The Struggle with Designing in a Throw-Away Culture

Throw Away Culture
Throw Away Culture

One of my most challenging hurdles as an Interior Designer is educating a client on why purchasing a quality product that is durable, easy to maintain, and lasts longer usually is the better choice even if it cost more upfront. Some clients only look at the price tag without trying to understanding many other important factors. It is very sad to see so much junk going into landfills, and low-quality products, designed to be cheaper than the quality ones, seducing buyers into thinking that they got a deal, but then failing, breaking, or negatively affecting their health, losing the aesthetic shine, and quickly having to be fixed, thrown away and replaced, and most likely having a higher maintenance cost. Let us not forget about all the extra time it took out of our busy lives, so in the long run it was an actual lose-lose.

Currently EPA estimates for 2012 say that about 7 billion tons of carpet and over 3 million tons of furniture go into US landfills each year. These figures should astonish and horrify us, since this cannot continue unless we all enjoy living in garbage. One solution is purchasing products that have a long life, instead of maintaining the current “short-term mentality.” This means not having to replace products 3 to 10+ times which reduces the amount being thrown into landfills. Another solution is the use of items made from materials that are considered to be “closed-loop systems,” such as glass, brick, concrete, and steel, meaning they can be remade/reborn into new products over and over again indefinitely. We need to consider using more closed-loop items that can be easily kept out of our landfills. We also need to consider how to turn items that typically are not closed-loop into such type of items. For example, many carpet manufacturers are now working to resolve this by reclaiming 100% of their product and working to be able to remake it using 100% reclaimed materials (this number is not yet at 100% but improving every day) or making products that can be composted and even become nutrients for plants.

Other aspects of quality products people do not consider is whether the material or the process and chemicals used to create it can be harmful to us. Some item's materials can have a negative effect on indoor air quality, and the health and welfare of inhabitants.

Some items can significantly reduce your energy and/or water usages in utility cost. Many items such as appliances and lighting usually have paybacks within 3 years of the purchase which means not only that they cover their extra cost, but eventually you save much more money by purchasing it instead of the cheaper product. The cost of replacements, landfill cost, and maintenance eat away at most of the apparent benefit of being inexpensive.

These better products are usually accepted in luxury markets because of their price, but in reality they are not purely luxury, but they are efficient and realize cost savings in the long run. They are falsely viewed as superficial upcharges. There are however some luxury items that have huge maintenance or other costs, then a less expensive choice is better for that particular situation. My advice is stop thinking on a short-term horizon and educate yourselves, improve your indoor environment and save money in the long-run by selecting better products for your home and business. Find out truly how much each item will cost you in the lifetime of the product and therefore you will truly be money ahead.

For more information on what we can do to prevent waste and engage in better recycling habits please check out this article.


Photo: Danny Seo,