WHAT IS THE ZERO WASTE MOVEMENT?
It is a new change in economic mindset brought about by the ecological revolution of our century. “Zero waste” is a concept, a trend and social movement that seeks to end the generation of waste that does not decompose and must be stored or incinerated.
This concept has been matured for a long time, but it came to the political fore when some cities and their respective municipalities proposed to delve into the issue and make it part of their political agenda. Some cities, such as Canberra or San Francisco were pioneers in applying this concept at the urban level.
The Australian capital was avant-garde in this regard, but it was San Francisco, in California, a city with 7 million inhabitants, who most successfully implemented this goal of reducing garbage. It was only in 10 years that they managed to reduce it to 50 %. Quite an achievement for such a large city and in one of the countries that consume the most and produce the most garbage in the world.
ALL THIS ON A GLOBAL LEVEL, BUT, ON A PERSONAL LEVEL?
Have you ever heard this litany? My printer has broken down, where can I take it for repair? And then, automatically, your partner, your parents, your friends, your neighbor, they tell you: if you repair it, it will cost you more than buying a new one.
Consumer capitalist society includes a feature of programmed obsolescence in the products it manufactures to force us to continue consuming and keep the wheel turning.
Source Wikipedia: “In economics and industrial design, planned obsolescence (also called built-in obsolescence or premature obsolescence) is a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life or a purposely frail design, so that it becomes obsolete after a certain pre-determined period of time upon which it decrementally functions or suddenly ceases to function, or might be perceived as unfashionable. The rationale behind this strategy is to generate long-term sales volume by reducing the time between repeat purchases (referred to as “shortening the replacement cycle”). It is the deliberate shortening of a lifespan of a product to force people to purchase functional replacements”.
The aim of obsolescence is not to create quality products, but exclusively economic profit, taking into account the needs of consumers, nor the environmental repercussions on production, much less the consequences that are generated from the point of view of the accumulation of waste and the pollution that they entail.
For industry, this attitude positively stimulates demand by encouraging consumers to buy new products in an artificially accelerated way if they wish to continue using them.
A BIT OF HISTORY
The first product affected by programmed obsolescence was the incandescent lamp. One of the first prototypes has been in operation since 1901. Thomas Alva Edison, created a prototype with duration of 1500 hours. The success was resounding and several companies dedicated to its manufacture appeared. At first the goal was to create more durable bulbs; however, everything changed when they teamed up to create the Phoebus Cartel which established a maximum duration of 1000 hours of use and penalized manufacturers who violated the new rule.
At that time, consumer awareness and ecological awareness of rights was practically non-existent among the population and businesses, so society at the time ended up tolerating this practice.
The initial stage of planned obsolescence developed between 1920 and 1930, when mass production began to forge a new market model in which the detailed analysis of each sector becomes the fundamental factor to achieve a good success. The origin is believed to date back to 1932, when Bernard London proposed ending the Great Depression through planned and law-bound obsolescence (even if it never took place). However, the term was first popularized in 1954 by American industrial designer Brooks Stevens. Stevens was scheduled to give a talk at an advertising conference in Minneapolis in 1954. Without much thought, he used the term as the title for his talk.
Another product that was affected was Nylon. In its introduction in 1938 it was presented as a strong and practically indestructible fiber. But sales subsequently fell because no one needed to replace the stockings, so Du Pont was forced to redesign the material to make it more fragile and retain sales.
Later in the sixties, new design and advertising techniques were devised to boost the consumption of new products. Thus, people were not forced, but convinced with avant-garde designs, novel features and new technologies. Gradually the concept of planned obsolescence was spreading among manufacturers, which was affecting the quality and durability of the products since then.
With the start of the new century, Apple’s iPod device caused controversy due to its irreplaceable short battery life. Another notable scandal involved the iPod digital audio player made by Apple Computers.
Using stencil signs that read “The iPod’s irreplaceable battery lasts only 18 months,” a warning was painted about iPod advertisements on the streets of Manhattan. The film was published on the Internet on September 20, 2003 and in six days it was viewed more than a million times. It quickly attracted media attention and the controversy was covered worldwide by more than 130 media outlets, including The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox News, CBS News and BBC News.
Apple officially announced a battery replacement policy on November 14, 2003 and also an extension of the warranty on November 21.
