The 'Property' of WasteCATEGORY / Trade TAGS / climate change, destroying, e-waste, earth, ewaste, garbage, pollution AUTHOR / Tio DATE / April 20, 2015
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I own a laptop, a smartphone, a projector and a telescope. That, plus some clothes and my electric toothbrush :). The apartment I stay in is rented. I don’t have a car, or a house that is ‘mine’, or anything else beside those mentioned. And even those that I own, may not be mine. I got the projector for free from someone, and I bought the laptop and the telescope on someone else's name, because I ordered them online and there were some issues with the address, so I had to put them on someone else's name.
However, many people in the world (if not most of them), own one or more cars, one or more laptops/tablets/smartphones or other gadgets, houses, land, lots of clothes, furniture, boats, or even animals.
Although this idea of ‘owning’ may seem normal to us, it is actually a part of the game we currently play (the money game). It’s an invention. What’s more, it’s such a wasteful and inefficient part of this highly obsolete game we still play.
If I have an apartment, then I am grounded to that place, since I can’t take it with me. If I want to move to a different location, I have to take all of my stuff with me to the new place. If I have a car, I may need to rent parking space for it, plus find one each time I take it somewhere. All of these issues can make my life extremely busy and stressful, since I have to take care of these things, and often have to take them with me or protect them in various ways.
The ‘care’ aspect is mostly part of the monetary system’s planned obsolescence business plan, while the ‘protection’ aspect is due to the huge inequality and scarcity that exists in the present system, which creates most crimes.
So let’s look at how this invention (property) came into existence, why it is so extremely wasteful and obsolete, and what would the alternative be.
Creating and wasting ‘Property’
The notion of property is as ancient as we can imagine. People have used the concept in one form or another perhaps since there were humans. Some is mine, some is yours, some is ours. If you make a clay plate, then you may say it is yours. If you make poop, you may not recognize it as yours. 🙂 That example may sound weird, but it’s meant to show that you only find value in some things and not in others. Some stuff may be useful to you (like that clay plate) while others are not. You don’t collect your poop (at least the vast majority don’t), because it is of no use to you.
However, the ‘property’ notion is not only about acquiring/collecting/storing/claiming useful stuff as yours, just because they are useful to you. It is also a mix of scarcity of ‘things’ and social norms. Gold is scarce, yet useless for most of us, but people will feel good ‘owning’ some and that’s because of the social norms and the system we live in (they can use gold to acquire other stuff, or show off with it as a sign of wealth). If poop was the exchange currency of our society, people would collect it. However, if there was an abundance of poop or gold, people wouldn’t bother collecting any of it because:
- people would have access to it when they want, and so collecting/storing it won’t add any advantage.
- poop and gold would become non-valuable as exchange currency, since they won’t be scarce anymore.
- neither of them has any real value for individuals.
On the other hand, if there happens to be an abundance of goods and services available to everyone, poop, gold, or any other exchange ‘currencies’ are useless. We don’t trade air using any currency. There is plenty of it on this planet.
A new smartphone might be claimed as a ‘property’, but probably not an older phone. When I was in school, a teacher found a notebook with obscene poetries written on it and asked ”Whose is this?”. No one claimed it. When I was once at a public swimming pool and someone found a golden ring and asked “Whose is this?”, ten people tried to claim it.
So, the notion of ‘property’ is a mutation that has emerged from a mixture of scarcity and utility, combined with social norms.
The harmful part of this notion is the waste and inefficiency it creates. We now live in a world where the notion of ‘property’ is like a religion to most people. It is the backbone of the monetary system. It is no longer a notion, but a rule, which is why it has become so harmful. Let me explain.
Waste and Inefficiency
In another article we showed the tremendous waste of homes (houses, apartments) that exist in this world. Tens of millions of homes are empty because people cannot afford to ‘own’, or even rent them. Now, let’s look at two other major sectors in the current system that produces an equal or more amount of waste because of this rule of ‘property’.
Boats, cars and gadgets.
I live in a town near the Mediterranean sea where there are hundreds of boats parked, from small ones to big yachts. I’ve lived here for 5 years now and I can ‘report’ that 90% of these boats are always ‘parked’ and unused, maybe even more. I rarely see someone using any of them. However, if I want to use a boat, I’m not allowed because I don’t ‘own’ any.
