Waste is the new gold

There is something more valuable than gold. There is something more valuable than diamonds. Waste. Modern societies have made waste the most valuable product of all. The brand that can design waste into its product will maximize its profitability. The questions for product designers are no longer about how to make things durable and long lasting. Design is now about planned obsolescence. Design is now about how to make things that will break easily, how to make things that consumers will want to throw away soon after they’ve bought them.

The enemy of modern design thinking is the old saying: “Waste not. Want not.” Young designers have a new credo: “Waste more. Want more.” Wasting more is the great marketing and branding breakthrough and innovation. Brilliant minds had the foresight to understand that there is no better way to build the brand.

Getting the price right is essential. Things need to become cheap enough to be psychologically disposable. Ideally, they should be “free”. If it breaks easily and quickly, then, so what, it was cheap / free. It is not worth the effort to repair. It begs to be thrown in the bin, to be thrown away, to be dumped, disposed of, discarded.

This is where innovation and the mantra of constant change and the need for speed come in. The thought leaders and innovators must fanatically champion the speeding up of everything because that means we will have no time to think properly or deeply about anything. We will be caught in the flow and the surge of the latest hype. Product launches become religious celebrations where we throw away the old and embrace the new. This is the age of the righteousness of the devourers, who do their bit for growth by laying waste to the metals, the plastics, the soil, the air, the water. Everything. Everything in the pursuit of the latest cool, the latest convenience, the easy life. The easy life that somehow drifts further out of reach with each new convenience. Because we who lay waste, reap waste.

The reduction and, where possible, elimination of waste is the best possible way to protect the environment. To do that we need to change our culture, not our technology. We must rediscover a respect for the materials we use. We must recognize the serious environmental impacts mining and manufacturing these materials have, and thus be prepared to care for and look after them so as to keep them in use as long as possible. We must become much more careful about what we create and consume, thinking long and hard, and asking: Is it worth it?

We must join the resistance. Resistant to marketing-driven change, to fake innovations, to the false idea that if it’s a new technology, it must be good. We must become slow learners. We must slow down. We must think slowly. Conserve. Wait. Observe.

The only revolution that matters is cultural. Let us return to a culture where we see ourselves as integrated with, integral to, and dependent on our environment. Where we have a deep respect for everything. Respect. It begins with the materials. Respect the materials.

Podcast: World Wide Waste
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
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