.  I was sold the top at the price of $1.99.  I wasn’t trying to haggle, just that $7.99 is a lot when many people in Fiji earn $10 a day.

Second hand clothing shops are everywhere here, even at the roadside.  It would be interesting to see how many were operating as Charitable Organizations, and how much of their income is spent on charitable causes.  I am fairly certain that there is little regulation after the license is granted to sell second hand goods.  Many shops also sell New Zealand and Australian second hand white goods and televisions.  These items appear to me that they have been picked up off the side of the road at Council Clean Up and then shipped to Fiji for profit, with no concern about whether they are in working order, or electrically safe.

I was thinking last night about how big companies have sought to and been successful in making the shift from proprietary ownership of their waste with declarations on their bottles such as “This bottle always remains the property John Walker & Sons Ltd”, or “Property of Coca Cola Bottling Company”, and shifting the ownership and onus of disposal to the individual consumer who purchased both the bottle and the contents.

IMGP8344

Market, Nakasi, Fiji

I am trying to bridge the disconnect in my mind about how companies can produce so much waste and be flippant about its disposal or re-use,

IMGP8503

PET bottles seem to spew from a drain in Nakasi, Fiji. Actually the drain is just near the bus stop. There are two big supermarkets at that bus stop, MH and RBPatel. Neither of them have recycling facilities.

or even as is the case with companies I have been dealing with, being very defensive and secretive about what other kinds of waste they produce that they still “own” such as waste sugar sludge from bottling plants in developing nations.

As I prepare myself to take on the bottlers and effectively force them to re-engage and collect their waste here in Fiji, I guess that one of the things that has made me want to do so much research in advance is the bewilderment I feel regarding

the attitude of the producers of the waste and their complete disinterest in the mayhem it is causing.

Thank you so much to all readers who are sending through information and suggestions, and please keep sending them through.

Currently I am involved with a committed group and there is a movement to make the first plastic bag free town in Fiji.  Part of being able to make this successful is for me to have a fuller understanding of why, as consumers, we have become so invested in the concept that we have a right to plastic, and a right to purchase an item that is meant for single use, is discarded immediately, but lasts forever.

In the film, one Ghanian researcher is building a data base of company asset tags found on the discarded and dumped e-waste with a plan to use the data base to force social responsibility on to those companies.  One man, working alone, in his house in Ghana, best wishes to him.

 

Advertisements

For ever-ever? This bottle always remains the property of John Walker & Sons Ltd

Johnnie Walker Scotch Whiskey bottle with
the words embossed on the side –
“This bottle ALWAYS remains the property of John Walker & Sons Ltd”

As I have been redefining in my mind what rubbish really is, what is the point of all the plastics in the world and why are individuals taking on the huge responsibility of creating awareness in so many ways, I started to think that maybe the shift has occurred due to many large producers almost shoving ownership rights from themselves to the individual consumer.  Individuals like the researchers who made the documentary film Plasticized.  Individuals who take a science/art spin and try and re-jig human awareness such as Natalie Jeremijenko (click here to watch her presentation on “The Art of the eco-mindshift”).  Individuals who have founded organizations or just have countless blogs and twitter accounts.

How and why has the responsibility to clean up from a commercial venture devolved to the individual?

My thoughts were taken back to a few years ago when we lived in a house adjacent to a forest park in Queensland, Australia.  If you went through a gate in the back fence, you were in the forest.  After heavy rains, the dry watercourse turned into a torrential creek, or small river.  After one such downpour, a few days after the roar of the water subsided, we ventured down to the creek to investigate.  The flood had uncovered the spot where the residents from 50 years ago had disposed of their rubbish.  We found shards of old plates with designs from around the Post War period, parts from old automobiles, old enamel basins, and many glass bottles: medicine bottles, face cream jars, soft drink bottles, and whiskey bottles.  Some old depression glass also.

Some of the bottles were intact, but most were somehow broken with the sturdier portions weathered by the creek, and of great interest to us as a family for some reason.  We collected them all and went on little picnics with our friends to collect them in buckets, wash them nicely and arrange them.  We talked about them.

One ongoing family joke was that on so many of the old bottles, still clearly visible were the signs of everlasting stewardship and ownership.  So much of the glass fragments we found said things such as “THIS BOTTLE ALWAYS REMAINS THE PROPERTY OF JOHN WALKER & SONS LTD”.   We used to joke about it: “Always? Really? You still want it back? Even this piece?” and so on depending on the lightness of our mood.  It was a great way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I did some research today and it appears that those kind of bottles were produced in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Is it really true that Johnnie Walker still wants them back?

I looked today out of curiosity on a rum bottle from Bundaberg Rum that I found in a rubbish dump in Fiji that we use as a candle holder for any similar signs of ownership.  None.  Just “Established 1888”.  Obviously, the producers do not want it back.  Ownership of the bottle has passed to the consumer.

I checked on a sample of the hundreds of PET plastic bottles that I have amassed in our garage over the past two weeks from an area less than a city block.  No signs of ownership at all – blank.  The debate is raging in various parts of the world as to whether container deposit legislation is good for the environment.  In the Northern Territory in Australia, Coca Cola Amatil was originally successful in blocking the legislation, but the decision has since been overruled.  For updates on the subject see http://www.cleanup.org.au/au/Whatelsewesupport/why-do-we-need-a-container-deposit-legislation-.html

Fiji is also considering container deposit legislation.  This possibility is the reason Coca Cola Amatil Fiji gave me for not being able to provide any public place recycling bins (at all, anywhere).

Property of Coca Cola Bottling Company

Even Coca Cola has shrugged away from declaring ownership.  Coca Cola bottles used to be embossed with the words “Property of Coca Cola Bottling Company”, but no longer.  Therefore, cleaning up the bottles they produce now and that choke the environment is also a problem that they no longer wish to, or can be made to, take ownership of.  As the individual consumer is now understood (both implicitly and explicitly) to be the owner of the bottle, the individual is now shouldering responsibility of cleaning up the millions of bottles produced each year.  Individuals are normally powerless unless they are in a sphere of influence.  This seems to suit the manufacturers very well, as it is also relatively easy to stamp out fires of discontent regarding the environment that are individualized.  Thus the wish of individuals to motivate others towards collective activity.

Is this the reason why it is so difficult to motivate towards true Corporate Social Responsibility, and how the concept is now really just “Social Responsibility” that must be taken on by individuals who have formed social groups defined by interests and motivations?