In this 2010 photo, the place where there are no boats was actually a newly renovated place to ‘park’ these boats and was not finished yet. Their number has increased since 2010, so it is now worse.
Still looking at that area, on the left side is the beach. It’s a big beach, but more than half of it is reserved for cars. In other words, when tourists come here, half of the beach is populated with cars.
Speaking of cars, there are currently around 1.2 billion cars in the world, with 65 million new cars produced each year. There is roughly one car to every 6-7 living human beings in this world (including babies, old, or paralyzed people)(source 1, 2). If we ignore everyone between age 0-14 (who cannot drive), there would still be one car to every 4-5 people on the planet (‘all’ people over age 14 - including those who cannot drive due to various biological impediments, such as blindness or paralysis)(source).
If we were to further eliminate those who cannot drive and those who cannot afford to buy/rent a car (which is more than 3 billion people) there is almost one car for every single person in the world right now.
Therefore, there is approximately one car for everyone who is above the poverty line and capable of driving. However I don’t have one and I am not starving yet, plus many non-starving people that I know also have no car. That is simply because I cannot afford to buy one (and so it goes for the other people I know, too). So, even if you are above the poverty line, it does not mean you can own a car. Therefore, it seems that statistic goes through the roof when we think about how many people can really ‘afford’ to buy a car. Taking that into account, there may be 4-5 (or more) cars for everyone who can afford to buy one. Even considering that some vehicles are used for transportation services (such as taxi services), where are the rest of these cars? Are those who can afford really owning 4-5 cars each?
It is estimated that in the US, for instance, people own 2.28 vehicles per household, and more than 35 percent of households own three or more cars(source).
So yes, it may be true that many people own more than one car. That leads us to the next issue regarding cars: inefficiency.
A rough estimation, based on a 2010 study done for the US parking lots and extended by us to a global scale, shows that we would need a country the size of Costa Rica to park all the cars in the world. That may or may not sound like much to you, but there are far more parking lots in the world than that, based on that same study. Now consider the fact that these parking lots are parts of cities. It’s not like you park your car in Costa Rica and live in New York. Thus the impact on city landscapes is tremendous(source 1,2).
Then think about the fact that many parking lots are almost always empty. Malls, stadiums, cinemas, factories and shopping centers have parking lots specifically designed for their busiest days of the year, thus they are generally empty to half full the vast majority of the time.
In every town I’ve lived in, so far (which is not many), I’ve found that there are more parking spaces than sidewalk areas or parks - far more. Most of the time, you could barely find a place to walk from one point to the other because of so many parking lots and all of the roads devoted primarily to vehicle traffic.
Here are some of the largest parking lots in the world, and some ‘typical’ parking spaces from different countries.
The way cars are used is another interesting facet. It is estimated that Americans drive around 13,000 miles (20,921 km) per year on average. That is around 36 miles per day, or 58 km. So, the average actual ‘use’ of a car appears to amount to less than an hour per day. That is simply ridiculous! All of the car owners that I know also fit into this statistic. Actually, they use it less than that per day. That is such a huge waste. It means that cars are mostly parked; not being used more than 23 hours a day.
Let’s also not forget that, most of the time, a car only transports one or two people, generating much more waste. We’re using 3500 pound (1600 kg) power-hungry vehicles to transport 150 - 200 pound (70 - 93 kg) human beings?!
If parked cars occupy a land area larger than Costa Rica, then imagine the immensity of road space reserved for the traffic created when they are actually put to use. It is beyond me to try to calculate it, and I haven't found any study that has already analyzed that, but just picture it… Every city has traffic roads, with one or more lanes in both directions, and there are lots of roads in between all of the cities…, and on the topic of traffic, we all know how extremely inefficient cars are, worldwide, in terms of slowness, traffic congestions, and so on.
This entire mess is due to the fact that we live in a world that is based on ownership and where people have to own cars in order to use them (and we all know that we are forced to use them, or else most jobs would not consider us for hire, and other aspects of our lives would become much harder to manage, if not impossible). When you own a car, you also need parking space. More than that, since this is a consumerist culture, malls & shopping centers require lots of parking spaces for consumers to drive their cars there to buy even more stuff that they probably don’t need :).
