Product Life Energy
Pollution it is mostly associated with how much certain products pollute
or how much pollution occurs when electricity is produced or when
trash is burned or improperly disposed of. Rarely is the connection
made between pollution and product development or pollution and
a products time on Earth after you are done using it.
Polluting less means looking at what you do and purchase in a
more comprehensive way than what you hear from the marketing agencies.
What we buy often consumes energy while we are using it. Some
products consume less energy than others. However, to truly pollute
less, more aspects have to be considered than just the energy
consumption during the time you own the product. What you purchase
has to be manufactured, distributed, advertised, recycled, and
disposed. Materials have to be located, equipment has to be built
and moved, the materials have to be mined/harvested, transported
around the globe, transformed, melted, shaped, etc. Some products
are made from components that are made somewhere else by someone
else. Manufacturing, distributing, selling, and disposing anything
is a global and rather complicated affair. There are a lot of
energy costs in every product and we know very little about those
Products are sold because they are wanted or needed by the consumer
and marketing/advertising is focused on the time the consumer
owns the product. The fact that there are hidden energy costs
is rather convenient from a marketing point of view. Researching
those costs is difficult. It takes time, a lot of money, and cooperation
by the manufacturer (which is rarely available since a negative
outcome of the research will hurt sales of the product). Even
the people who make the product do not know the life time energy
costs of their products. When you have bought it, it is not their
responsibility any longer how much energy it costs to return the
product components and material into the cycle of manufacturing.
What needs to be looked at is not "product USE energy"
but "product LIFE energy". What needs to be investigated
is not only how much energy YOU use while using a product, but
how much energy it costs SOCIETY to supply you with that product
from beginning to end. Don't pat yourself on the back just because
the product you use has a benefit while you are using it. That
does not mean (at all) that your product is better than other
products in regard to product life energy costs. Depending on
the product (as well as you) it may even be the opposite. Believing
that your product's less polluting effects on the environment
are offsetting any negative effects before and after you own this
product without having scientific data available is environmental
romanticism. If everybody believes whatever they want to believe
nothing will change.
Since data about product life energy is not available (or it
is disputed) I will not give more than general advice in regard
to types of products. Products appear in many forms. Hot water
is a product. A car or a pencil are products. Public transportation
is a product. Even this website is a product. For all practical
purposes, if it is made or created by human beings it is a product.
• If the product is to be used only for a short time it
is best to use a product made from natural materials that can
naturally decompose in a few months.
• If the product is to last longer it is best if the materials
can all be easily separated and reused. If the materials are human-made
it is better if they are made with little energy and without toxic
• Materials that cannot be reused should be avoided.
• It is better to use a machine that uses human energy
than a machine that uses fossil fuels or electricity.
• If the product is a necessary item and has little environmental
impact in relation to the estimated energy it costs to replace
it, it is better to keep it in operation longer.
• If it is an option (and it usually is, we are just not
used to it) it is best to not use a product at all.
• If credible research or data surfaces that contradicts
opinions offered here, those opinions will be revised immediately.