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Old Ways to do New Things

February 11, 2010

As one of the pebbles in the pond I’ve been helping develop wax wraps as a replacement for plastic wrap. It has been an interesting process and got me thinking about some of the ways we look at problem-solving in the west. Now I am starting to wonder if we have a blind spot for solutions that look backward for inspiration or simplicity. Today solutions for our problems must be brand-new, shiny and brain-damagingly complex.

I’m starting to think this is a bad thing. It seems like we have begun to pursue progress for the sake of progress rather than anything tangible or useful. You only have to look at some of the crazy useless ‘inventions’ that we are try to be sold to realize something is off-kilter.

For example take a look at the humble plastic shopping bag. At first glance it is a marvel of modern engineering. It is a cheap, lightweight approach to the age old problem of transportation of goods. Yet after its fifteen minutes of use some major downsides start to appear. Basically the thing won’t die. It may be full of holes and useless but the darn things keep coming back like a terminator coming on sight-seeing tour from the future. The solution? Reusable cloth bags like our ancestors likely used.

I think much of the same logic can be applied to many of the new convenience products we have seen pop up in the last couple of decades. We are all smart people. There must be a better way to solve our problems without creating more garbage.

In the end I think it all comes down to better design, good old fashioned smarts, and an individual and collective focus on quality over quantity. The position we have put ourselves into means we have to look at all possible solutions; both past and present, sophisticated or simple. I’m not saying we should go back to the horse and buggy – not at all, but I do know that a lot of the solutions to the environmental problem have already been invented. Now we just need to be smart and start using them.

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