Sunday, April 6, 2008

Mattel: Public Enemy #1

In regard to the Barbie post from earlier today:

Using “waste” from one product as an input for another product is typically a smart business move- you save on energy costs from extraction and development of raw materials, waste collection costs, etc. But in most cases, it only superficially improves environmental, health, and business conditions. While this practice diverts waste from landfills (for a little while at least), you still have to consider the quality of the product and materials you’re dealing with.

A former Austin company, Applied Sustainability, LLC, used to run a business on redefining waste. They would work with companies to find new by-product synergies, and would subsequently lower those companies’ costs, energy use and carbons emissions. In one case, Applied Sustainability tried to help a company make the best use of its PVC waste by sending it to another company to use in shoes. The problem is, there’s concern over the health and environmental risks associated with PVC, and a number of countries have already banned its use. Is redirecting this hazardous waste doing a service to the public and environment? Or is it just perpetuating the problem by making companies think there’s a way to get rid of these materials after their products are made, rather than taking them out of the equation all together? (Certain companies, like Herman Miller, have found environmentally-safe replacements for PVC, and now have less to worry about when it comes to waste.)

Michael Braungart, along with William McDonough, co-authored “Cradle to Cradle.” (If you haven’t read it- get to it! It’s fantastic.) It calls for those of us who design products to really consider their "end" when developing them (because if we do, we could be reusing far more than we’re able to now, and we'd really see no "end", hence "cradle to cradle.") In this clip, Braungart talks about the chemicals used in products and specially calls out Mattel and the toxic chemicals it uses in its products targeted to children. While discussing Mattel’s “Polly Pocket,” Braungart says, “So I used the opportunity to talk to President Bush, and I said, ‘Look, you don’t need to go to Iraq. When you look for chemical weapons, here they are.’”

No comments: