Topic 2 Waste and consumer society

For many circulating goods, the period after which sold quantities are halved (i.e., duration of the so called “product life cycle”) has undergone a notable reduction over the last decades, passing from a value of twenty years, typical of the Sixties of the twentieth century, to a value of five years in the Nineties. This trend to reduction still continues. It means, just to give an example, that in the past we changed our car every eight or ten years, whereas now we tend to buy a new car every four or five years.

Waste may therefore have, in whole or in part, characteristics suitable for reuse, or recycling, after applying appropriate treatments to eliminate foreign materials, adjust qualitative characteristics or restoring a correct functionality. See Module 3 of this course about reuse, recycle and remanufacturing.

The case of waste electrical and electronic equipment (generically referred to as WEEE) well describes a similar situation. In industrialized countries, replacement of WEEE equipment occurs not for functional reasons, but for a continuous introduction on the marketplace of new models, capable to provide increasingly advanced and more attractive performances.  Probably, this is exactly the case of your last mobile phone, isn’t it? As a matter of fact, we are producing much more waste (and more dangerous waste) than in the past.

Already in 2016, we had generated over 2.01 billion tons of waste in the world, but with increasing global population and increasing urbanization, we are expecting to produce 3.4 billion tons of waste by 2050 (World Bank estimate). Although they represent only a sixth (16%) of world’s population, high-income countries, together, generate more than a third (34%) of world’s waste.

In short, we produce an incredible amount of waste to be treated. That’s why we must organize an efficient process of waste management.

Check by yourself what has been the product life cycle for some of your goods in the last ten years (your motor car, your mobile phone, your PC, and so on). Do you notice any reduction?