Return to Packager: My Recycling Bin Revolution

I just bought a pair of headphones and a headache—unnecessary cardboard and plastic waste probably five times the weigh of the earbuds. Those little headphones, which I can hide in palm of my hand, required double-layered plastic shell larger than a college paperback that was glued to a cardboard spine that could have boxed the earbuds and accessories by itself. Of course, such witless waste is a fact of American life. Few products are shipped or shelved with a minimum of packaging. It almost seems like products compete on not on “value add,” but on “package add.”

Well, I’ve had enough. And I have an idea for how to turn the tables on marketers and manufacturers—Return to Sender: Packaging Edition. Simply put, why is it my responsibility to deal with their irresponsibility? Why do I have to recycle the mound of cardboard and plastic waste surrounding my earbuds, when all I want is my earbuds. It shouldn’t be my burden, it should be the manufacturer’s. 

How would such a system work? Well, this blog is not about details, but ideas. That said, here’s a start. If I buy earbuds from a store (big box retailer to corner store), I should be able to leave the packaging, either right after purchasing or after I am sure of satisfaction. If I buy the earbuds online (say from Amazon), I should be able to do the same—use the return label to ship the waste back to them. When the manufacturer delivers goods to the store or online retailer warehouse, they should receive the packaging remains. If they reused them, at least that would be a step in the right direction.

If not, it’s their waste problem to deal with, not mine. At that’s a bigger deal that I think people realize. Why should I feel so guilty about consumer waste, when I never asked for a mountain of packaging to surround my mole hill of earbuds. Everyday I encounter waste that even my best intentions couldn’t avoid. Marketers and manufacturers do not have to face up to their waste because I’ve agreed not only to pay for it—in the purchase price of my product—but to process it in my trash or recycling bin.

Well, I have three words for them, “Take it back!”

Toilet 2.0: Can’t we reinvent the commode?

In the 21st century, why can’t we reinvent the commode? If the proverbial hypothetical alien arrived on this planet, would they question why we pump our waste halfway around the city or municipality?  Is it possible to make toilets that not only collect waste but process it? I’m not a civil engineer or an industrial designer, so I have no idea. But as water and resources become more precious, particularly in the parched West, it seems like we could go with the flow a little less. 

This may all be just an uninformed pipe dream, but wouldn’t a little treatment at the source go a long way (well, actually the shortest way)? Could our daily or weekly waste be reduced into something recyclable?  In-Loo-Erator anyone?

Data Collecting for Life (Crowdsourcing for Health)

Can we use mobile devices to collect statistical data about our everyday lives for the benefit of science? As I play around with my iPod Touch, it occurred to me that these mobile devices could be a convenient tool for collecting massive amounts of data about how we live. It may be wonder whether the NIH or NSF should create an application (doesn’t have to be iPhone specific, but this represents a convenient delivery model) that allows Americans (or people globally) to track a few key indicators of health. I realize apps exists to help individuals get in shape that capture similar information (The Carrot, among others come to mind) and they may pool this information, but they primarily focus on the individual. But I’m thinking of a simple-to-use, well-designed app that aggregates on the national level. 

Would such an app be useful to the medical or scienitific communities?

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