A scary fact about people driving cars is that human error is the principal factor in car accidents. There are 20-50 million injuries (minor to severe - some causing permanent disability), and a whopping 1.3 million deaths, annually. That’s almost as many people as HIV kills each year.
So, the notion of owning a car is not only extremely inefficient (besides the facts presented, consider how many cars are left to rot because of their owner’s inability to maintain them, or cars that sit in showrooms not being used by anyone), but also an approach that indirectly or directly kills so many people and produces so much waste.
‘Cars’ is only one product out of billions that are wasteful because people have to own them, store them, take care of them, insure them, and then dispose them once they are no longer ‘worth’ maintaining.
All kinds of electronics are owned by nearly all of us, yet seldom used. From mobile phones to monitors and tvs, etc., many of us own much more than we can use. However, we may find it ‘uncomfortable’ to give them away for ‘free’ to someone else who needs them, since we would lose any perceived possibility of gaining a little monetary profit by selling that surplus, so we generally end up keeping these unneeded electronics until they ‘die’ (either become obsolete or non functional). It is also quite difficult to sell or share these electronics or other stuff that we own. From transportation to finding a ‘buyer’, the entire process is quite a challenge.
For these reasons, a huge amount of ‘dead’ electronics end up in trash dumpsters. As an example, every year in Ghana, millions of tons of such waste are dumped into a landfill that is now considered to be one of the most contaminated landfills in the world. Unprotected workers, many of them young children, spend the day searching for metals to sell, usually by burning the electronics and dismantling them with their bare hands. In the process, they may earn upwards of eight to ten Ghana cedis per day (4 to 6 USD). The waste processing emits toxic chemicals into the air, land and water. Exposure is especially hazardous to children, as these toxins are known to inhibit the development of the reproductive system, the nervous system, and especially the brain(source).
Here’s what is produced each year in electronics:
- 300 million computers
- 315 million tablets
- 39 million “ultra mobile” computers
- 350 million TV sets
- 1.89 billion cell phones
These are incomplete totals for 2014 (so the numbers are bigger in reality), and the trend continues to increase in production units.
A 2010 report shows that there were 384 million electronic devices disposed, but only 73 million recycled. These totals don’t include products that are no longer used, but which are still stored in homes and offices(source).
In our mass consumerism world, the future doesn’t look good at all. “According to a report by UNEP titled, "Recycling - from E-Waste to Resources," the amount of e-waste being produced - including mobile phones and computers - could rise by as much as 500 percent over the next decade in some countries, such as India.”(source)
But what about food?
I have a refrigerator in my house, which was there when I rented the place. To no one's surprise, there is at least one fridge in every home. You may view this as a normal situation, but consider why we have to store food in our homes? If I try always eating at restaurants, eating becomes very expensive. If I want to buy food only as I need it, it’s very inconvenient to have to make so many trips to the store to buy it, and some of the food may also spoil quickly. This is why I have to own excess food in this system, and then store it until it’s needed. Sometimes, some of the food I buy expires and I have to throw it away, either because I just can’t eat all of it at the ‘right’ moment, or I am not paying close enough attention to the expiration dates on everything. This probably happens to most of us. If I waste a tiny amount of food this way, and a billion others also do the same, then those tiny amounts add up to a huge amount.
That’s not the only issue, though. I know a woman who was working at a grocery store for $100 a month - money that she needed to cover all of her family needs. The store frequently threw away expired food, instead of giving it a day in advance of the expiration date to their needy $100 a month employees. There were many others who worked in similar supermarket environments who were saying the same things. One guy even showed me the back of a supermarket filled with expired fruits that they were about to throw into the garbage bin.
This is so common that I now notice this at any supermarket I use. They have offers like 30%-off discounts for products that will expire in a day or two. As far as I can tell, however, they do not sell a significant quantity of these marked-down products, so that approach is not waste efficient at all, nor is it humane in any way.
Now, let’s look now at a bigger picture. Based on a Washington Post investigation:
“According to various estimates, American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy.”