On January 8, 2018, the French Public Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation against Apple for alleged programmed obsolescence of certain older iPhones, subjected to periodic updates of the iOS operating system. The judicial action had its origin in a complaint of the organization of users and consumers “Stop the scheduled slowdown”.
Two documentaries by Cosima Dannoritzer have reflected in Spanish the aspects derived from the planned obsolescence: Comprar, tirar, comprar (2010) and La tragedia electrónica (2014). Source Wikipedia.
Companies like Monsanto produced genetically altered seeds that become sterile and useless once they have given the first harvest, the so-called Terminator seeds14 produced using GURT technology (English acronym for Group of Use Restriction Technologies), meeting a rejection by authorities and farmers.
Most drugs contain chemical components whose shelf life is limited; however, some laboratories reduce the expiration date of the drugs they produce in order to obtain greater profits in the health business, causing patients to discard supposedly expired drugs to acquire new ones.
Despite being true that after the expiration date, there are drugs which could develop some type of degradation of the product into toxic and harmful agents, most really only develop a loss in the efficacy of the drug without seriously damaging the health of the person. In addition to this, the expiration date of all drugs is made under accelerated physical-chemical stability studies, that is, under conditions unfavorable for the consistency of the drug (high temperature, humidity, lighting) which helps to decontextualize the time of study. The Medical Letter ensures that most of the drugs sold retain their potency by 70% –80% in the first ten years after they are produced.
On the other hand, the pharmaceutical industry prefers to investigate palliative drugs or drugs that make a disease chronic to those that simply cure it. Molecular biologist and Nobel laureate in physiology and medicine Richard J. Roberts stated that: “The best example is Helicobacter pylori. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren discovered that these bacteria caused ulcers, not just acid. The industry tried to eliminate the investigation. If there were drugs that killed cancer cells by immunotherapy, they would be very difficult to market: if you stopped cancer altogether by taking it two or three times, where would the money be?”
Another different case is the, for the pharmaceutical industry, very lucrative addiction to opiates under the cloak of painkillers. In the US, opioids related to heroin have been legally prescribed as dangerous pain relievers to combat the pain of some conditions (OxyContin, introduced in 1995, is composed of thebaine, three times stronger than morphine; sales were already in sales (2001) by 1.6 billion dollars, higher than that of Viagra, and represented 80% of the company’s profit), creating, first, a lucrative drug addiction, and, later, drug addiction to other psychotropic substances, to the point that the United States They had to declare a public health emergency in October 2017 due to the deaths that occurred, more than those in the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars combined.
In 2019, 500 cities in the United States had to publicly sue the powerful pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, owned by eight members of the billionaire Sackler family. And a similar case is that of other pharmaceutical companies with Vicodin, Percocet and Fentanyl. In 2016, more than 60,000 people died in the United States from opioid overdoses.
Obsolescence of electrical and electronic components
The procedure is usually as follows: one of the commonly used electronic devices fails. When the owner takes it to repair, the technical service tells you that it is more profitable to buy a new one than to fix it. Occasionally the price of labor, damaged parts and assembly often cost a little more than buying a new one. Therefore, the user usually discards the damaged product and buys a new one. This occurs in some digital components of the computer such as the printer, optical disc drives, LCD or LED monitors, motherboard or the microprocessor itself.
Obsolescence of household appliances
Sometimes the older is more resistant than the modern. It should be mandatory to standardise parts and to be able to cut machines, which would solve many problems. Now (2021), the mid-range car is made to last about 200,000 kilometers, which can extend its lifespan to 400,000 if you pass periodic reviews and take care of yourself. Stockings, socks and other textile products are often conditioned on their duration by seams and other textile treatments. The average duration of a refrigerator is twelve years, but there are those that only last eight or that reach fourteen; the average duration of a dishwasher is 11 years; the microwave has an average duration of nine years, but there are those that last twelve or thirteen; a washing machine has an average duration of ten years, but a Miele lasts 16. The average of the dryers is eleven years, but again the Miele extend to 17. The half-life of an iron is six years. The average lifespan of a Smartphone and laptop is between 3 and 4 years. In the case of a washing machine, its longevity is around 11 years and if we talk about vacuum cleaners, most of them end up obsolete when they turn 8, although there are those that do not reach 5. Italy’s Competition and Market Authority fined Samsung 5 million euros and Apple 10 million euros for shortening the life of the products. According to independent studies by the OCU, Miele is the company whose appliances stand up for the most years in operation.
