When you buy a toaster, what are you aiming to gain?
Not an appliance. The ability to have toast.
Most of the things we buy, we don’t actually need to own. This is the premise for sharing things with your friends or neighbours – co-operative consumption. I think that’s a great idea for things you don’t use every day, like lawnmowers, ladders or drills. But the fact remains that for many items, it would be simply inconvenient to share among households. Imagine nipping down the road every time you wanted to brush your hair. And of course there’s the fact that consumer goods are used to decorate our homes, as well.
On a slightly different track, there’s growing pressure for producer responsibility when it comes to waste. This school of thought questions the local authority’s responsibility to manage all the waste created from broken or discarded consumer products, instead pointing towards the company who produced it. The point of this is that if companies had to deal with the waste, it’d be in their interest to make products more durable, upgradeable, repairable and eventually recyclable. If a product was totally broken beyond repair, they’d want to recover the materials they’d paid for. This would take us closer to closed loop production, and further away from the manic treadmill of new consumer products and planned obsolescence.
International carpet company Interface has been experimenting with a new model like this, where they sell a carpeting service rather than carpet. For a fee, they instal carpet tiles and replace each one individually as it wears out, recycling and discarding of the old carpet tiles themselves. This encourages them to produce durable carpet, saves resources, reduces waste and is less hassle for the client.
What if we could extend this service ethos to all consumer products?
I don’t know whether it would work but it definitely sounds like an idea that’s worth exploring.