Designing for the Dump

When the folks at WasteLess first introduced me to the world of trash, I picked up a book they recommended called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. The book was quite an eye opener and I was especially amazed by all the revolutionary changes being put into place in Germany at the manufacturing level. McDonough, who is an architect, approaches this problem from the point of view of a designer: how can we design things better? How can companies design and manufacture things in a more sustainable way? His co-author and business partner (they now certify businesses who follow their model), Michael Braungart, is a chemist (who created a list of toxic chemicals that they won’t work with); the synergy of their skills and knowledge base enables them to advise companies to design products that follow a cyclical (cradle to cradle) model rather than a linear (cradle to grave) one.


The TED talk with McDonough showcases some of the work they’ve done designing for companies like The Gap and Ford and they’ve designed ecologically brilliant cities in China; they also show the amount of money and energy companies can save if they follow this framework.



It is also important for companies to take responsibility for the products produced in such factories so that they last a long time and so that the company–rather than the consumer–takes responsibility for the end-of-life of the product. Generally, what we have now is the Designing for the Dump model, which depends upon planned obsolescence. Annie Leonard’s video “The Story of Electronics” offers a different way of viewing this scenario. What are known as take back laws or extended producer responsibility laws, which seem to be directed mostly at electronic items.

It’s great to see that there are laws being passed in Europe and North America to push corporations to manufacture in more sustainable ways. That said, I suspect that these laws do not apply to companies that produce overseas, as most of the American manufacturing sector does usually to avoid such regulations. Although it seems like one company, Patagonia, created its own take back policy for its products.

Here in India, the culture has been, until relatively recently, that you buy things to last and then you fix them, reuse them, and often (as with my family) store them in the garage or attic (we have radios and all sorts of electronics going back generations).  It seems like India’s new waste laws also have incorporated extended producer responsibility components into them.

Things one buys in India also seem to be built to last. One Prestige pressure cooker that my mother-in-law used since around 1955 only now needed to be retired. And while I cannot find anything on the Prestige website about this policy, it seems that they have a programme where you can take back any such product and exchange it for a new one (it works out to be a bit of a discount) and then they send the metal to the scrap dealer.

The idea of buying something that lasts seems to be spreading to the West with the Buy Me Once movement (at least I hope it’s a movement) to encourage people to buy products that will last, that are not built to die in 18 months or so.



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