According to a report by the association Halte à l’obsolescence programmée and Murfy, a company specialized in the repair of appliances, the useful life of washing machines has decreased by 30% in eight years. In 2010, washing machines of all brands operated an average of 10 years. In 2018, his life span was of only 7 years. Furthermore, the report points out that manufacturers make spare parts for repairing these appliances inaccessible and very expensive. Especially parts that are known to be more susceptible to wear and require frequent replacement, such as the electronic plate of devices.
The programmed obsolescence in the software starts from the moment the manufacturer urges consumers to renew/update their version of the computer programs because it will not continue with their updates and the respective technical support (renewal of printer drivers, compatibility with other programs, solutions to unforeseen problems, security patches, update of the defense against malware, recognition of new applications, etc.). In this way, every ten years at most, the same product will be purchased again, adding capital gains to the manufacturer.
A software that does not enjoy regular updates will eventually suffer from obsolescence because it lagged behind digital technology by ceasing to develop applications for the program. Many times, these discontinued computer programs are called abandonware because their programmers purposely “stall” their own software in order to motivate the consumer to buy the new version because, although the new programs they introduce will be able to read the content of the previous versions, an old version will not be able to read the files of the new system. An example of this was the discontinuation of the Windows XP operating system by Microsoft which leaves the operating system on the road to obsolescence since as Microsoft communicates, continuing to use Windows XP could present vulnerabilities in the security of the computer to threats such as viruses despite the fact that at that time, 30% of the PCs in the world were still using it and the replacement program did not contribute anything really substantial. Even so, it is still used in devices such as ATMs and medical devices.
It has to do with expiry dates and with the use of addictive additives or food drugs. As for the former, it is common to find a ‘best before date’ in packaged foods instead of the expiry date. And it is because food continues to preserve over time the majority or integrity of its nutritional and sanitary virtues, but not its appearance, texture, aroma or color. However, this is enough for food to be thrown away and others to be bought.
The economist of the theory of degrowth Serge Latouche points out that it is also a strategy of programmed obsolescence frequent in the consumption of dairy and yogurts, but also in that of any other packaged food. The use of preservatives, dyes and other short-cycle excipients in packaging also has this function. Tons of food end up in the trash because of poor quality guidelines, overly strict aesthetic standards or bad habits and planning.
On the other hand, some beverages and foods have among their components slightly addictive substances (addictive additives) that create an additional commercial need for the product, especially among genetically predisposed people. A study by the University of Michigan indicates that there are specifically foods that cause dependence or mild addiction, and the first three are pizza, chocolate and bag fries. The causative substances are refined sugars and sweeteners and flours, mainly; also, products too salty. They create neurological changes similar to drug addiction circuits, related to the reward system and also to incretin hormones, especially in childhood, programming routines of necessity that in adulthood remain more difficult to correct and are more profitable. Dairy breads (including whole grains, pizza, biscuits, hamburger bread), light yogurts (with fruit pulp, with cereals), the same breakfast cereals, coffee, industrially made meals.
Coca-Cola had at first in its composition tiny amounts of cocaine that guaranteed a mild psychological dependence from 1886 until it began to eliminate it from its formula in 1903 and definitively in 1929.
PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE CAUSES MULTIPLE WASTE AND POLLUTION
One of the serious problems caused by this practice is the overproduction of e-waste. The goal of planned obsolescence is economic profit. That is why other objectives such as the conservation of the environment take second place to priorities and serious damage can be done to it.
The lack of proper management of manufactured products that become obsolete is a source of pollution. A vast number of these are not biodegradable, and the time that elapses until decomposition is considered to have occurred, at least partially, can be very long. In addition, waste is often highly polluting. This has a negative impact on both the integrity of the environment and the health of its inhabitants when it is known that waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) contains recoverable materials, which would prevent the exploitation of new natural resources.
Planned obsolescence is a consequence of the contemporary economic production system, which promotes growing consumption. Therefore, the long-term sustainability of this model is disputed. In addition, developing countries are being used as a dumping ground for all these unusable products; this is leading to considerable pollution and destruction of the landscape in thesecountries.
