Meet John Doe: Costs of disposal, impact on environment must be included in the cost of new products

Paul Gorski
Paul Gorski

By Paul Gorski

This column is in response to “Technological assessment is needed” by Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl from the Dec. 17-23, 2014, issue; online at http://rockrivertimes.com/2014/12/17/technological-assessment-is-needed/.

The authors are asking government and business to work together jointly, or citizen groups to work individually, to assess the impact of technology on our live, communities and the environment to better prepare the effects new technology has on our world. The only way this will happen is if we build the costs of a product’s disposal and impact on the community into the cost of the product. Incorporating these costs into the product will force the assessment.

Manufacturers carefully calculate the cost to manufacture, advertise and distribute a product, but rarely does the manufacturer calculate the cost of product disposal and include the disposal cost into the final product. A manufacturer may control the cost of disposal by handling the disposal of the products itself or with the aid of a business partner. The manufacturer could contribute the revenue from collected disposal costs to an industry-standard recycling and disposal program all manufacturers of similar products would participate in.

Building the recycling and disposal costs into a product will increase the product’s cost, but would reflect a more accurate cost of the product, from beginning to end in the product life cycle.

Calculating the environmental and societal costs of a product would be more difficult to do, but important things are rarely easy to do. In this case, business, government and community leaders could contribute to the cost-benefit calculation process. The revenues collected from the increased product costs would almost certainly have to go into a trust fund of sorts for mitigating the problems associated with the use of a product.

A simple case in point: a can of beer. A nickel surcharge to recycle the can, and nickel surcharge to go to drug dependency programs. I use a nickel for illustration purposes only — real costs may be higher or lower. Charges for other “impacts” may also apply.

The technology assessment called for in the Vogls’ article will only come about if we attribute a dollar value to it, making manufacturers responsible for a larger portion of the “birth to grave” costs for a product.

Rarely do I cite Wikipedia articles, but I refer you to: “Whole-life cost” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whole-life_cost and “Environmental full-cost accounting” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_full-cost_accounting for an overview of some of the principles I have raised. The references for these articles are sound and the articles do not wander too far from the conclusions offered in the references.

Paul Gorski (paul@paulgorski.com) is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper.

Posted Jan. 7, 2015

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