There ought to be a law

, Last Updated: 1:39 PM ET

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person in Canada who doesn’t own a cell phone, and I don’t think I ever will. Watching people barking into their phones at the gym, on ski hills and in restaurants, I wonder why they bother to go there in the first place. But that’s their personal choice. What really bugs me is the planned obsolescence of so many of these technologies.

Sustainability is a word that is generously slathered through corporate and government reports and from the lips of those who say they’re committed to being green, but to turn words into action we’ve got to reflect on what they mean in everyday life. Sustainability is about ensuring that what we do today does not compromise the opportunity and future for our children and grandchildren. We are a long way from achieving that right now. Everything we use – food, clothing, energy, consumer goods, etc – comes from the biosphere, the zone of air, water and land where life exists. And all of our garbage, effluent and waste goes back into that same zone of life. Indeed, if the globe were reduced to the size of a basketball, the biosphere would be thinner than a layer of plastic sandwich wrap. That’s it, our home where we live. It is finite and fixed; it can’t grow.

Today most people, myself included, are all agog at the wondrous outpouring of new technology, from cell phones to ipods, iphones, laptops, blackberries and on and on. Even though I am a techno-incompetent and like to think I shun these new devices, I actually have a drawer filled with the detritus of yesterday’s hottest product, now reduced to the status of fossils. I have video cameras that use tapes no longer available, laptops with programs incompatible with anything on today’s market, beta cassette recorders, portable tape and CD players I no longer use, and more. But what really upsets me is opening a drawer and finding it filled with cords, chargers, and transformers for which there is no longer anything to plug them into. Yet if I misplace a cord to charge the battery of my current camera or laptop, none of the cords in the drawer works!

Forgive my rant, but I recently embarked on an epic search for a cord to plug into my wife’s cell phone to recharge it. We were in Toronto and the poor phone kept bleating that it was running low and the battery needed recharging. Calls were coming in to Tara but there wasn’t enough juice to return them. We asked others in our group to lend us a charger but found every single one was incompatible with her phone.

So we began a search – from big box technology superstores, to smaller suppliers and the cell phone companies themselves – all to no avail. Finally, a salesperson told my wife, “That’s an old model, so we don’t stock the charger any longer”. “But I only bought it last year,” sputtered Tara. “Yeah, like I said, that’s an old model,” he replied without a hint of irony or sympathy. So in the world of insanely rapid obsolescence, not only does each company’s products have their own unique plugs and cords, each successive model is incompatible with the previous one it replaces.

If there must be new models with new gimmicks every few months, why can’t there be a single charger or transformer that can be used interchangeably by all companies’ products and from year to year? Why can’t there be some sort of standard? How technologically advanced is a cord such that it must be replaced with a new model every six months? The proliferation and sheer waste of this type of practice is mind-boggling.

Someone has to pay for all those disposable cords, chargers and adapters, to say nothing of the products themselves. That someone is all of us. And not just for the product, but also for the pollution created when it’s made and disposed of – right back into the biosphere. It’s time for producers to take responsibility for their products’ entire life cycles and not just pretend like they can wash their hands of the problem when it goes out the door.

Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.


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