BUT FOR HOW LONG WILL THE WHEEL OF CAPITALISM CONTINUE TO TURN?
Climate change brought about by our industrial society is drowning our forests, burning them and causing floods and other weather disturbances that are hitting all of us.
Recall the words of ecological activist Greta Thunberg three years ago: “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.”
And the ecological footprint that we developed countries endure is increasing every year that comes in.
“The ecological footprint is a method promoted by the Global Footprint Network to measure human demand on natural capital, i.e. the quantity of nature it takes to support people or an economy. It tracks this demand through an ecological accounting system. The accounts contrast the biologically productive area people use for their consumption to the biologically productive area available within a region or the world (biocapacity, the productive area that can regenerate what people demand from nature). In short, it is a measure of human impact on the environment” Wikipedia
The concept was created by William Rees and his then student Mathis Wackernagel in 1996, which analyzes the patterns of resource consumption and waste production of a given population.
It measures the area needed (calculated in hectares) to produce the resources consumed by a citizen, an activity, country, city or region, etc., as well as the area needed to absorb the waste it generates, regardless of where these areas are located.
It is an indicator to know the sustainability of human activities. It determines how much land and marine space is needed to produce all the resources and goods that are consumed, as well as the surface to absorb the debris that is generated, using current technology. The advantage it has is the possibility of making comparisons.
For example, the subsistence economy is known to weigh little in terms of ecological footprint. And it is not that we all return to this subsistence economy, but it is that we manage to limit the unstoppable increase in the ecological footprint that our industrial society is producing.
Currently, the ecological footprint of each human being is 2.7 hectares. However, our planet is only able to grant each of its inhabitants about 1.8 hectares (WWF2012). This difference indicates that each of us uses more space to meet our needs than the planet can give us.
The activities that have had the most impact on the growth of the world’s ecological footprint are the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture and livestock.
In a basically well-organized agrarian life without extensive monocultures, it is estimated that between 1 and 2 ha are approximately the necessary land to meet the needs of a family in a self-sufficient way. We are therefore over-consuming with regard to the capacity of the planet: we are destroying resources at a rate higher than their natural rate of regeneration.
It has been concluded that it would take two more planets like this for today’s 6,000 million human beings to be able to live all the way that, for example, the average French citizen lives, that is, in an industrial society based on the availability of fossil fuels. Source Wikipedia.
These conclusions make it necessary to distinguish between two fundamental elements:
-In today’s industrial world, impacts are produced on a planetary level.
-The ecological footprint has little to do with the physical space occupied by a human group. In this way, the ecological footprint of most developed countries far exceeds their own surface, since they extract resources and dump waste in places far away from their territory.
The didactic value of the ecological footprint concept resides in that it makes evident two linked realities that are beyond the reach of intuition. First, that the characteristic way of life of the richest countries on the planet cannot be extended to all its inhabitants.
Second, that a sustainable planetary economy demands from that same wealthy minority a reduction in their consumption; and also, their standard of living, to the extent that it cannot be compensated with an equivalent increase in the efficiency of production processes.
Against this background, it is necessary to make a more sustainable use of the planet’s natural resources and natural environment, among many other actions.
And the “zero waste” movement is one of these many necessary actions.
ZERO WASTE LIFE STYLE
The fight against planned obsolescence at the social level:
One of the ways to hinder it is through the creation of guarantee seals for products without programmed obsolescence, such as the ISSOP (Sustainable Innovation Without Programmed Obsolescence) seal, created by the FENISS Foundation (Sustainable Energy and Innovation Foundation without Programmed Obsolescence); whose products and production strategies meet the following requirements:
- Prioritize the purchase of raw materials and the contracting of services that are respectful with the environment, manufactured without planned obsolescence, and if you are a manufacturer of a product, manufacture it without planned obsolescence. Using preferably local and Fair-Trade products.
- Promote and disseminate the commitments adopted towards a more sustainable and responsible management model. Include clauses in contracts with third parties that prevent corruption. The ISSOP seal not only seeks the absence of programmed obsolescence, but also to protect the environment and the sustainable development of products.
- Contribute to energy improvement and emissions reduction, in order to reduce corporate ecological carbon footprints.
