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To Continue Reducing Waste Further We Must Understand the Psychological Factors

Ever thought about the psychological factors which encourage our “throw away urge”. If we are to reduce waste, and go for zero landfill we will need to tackle this.

Most of us think these things at one point or another: Why is it easier and cheaper to buy something new rather than to fix it? Why are we such a disposable society?

A Canadian professor points to psychological factors at work in this societal shift, factors that are operating for both product manufacturers and consumers. At a conference on repair, Brian Burns of Carleton University argued that we are detached from our products today in ways that we weren’t in the past. We don’t tinker with them, and as a result, we don’t understand how they work. Producers don’t encourage this.

Professor Burns theorises that this detachment also hurts manufacturers, because consumers, ignorant of how their products work, aren’t able to judge which product is superior to another. Brand loyalty becomes more a matter of blind trust or image advertising. Burns says we place paramount value on the newness, and that is compounded when we buy “magical” products such as an iPod or Nintendo Wii.

What we should realize, he says, is that the newness should be just the first phase of product ownership. He coined the phrase “useness” for the second phase of product ownership, where we look at the worn shoe or the blunt blade as something that just needs some tender loving care, rather than a trip to the landfill. When we buy products, Burns says, we should imagine what the product’s going to be like in a year or two, not just when we get it home and out of the box.

Burns’ theory is intriguing, but much easier said than done. We do live in an age of complex machines. Working on a car was much easier 50 years ago; even the staunchest do-it-yourselfer is limited in the face of today’s computer-controlled vehicles. How could you even begin to contemplate fixing an iPod?

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