We need to act now for greener transport tomorrow. The Climate Change Act 2008 stipulates that the UK must achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 (against a baseline of total emissions in 1990) in order to mitigate the dangerous effects of climate change. Right now the domestic transport sector accounts for over twenty percent of the UK’s total green house gas emissions. By making the transport system greener and more sustainable, the UK will be better placed to achieve its emissions reduction target in the year 2050.
WasteAM’s sustainable transport podcast examines pathways towards a greener transport system in the UK. There are many challenges to overcome such as creaking urban public transport networks, lack of investment in infrastructure, dependence on the car, and congestion, yet by pursuing a sustainable transport policy agenda the UK will help ensure that the transport network of 2050 is more fuel efficient and climate-friendly.
Joddle and Max examine the direction of current transport policy and assess whether it has the potential to make travel in the UK more efficient. Topics of conversation include – electric vehicles, cycle demonstration towns, smart road pricing, biofuels, and rail privatisation.
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As a participant in the European Youth Meeting for Sustainable Development 2011 I took part in a waste group formulating a policy document on waste management, which was to be submitted to the Rio +20 Climate Summit. An issue I championed within the group was to call for governments to ban the use of PVC in consumer products.
Our waste group prioritised waste strategy and policy recommendations which eradicate waste at source and prevent non-recyclable or non-reusable materials from entering the resource stream in the first place. In my mind, non-recyclable plastics cannot justify their waste-legacy (they don’t biodegrade) and alternative materials should be used to avoid burdening future generations with our consumer detritus.
I object to PVC in consumer items because less than 1% of what is produced is recycled; it is too difficult to recycle as too many chemical additives are used in its production. More than this, it doesn’t make economic sense to recycle, as it is relatively cheap to manufacture. An estimated 16 billion tons of PVC was manufactured in the US in 2006, according to the Vinyl Institute. At this rate of production a lot of consumer junk PVC is getting incinerated (where it releases carcinogenic dioxins) and landfilled (where it may leech chemicals).
PVC is a versatile form of plastic used in variety of everyday products. During its manufacture, in order to imbue the base polymer of plastic with its versatile qualities (supple like an electrical wire; hard like vinyl flooring; translucent like a shower curtain) it is treated or ‘plasticized’ with chemical additives that pose serious risks to human health. For more information about the risks of endocrine disrupting phthalates see here.
In the waste management policy group, we made a distinction between using PVC in consumer goods (which we deemed to be a fickle short-sighted use of the material) and in construction and cabling (for telecoms and electronics) – where it was felt their use was more justifiable in the short-term.
Our recommendation for a ban on the use of PVC in consumer products may be unrealistic, unenforceable, and even unwanted beyond the realm of waste fanatics, yet it intended to send out a clear message that we must rethink our use of non-recyclable or degradable materials. Most certainly, we have been using plastics wastefully and excessively, without thinking of the long-term environmental consequences.
If a ban were to be implemented many familiar products would disappear and with them many industries. There would be no vinyl flooring for our homes; there would be no ‘pleather’ imitation leather clothes or furnishings; no paddling pools or inflatable toys; no waterproof bags or raincoats. Such items are easy for people concerned about plastic waste to live without, but the reach of PVC is much wider, and it is probable that most people would object to such an extensive ban.
Our call for a ban on PVC in consumer products may seem extreme, but how else can we get manufacturers to use alternative materials which have a lesser impact on the environment and human health? Waste fanatics may choose to boycott PVC but the wider population will continue consuming it, and so the cycle continues…
Built-in obsolescence must be tackled if we are to reduce consumption and wastefulness. It is simply wrong to have a system where products are designed to fail in order to drive up consumption of replacement products. It is environmentally unethical to design products that cannot be repaired – products that are in fact made to be consumed for a short time only, whereupon they either break or become unfashionable. It is outrageous that a made-to-fail product will be disposed of in landfill, where it will become a toxic burden for future generations.
Some people argue that built-in obsolescence is an inevitable part of the design process as it enables the consumer to buy the thing at its most economical price at which it will function within the limits the customer expects. If the thing had superior components that lasted longer, the cost of the superior components would be passed on to the consumer at the checkout. The question is, would customers be willing to pay more if they had reliable information about each product’s *guaranteed* longevity? With this information to hand people would be able to make informed decisions, ones not merely based on superficial qualities of its design, as Stephen notes.
(By guarantee I mean an actual promise from the manufacturer that its product will last a certain amount of time and be repaired at the manufacturer’s expense if it fails . Such a *promise* should do away with the ridiculous practice of selling ‘extended warranties’ to the consumer. That a product should last must always be the manufacturer’s promise; never the consumer’s gamble).
Crucially, however, most people are not used to making informed purchasing decisions that involve weighing up conflicting factors such as cost vs longevity; longevity vs servicable parts; longevity vs aesthetics. If this were the case, we wouldn’t have (desperate? ignorant? exploited?) people signing pay-per-week contracts for sofas and electrical goods which see them paying grossly inflated prices in our buy now pay later culture. By the time their contracts expire – what a surprise! – the item requires upgrading or replacing!
Our Waste Group Policy Recommendations prioritised strategies which would prevent waste at source, and force manufacturers and retailers to be accountable for the goods they produce/sell. We called for manufacturers to be bound to publish spare parts catalogues. Such catalogues, with listed prices, would help consumers make informed purchasing decisions. From browsing the catalogue while researching a purchase, consumers would see whether replacement parts were exorbitant. If a manufacturer was actively dissuading repair of its goods by making replacement parts too expensive, informed consumers would be disincentivised to make a purchase with said manufacturer.
We urgently need to return to a quality product culture. We are currently in a cheap and trashy culture were we prefer importing in shoddy goods that are built-to-break. It is only by measures that encourage the consumer to think beyond immediate cost considerations when purchasing a product (for example, whether the product is economically servicable) that we can begin to undo the wasteful, consumerist practice of built-in obsolescence.