Making Waste


April, 2016

It occurred to me yesterday that money hoarding and information hoarding go together.  Information hoarding is most obvious in the patent industry.  This translates into mass confusion at the grassroots level, where multiple companies compete on the same turf for “market share.”

faucetplastic0316My new bathroom faucet provides the most recent example of this dysfunctionality.  Home Depot supplies only one brand of faucet, and the bottom of the line (read “simplest”) faucet only comes in one color, an off-color, “polished nickel,” so doesn’t match my formerly standard chrome.  In the 20 years since I bought the old faucet, the metal to plastic ratio has declined maybe 50%.  The drain pipe, pivot nut, and strap are now plastic.  I only needed the new faucet because the plastic gears inside both handles on the old one broke.

Plastic gears, plastic joints, and plastic moving parts have replaced metal in an across-the-board move that creates enormous waste and is dangerous, to boot.  I’m thinking of the aluminum lawn chair that snapped without warning because of the plastic joints.  Plastic, unlike metal or wood, is unfixable, so the entire product must be discarded.

Back to the faucet:  I considered substituting the old metal drain pipe for the new plastic one, but found that male and female ends had been reversed.

Why?  I have to wonder if patents have replaced standardized parts in our universalized conveniences.

Who benefits from this subtle downgrading of standard household equipment?  Certainly not the homeowner, who has not only the expense but the inconvenience of replacing equipment that should have lasted much longer.  Faucets installed all over town in the early 1900s are still functional.   While somewhat corroded and rusty on the outside, they still work as well as ever.

This isolated example would be a minor problem, except that every new replacement product I buy is worse than the old one.  Why did I even have to buy a new one?

“We can’t get parts,” is the standard answer.  When I suggest that digital controls on everything from my propane gas stove, dryer, and tankless water heater, to microwave–and even coffee percolator–add unnecessary levels of complexity and increase electrical and repair costs, people look at me as though I’m the crazy one.

stovefrigidairedig0416Why, in an age when we claim to want to reduce energy waste, are we being maneuvered into untenable situations like this?  My desire to free myself from the grid and Southern Company’s monopoly is blocked at every turn by corporate desperation to keep me hooked into a system that bleeds individuals like me dry.

And they wonder why the economy is imploding?

*The Waste Makers, by Vance Packard, (1963) which I read in the 1970s, made a profound and enduring impression.  I skimmed through it while writing this blog and see that Packard’s observations are even more apparent today.  It should be required reading in every high school.

**Total cost of replacing the Frigidaire stove’s digital control panel was $115. (The replacement part was $82).


4 thoughts on “Making Waste

  1. Rosaliene Bacchus

    I hear you, Katharine 😦

    “I’m thinking of the aluminum lawn chair that snapped without warning because of the plastic joints. Plastic, unlike metal or wood, is unfixable, so the entire product must be discarded.”
    ~ How else will manufacturers sell more of their products if they last near-forever? It’s all part of planned obsolescence.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Exactly. That’s why “The Waste Makers” is so powerful. It delves into the whole “planned obsolescence” scam. Packard also says companies are highly sensitive to customer complaints, especially letters addressed to the president or CEO. The letters may not reach him/her directly, but they can create panic among the underlings.

      Also, I’ve had some success writing CEOs, the governor of Georgia, and other mucky-mucks in positions of influence. (I wasn’t so successful with GW Bush, though.), so I know Packard is right.

      Individuals can often exert a greater influence than organizations, since they are taking personal responsibility for their actions. That may be a large part of Donald Trump’s appeal.

      That’s why I’m making noise about the overuse and misuse of plastic, digital controls, and single-use packaging. These issues are personal for me but relevant on a world-wide scale. I don’t think people realize how much they spend on packaging, for instance, and how it raises the price of everything.

  2. navasolanature

    So true and reflects our times and certainly our plumbing. All pipes here in Spain and Portugal are plastic and much easier for the plumbers to fix but then I think they go wrong more often. Is it a plumbers’market!

    1. katharineotto Post author

      I would contend it’s a plumbing suppliers’ market, and this is my primary complaint. Useful skills, such as plumbers have, are individual and thus undervalued by corporations. The corporations are the ones churning patents, raising costs, and otherwise disappearing standardized products that do-it-yourselfers like me have the tools and skills to repair.

      PVC, which is standard here, is easier to fix, but PVC itself is toxic and is probably leaching into the water. The newer “pex” pipe (I believe it’s called) has not been around long enough to know what long-term health effects it has. By the time we find out, the stuff will be in everyone’s homes, as PVC is now.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s