“Supermarkets toss out $15 billion worth of unsold fruits and vegetables alone, each year. Stores would rather overstock their shelves and throw out the remainder, than look empty.”
“…one industry estimate that each store throws out, on average, $2,300 worth of food each day because the products have neared their expiration date. Yet most of this food is still edible. In many states, it's still perfectly legal to sell food past its expiration date. Many stores would just prefer not to — it looks bad. "Most stores, in fact, pull items 2 to 3 days before the sell-by date" “
At the production line, “Some produce goes unpicked because it doesn't meet standards for shape and color. One large cucumber farmer estimated that fewer than half the vegetables he grows actually leave his farm and that 75 percent of the cucumbers culled before sale are edible.”
“In restaurants, a good chunk of food is lost in the kitchen. And, on average, diners leave about 17 percent of their food uneaten. Restaurants also try to keep more food than they need on hand to make sure that everything on the menu is available. What's more, chain restaurants have inflexible rules that require perfectly good food to be tossed. McDonald's, for instance, requires fries to be thrown out after seven minutes. About one-tenth of fast food gets junked this way.“
Wikipedia says that “A 2013 report estimated that 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced remains uneaten.”
This is all due to the fact that someone ‘owns’ this food, and someone else has to acquire it to gain its ownership and, with it, the right to eat it - be it through buying groceries and storing it at home, or buying it from restaurants and eating it there.
It is also due to an indirect effect of the monetary system’s selling tactics (promotion/advertising) that cause people to not want to buy certain food items due to their ‘aesthetics’.
As in the case of the cars in showrooms, think about the food in stores. There is always food in stores. Remember the 1.3 million people killed in car accidents each year? Well, we have 7-8 million people dying of starvation, every year, although there is obviously plenty of food to ‘overfeed’ everyone on this planet.
If you want more data on food waste, I recommend this TED talk, which goes into greater detail - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWC_zDdF74s
All in all, the ‘owning’ of food demands a huge chain of production, delivery, and storage systems, all entangled within the monetary system, that are not only counterproductive, but also results in many millions of deaths each year, along with numerous other societal and environmental issues.
Clothes, lands and holidays
To get an accurate statistic on how many shoes, sweaters, or pants are produced each year in the world is impossible, but there are certainly more shoes and pants than we all have feet and legs, and more sweaters and t-shirts than all of our arms and upper bodies. For clothing produced only in China, people in the US buy an average of 4 pieces of clothing, per person, each year. It is estimated that 21% of these clothes stay in the home after purchasing, though that’s only for the US(source).
Worldwide, 14.3 million tons of textiles waste was generated in 2012 alone, and only a tiny 14% of that was recycled.(source) That 12.2 million unrecovered tons is nearly equivalent to three times the mass of all of the world’s african elephant and blue whale populations combined - that’s how much clothing we humans wasted in 2012.
Land is another aspect of this planet that people have come to think they own. 21% of all the Earth’s land is currently ‘legally owned’ by a handful of people(source). In actuality, though, perhaps the entire planet is ‘owned’ by various people or groups: countries and laws, access and accessibility, are all part of what allows planet Earth to be ‘owned’ by some. This causes important resources to not be available to others. Additional consequences also arise, such as the global environmental impacts brought about by poor management of what is done with or on this ‘owned’ land.
The concept of holidays (holy days) emerged out of various human cultures, but has since been completely hijacked by the global monetary system and is now entirely associated with consumption, leading to even more massive waste. Without ‘ownership’, and with all people having access to what they want and need, holidays may become meaningless. Notice how the ownership idea has become so deeply embedded into our daily lives by the monetary system, that it even forms most of our self-image. This is very important to understand, because the solution that we propose to substantially reduce or even remove the waste and suffering that we currently create and allow, may change this ownership idea a lot, as it will challenge present day customs.
This situation where billions of gadgets that are produced each year, combined with the tons of waste that’s produced, along with tactics such as artificially manufactured desire and planned obsolescence, is simply going to get worse and worse as more and more people (consumers) enter ‘the market’. Additionally, if we think that we can solve the issue of waste by substituting ownership with renting, then we are blind in both eyes. This is because this waste is not a byproduct of how we manage the distribution of ‘stuff’ within a monetary system. Such massive waste is necessitated by the monetary system itself. There are already plenty of cars available for rent, as well as apartments and all sorts of gadgets, but not all people can afford to rent them and, as we pointed out earlier, ‘ownership’ is part of one’s image in the monetary system’s social classes, where those with more ‘stuff’ (wealth) are those who have more perceived power in society. This aspect significantly incentivises people to hoard things.
