by The Design of Things


One of the dreary, relatively brief jobs I held in my very early twenties was as a telemarketer for Vermont PIRG – the early precursor to Environment America. The PIRGs worked to advance legislation like bottle bills. But the job was to go to an upstairs office in Burlington five nights a week and make calls asking for money.

You learn something from every experience. I learned that I hate cold calling. But I learned something else when the PIRG lobbyist came “down from Montpelier” to talk to us. This in itself was glamorous – she was older (when I look back, probably about 28), impressively on the weary side with the importance of her job, and worked at the state capitol.

The one thing I remember from her talk was her explaining the new trend of product makers measuring things for us, and that every time they did that, it was bad for the environment. Packets of cocoa is the example I think she gave. For some reason I never forgot this, and even though sometimes packets of cocoa are convenient (nice to take on a camping trip), I notice the trend continuing or even strengthening, and the consequences. The Keurig coffee cups are becoming fruitful and multiplying, already filling up landfills with difficult to recycle waste. Meanwhile SodaStream, an invention meant to reduce plastic by helping us make our own carbonated water and sodas, just came out with plastic “flavor caps.”

New laundry capsule pods made by Tide and others have had consequences even beyond their environmental impact – children are being poisoned by ingesting them, even when mothers have tried to keep them out of reach. So convenience becomes an inconvenience, another worry, a danger – and suddenly that new “design” of a laundry capsule is not good design at all. It solves a problem that didn’t exist, and creates more in the process.

The “recycle” mantra begins with “Reduce.” Reduce, reuse, recycle. Recycle is last, because although recycling is good, it still takes energy and water, just like any other process. So knowing that a package is recyclable is not really enough – better it doesn’t exist at all. Take the time to measure out your own coffee or laundry detergent, appreciating the design of machines that don’t require a capsule to operate. Already have a Keurig? As this family blogger notes, you can turn it into one of those machines by using the reusable capsules that come with it.