If you’re environmentally concerned, you should always consider the full lifecycle of any product. What materials are needed to make it? How much transportation is used to assemble and deliver it? How will you dispose of it?
For example, consider a cellphone. To make its semiconductor core, masses of ore must be mined. Each device generates 165 pounds of waste — all for a phone weighing ounces.
And what happens when you’re done with it? Recycling doesn’t make it disappear — most go to landfill. Its toxic components can’t be used in other electronics, and it’s not economically feasible to extract its scant precious metals.
What about clothing? Synthetic material is derived from petroleum, and we know that’s not good. But what about natural fibers like cotton — aren’t they better?
Maybe, but not quite …
Cotton is the world’s most chemically-intensive crop, needing massive applications of herbicides and fungicides. And cotton accounts for 25 percent of worldwide pesticide use. Furthermore, each pound of cotton uses over 3,800 gallons of water.
Naturally, manufacturers would rather that you did not know the less glamorous side of their product’s lifecycle: your ignorance is their bliss.
But since every product has high environmental costs both to create and to dispose, the best approach is one that you should like: buy what you really, truly love, then keep it a long time.
So be happy and be environmental at the same time!