A rent system also does not solve the fact that the world is divided by tribes and wildly varying local laws. So if one tribe is focused more on renting than owning, other tribes may not, and thus the waste is still produced. Even if we make such a shift, the artificially manufactured desire (advertising) that so many companies rely on to help maximize their profits will still make people want to ‘rent’ more and more, instead of ‘own’ more and more of ‘new and shiny’ objects in a cyclical wasteful consumption system.
More than that, you simply cannot rent everything you might need. Not only is the cost of renting items significantly higher than ownership, but decor objects, fashion clothes, jewellery, and so on, are almost exclusively designed to be owned, not rented, because they have been marketed over centuries specifically to represent social status.
Thinking again about food, we might see it as ‘rented’ when you go out to a restaurant and eat there, but as we have already shown, restaurants also produce tons of waste in this system.
Even if everything could be rented instead of owned, the current system’s demand for businesses to maximize profits will still force companies to produce products of poor quality and with little regard for the environment during maintenance and disposal of their products.
What I am trying to say is that the problem goes much deeper than that. The problem lies at the core of how this world currently works. No matter how many laws you put in place, this global monetary system is based on consumption. That is, people need to consume, and consumption must continually be made to grow, in order for this system to work. The main idea behind opening a business to sell a product or service, is to sell as much of your products as possible, or else you will go bankrupt. There is no way to make this consumption-system be ‘careful’ about the waste it produces, because the waste is a direct effect of the demand for over-consumption itself.
There are two parts to this solution:
- A new system of access and distribution to replace the monetary system itself
- When it comes to goods and services (almost of any kind), we have shown how they can be produced and distributed in an automated and autonomous fashion in our AA WORLD book. From ‘on the spot’ production (3D printers, for example) of varied products, to automated factories, to autonomous drones and other vehicles that can distribute these goods to people where and when needed, all of this is already technically possible.
In order for these systems to make sense and work within a social context, we need to create an abundance of these goods and services so that there will be no room for barter/exchange, taking possessions, conflict, etc., and therefore no need for any remaining monetary system aspects to distribute and use these goods. It will be free access to all of them.
Also, through abundance, people will feel no need to store all of these objects, as that would serve no purpose. With everything they need readily available at any time, they will only use them when they need them, considerably reducing the waste of storing unused goods as it happens in today’s world. And while you might be inclined to think that creating this abundance means we will create more goods than what already exist, the opposite is much more realistic, as we argued in length in our book: "The Money Game and Beyond". To highlight that a bit, we obviously don’t need as many shopping carts as there are people in a town, or in the world, but only as many as people normally use. Therefore we maintain far fewer shopping carts than, let’s say, everyone owning their own shopping cart to be able to use at any store. This same reasoning holds true for cars, as we just have shown, since most of us need to own a car to manage our lives. Just think about using self-driving taxis, instead of everyone owning and maintaining personal vehicles for that. I’m reasonably sure you agree with me that it would be ridiculous and extremely wasteful for every person to own a shopping cart, just to be able to shop at any store. Then why is it ‘normal’ for everyone to own a car, just to get from one place to another? See? Far less resources would be consumed with this approach.
Now imagine that we can monitor (and we can) most of Earth’s resources to provide a good idea of what resources are available, what is needed, and what may soon become scarced. This will allow us to maximize their use, while creating little to no waste.
And since there will be no room for barter or exchange in this system, eliminating the profit-based competition that we see today, products will be made to last as long as possible and be easily upgradeable, since money-based business plans like planned obsolescence won’t serve any purpose.
If you manage to create abundance with an automated approach to production and delivery that requires no human labor, then this world will work on its own from a technological perspective. You would then have a system that you can implement globally; a system of production for any goods and services, a system of simple and efficient delivery, and a system of near 0% waste.
I am talking about a system where there would be no such notion as ‘property’. But can we imagine that?