- Carry out the correct waste management.
- Promote the culture of socially and environmentally responsible consumption.
- Bet on an environmental responsibility for the preservation of the local environment.
- Promote equality and social integration and facilitate work, family and personal conciliation.
These proposals go through a change in the habits of everyone, from the production companies and governments themselves, to the consumers themselves; so that together we can find a balance that does not generate so much waste.
It is about developing products with greater recycling capacity, such as some brands that already opt for products with replaceable and reusable parts, or companies that invest in the research and development of formulas that avoid waste, such as the latest advances regarding bacteria that consume residual plastic.
Finally, different environmental groups have devised new alternatives to extend the useful life of products, such as Friends of the Earth who have devised “lengthening”, which is a directory of repair, rental, and exchange establishments. and buying and selling of second-hand items, in order to avoid this massive increase in waste.
POLITICAL AND LEGISLATION MEASURES
Ecuador approved in 2016 a law to verify that the products purchased by the State do not suffer from programmed obsolescence, which provides administrative and criminal sanctions for non-compliance. It is not clear, however, whether the legislation also applies to private individuals.
In France, the law on the energy transition and green growth (Law 2015-992) created the crime of “planned obsolescence”, which is punishable by two years in prison, a fine of 300,000 euros or 5% of sales annual company.
WHAT CAN WE DO AT A PARTICULAR LEVEL?
1.-Reduce consumption. Do you really need everything you buy? Reduce consumption and every time you go to buy something ask yourself: do I really need it?
2.-Avoid packaging and use recyclable cloth bags. When you go shopping, always carry a cloth bag. They fold easily. In order not to forget you, you can always carry a folded cloth bag in your purse, purse or backpack. You can also use a shopping cart. And by the way, your back will thank you. Avoid packaged products. Buy in bulk if you have the possibility to do so.
3.-Use natural products for domestic cleaning. You can clean the house, clothes and more with vinegar and other natural products. And you can make your own bars of soap, as we show you on our blog, and thus avoid the use of containers, taking care of the environment as well as natural soap is biodegradable and not only useful for your personal hygiene, but also for the domestic cleaning and laundry. It is also much more efficient in washing natural fibers of cotton, linen, etc …
4.– Avoid bottled water. And the thing is that many times, especially if we live in cities with chlorinated and bad-tasting water, we buy bottled water. In these cases, we recommend using filters to purify the water, as well as any similar method that serves to decontaminate or improve the taste of tap water. Also, we can use this same water when we are away from home by using a reusable bottle.
5.- And, of course, the three RRRs: Reuse, Repair and Recycle.
Many things, like books, clothes, and appliances, have a second life. Buy second-hand products. You can buy second-hand clothes at street markets which are very easy to repair with a sewing machine. So, before throwing away a piece of clothing, furniture or an appliance, ask yourself if there is a possibility of giving it a second life and recycling it.
Recycle and not just trash. Anything that does not serve us, can serve another person. Do not throw it away. Find out who you can give it to first. Ask your contacts or on second-hand sales platforms, which often have the possibility of putting up gift announcements. There are also Facebook groups, WhatsApp and other social networks to give things away in your area. Get informed!
6.– “Do it yourself”, which is the new philosophy and lifestyle of what is known as the American DIY movement.
The DIY movement is a re-introduction (often to urban and suburban dwellers) of the old pattern of personal involvement and use of skills in the upkeep of a house or apartment, making clothes; maintenance of cars, computers, websites; or any material aspect of living.
DIY has been described as a “self-made-culture”; one of designing, creating, customizing and repairing items or things without any special training. DIY has grown to become a social concept with people sharing ideas, designs, techniques, methods and finished projects with one another either online or in person.
DIY can be seen as a cultural reaction in modern technological society to increasing academic specialization and economic specialization which brings people into contact with only a tiny focus area within the larger context, positioning DIY as a venue for holistic engagement. DIY ethic is the ethic of self-sufficiency through completing tasks without the aid of a paid expert. The DIY ethic promotes the idea that anyone is capable of performing a variety of tasks rather than relying on paid specialists.
We think this blog is a good example of a page that we have created ourselves where we provide recipes so that other people can also make it.
And we hope you found this article interesting. If you can think of more things, let us know in the comments so we can post them 😊