Upgrading to more energy-efficient products is seen as an important step towards a better environment but the true ecological impact of our throwaway culture is not fully understood, a UNSW industrial design researcher says.
Dr Miles Park, Head of Industrial Design in UNSW's Faculty of Built Environment, says new, increasingly energy-efficient appliances may in fact be having the undesirable effect of adding to our environmental impact, and this new phenomenon of "eco-obsolescence" is one that requires further attention.
"We're replacing old appliances with more efficient items but this changes the way we use them, how often we replace them and how many appliances we have can increase overall energy consumption," Dr Park says.
"Old appliances, notably television and computer equipment which are often functional when discarded, mostly end up in landfill. This e-waste, or electronic waste, is the fastest growing category of municipal waste: each year approximately 17 million televisions and computer-related products reach the end of their life."
Industrial designers now have an opportunity to "design out eco-obsolescence", Dr Park says, by designing products which are adaptable or upgradeable to deliver longer lifespans. This would be part of a move to redefine the relationships consumers have with their products.
Dr Park spoke on the rise of eco-obsolescence at the recent Utzon Lecture, E-waste: Designing out obsolescence. The Utzon Lecture series was initiated by the Faculty of Built Environment to focus on major issues in contemporary urban Australia.