Well, imagine you go to the beach and you want to go for a swim, but someone tells you that this area of water is private so you’ll have to buy or rent a couple of square meters if you want to swim. This would be ridiculous, since there is obviously plenty of room for everyone to swim. But this is the same thing that it is happening in today’s world. There are plenty of goods produced (including food) for everyone in this world, and there is also plenty of room for everyone to have a place to stay, but...
This kind of a system cannot work without a proper, relevant, up-to-date education, and I think this is even more important than all of the technology itself. Let me try to explain why.
Remember when I said that the drive to ‘own’ something is not only driven by the monetary system, but also by social norms? Well, even if we create this world of abundance, some people may want a full-size golden elephant in their room, or whatever else that is only a ‘want’, rather than a need. We will probably not be able to make a golden elephant for every request out there, but the key is that no one will probably want that. I know it’s hard to imagine that people won’t behave erratically and order all kinds of exotic dishes, or crazy things, but that way of thinking will have no basis, as I will explain.
I saw once a documentary about people from remote tribes coming to our modern tribes to see how life is here. In their tribe, they wear no clothes, had no money or barter, no property notion, nothing like we have. When they were visiting Manchester, their host had to explain to them that there is no need for hunting here. You can go to the supermarket and buy some food with these papers we call money. Then they explained how you have to work to obtain these papers. They further explained to the tribe members how the subway works, how to use cars, phones, and so on.
Without their guides, these remote tribe members would not have been able to manage for one hour in Manchester, because they had no idea how this city/system works. If they started to poop on the streets, hunt for pigeons and cats, or walk on foot from one place to another, they would have not survived for too long. Poop on the streets may have spread diseases and caused public disgust, the pigeon & cat populations would have disappeared just before they starved to death, and Manchester is so big that walking on foot would have been completely inefficient.
What they needed was guidance as to how this system works, and that was for their own benefit. They had to understand, first, how that system works, in order to take advantage of it.
You see, people from today’s society are the remote tribe members from that documentary. You cannot put them into a wildly different kind of society and expect for them to understand it. You have to educate them about the benefits of such a system, about how such a system works. They have to understand that it is pointless to ask for a bow and arrow (or guns, golden elephants, etc) since it will serve no purpose for this system. You also have to show them why pooping in the streets (or taking advantage of others or damaging goods) is detrimental to the system as a whole, and to themselves.
As those tribe members had to learn to go from walking barefoot in the jungle to using a cars, from hunting to buying food, from building a house to buying a house, etc., this is similar to how people from today’s world have to go from buying food to eating what they need, from hoarding stuff to using what they need, from owning a car to just using a high-tech transportation system, and so on.
I know it is a bit hard to imagine such a shift in thinking, but it is possible. I remember in that documentary that one of the tribe members saw a homeless person in the streets, sleeping in the shadow of huge buildings, and he asked his hosts, “Aren’t there any places left for this man in these big buildings?” He had no notion that it’s possible to have empty place available but not let people stay in it. He had no notion of property. He said that in his village, when people have nowhere to stay, they either build a house for him or invite him in one of their homes, because their homes are everyone's homes. So yes, people can be like that. People can evolve towards a more efficient set of values that is both beneficial for us as a human species, and also preserves the global environment we live in, from which we still have so much to learn from.
The end of the beginning
I would love to, instead of owning my stuff, to access the stuff I need only when I need it. Instead of owning a telescope, to be able to use a much stronger one, for free, whenever I want to. To be able to move from one place to another, halfway around the globe, without concern about bringing ‘all my stuff’ with me. I would love to live in a world where I don’t have to worry about theft or the constant waste disposal that is turning our homo-suited Earth into our ‘enemy’.
When we unleash science and technology directly into the social system, without the interference of money, patents or proprietary ownership, the standard of living will quickly grow exponentially. When all of science is directed to the well being of all people and the protection of the environment, there is no limit to what society could become. Even the wealthiest people of today will have a much higher standard of living, along with everyone else.
This is why we propose a world where any kinds of trade (barter, gifts, money, bitcoin, and so forth) become obsolete. Because when that happens such situations of waste or notions of property will either disappear or become nearly irrelevant.