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Post by Phil White » Wed Jul 22, 2020 9:23 am

I need to let off steam, and I shall do so here. This has nothing to do with language and is simply a rant!

My trusty mouse and keyboard are finally giving up the ghost, and I need new ones. Also, on the machine I use in my "recording studio", I need a wired keyboard and mouse, as the wireless interferes with microphones and is picked up by instrument cables. Not only that, I need a toner cartridge for my Brother office printer.

As a rule, I try to avoid Amazon for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I want to use companies that pay their taxes in the countries they work in and secondly, I want to buy from a single source to cut down on transport and associated emissions. Even if all the items you order are in stock and are sold by Amazon, they invariably come in multiple deliveries.

So I started hunting around for a UK supplier where I could get all the items I wanted. I tried the biggest remaining national electronics retailer Currys PC World, but their keyboards really didn't meet my needs, being primarily aimed at the gaming market. Neither did they have the toner cartridge I need.

So I googled the model number of my current Loditech keyboard and, lo and behold, you can get it from Currys PC World! It turns out that the keyboard is available from Currys PC World Business. Okay, I am a registered business, so I looked at the site and could get everything I wanted, including the toner cartridge. All from a single source! Bingo!

So I registered and put the order together.

The next day, I got a shipping advice. For one item only - the big keyboard and mouse. From the Sheffield dispatch centre. No news about the other items yet. So that rather defeated one of the objects of avoiding Amazon.

And this morning I received the invoice for that one item. From Currys PC World in the Czech Republic.

As I have been writing this post, I have received another dispatch notice. For a further two items: "The goods have been despatched via our Supplier and will arrive with you shortly."

Quite honestly, I am bloody furious. You do your best to purchase things ethically and with a certain regard for the environment, but ultimately you have no control over the process. It wouldn't surprise me if Currys PC World source their stuff from Amazon.

It is not as though there is any alternative. I live on the Wirral, a region of about 350,000 inhabitants. There is now one single shop where you can see and buy a good range of consumer electronics and computer accessories: Currys PC World. And that is at the other end of the Wirral in a retail park that I can only get to by taxi or on three buses. And it only stocks the consumer range of items, not the stuff I need.

It really does make one want to move to a croft in the Hebrides with no telephone or Internet...

Seriously, this example does highlight the vast chasm between the rhetoric on the environment and corporate ethics and the reality. As consumers we are all encouraged to do our bit, but increasingly it is not possible to do so.

Rant over, but the deep sense of pissed-offness remains.
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: Rant

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Jul 23, 2020 6:27 pm

It's in the nature of our globalized capitalist economic system for the efficiency and manner of operation of supply chains to be substantially opaque, even for the individual links in those chains.

The stages of supply of the consumer items you have focused on are among the last in the sequence of processes that the items you ordered have undergone. There will have been many others, not least those involving the manufacturing, distribution and assembly of all the components that are contained in the final products. A really thorough examination and evaluation of all of that is not possible for a domestic end-user to carry out; I'm not sure that even Currys PC World would be able to do it without devoting considerable research effort to the task.

Unfortunately, when nobody has a full overview of all the steps in a given supply chain (which is always morphing anyway as suppliers and intermediate components are switched in response to issues of quality, cost and availability), it is not possible for consumers to optimize their purchases in terms of the business ethics and degree of environmental responsibility embodied in their choice of product and supplier.

The dilution of responsibility and accountability is built into the system, because the chief criteria for the commercial decisions made by any large-scale manufacturers and distributors usually centre on time, cost and profitability, not the minimization of environmental footprints and exploitation of workforces. The opacity of long or complex supply chains means that plausible deniability and challengeable trade-offs are liable to occur at every stage.

In addition to this, in a mass market there is always a tendency for manufacturers to race to the bottom in terms of the priorities and values they apply that is driven by competition with other manufacturers. (This is one very good justification for the global regulation and enforcement of manufacturing standards and labour practices, the responsible sourcing or mining of raw materials, and the responsible treatment and disposal of waste produced in manufacturing processes.)

That's not to say that consumers must necessarily conclude that all choices of product or supplier can be considered ethically equivalent. But it does mean that there is only so much they can do to minimize the ethical and environmental harms involved in their choice, except perhaps by not consuming the product (or service) in the first place.

Re: Rant

Post by Shelley » Thu Jul 23, 2020 9:16 pm

Phil White wrote: Wed Jul 22, 2020 9:23 amYou do your best to purchase things ethically and with a certain regard for the environment, but ultimately you have no control over the process.
Phil, you are completely justified in your frustration and fury. This conundrum is the basis for the problem of "The Good Place": after several seasons, it becomes the mission of the protagonists to find out why, despite all their striving, they repeatedly fail to gain access to "the good place" (Heaven). They learn that, for some reason, NO humans are able to enter and haven't entered for decades.
SPOILER ALERT: in a beautifully wrapped-up solution to a terrible problem, they realize that in the modern world it is not possible to "be good", no matter how hard one tries, because everything is so convoluted, intertwined, complicated and compromised. Even when one tries to gain points by making all the right choices, those choices are invariably tainted with unknown, "bad place" attributes. You lose points; you don't get to Heaven.
I guess you know I like the show.
I really sympathize with you, Phil. Of course, just because they make it impossible doesn't mean you should stop striving. After all, my friend Bob said ". . . a man's reach should exceed his grasp. Or what's a Heaven for?" (No, not Bobinwales, Bob Browning!)

Re: Rant

Post by Phil White » Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:28 pm

Goodness me, Shelley! Long time, no see.

Not sure I am looking for heaven. I would be quite content not to reside in a lunatic asylum!

All my goodies arrived yesterday. One Logitech mouse and keyboard was shipped and invoiced from the Czech Republic. Another Logitech mouse and keyboard was shipped from somewhere in the UK and the toner cartridge and a few mouse pads were shipped from somewhere else in the UK.

All were undoubtedly manufactured in the Far East, but there is no reason why they should not all be warehoused in the UK for the UK market.
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: Rant

Post by trolley » Fri Jul 24, 2020 1:13 am

Shelley wrote: Thu Jul 23, 2020 9:16 pm Even when one tries to gain points by making all the right choices, those choices are invariably tainted with unknown, "bad place" attributes. You lose points; you don't get to Heaven.
My wife is the recycle queen. With her heart planted firmly in the right place, she faithfully recycles everything she can. All of our plastics, paper products, cans, etc. are picked up weekly and carted off. All the cans, jars, bottles, or other type of food container must be cleaned prior to being put out for pick up. Our recyclables are immaculate. She takes pride in "doing the right thing", meanwhile she is using enough fresh water to supply a small Developing Nations village for a week. She's not interested in applying for Heaven but if she was to get a rejection notice, based on that...well, I'd be writing a stern letter!

Re: Rant

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Jul 24, 2020 5:07 am

trolley wrote: Fri Jul 24, 2020 1:13 amAll the cans, jars, bottles, or other type of food container must be cleaned prior to being put out for pick up. Our recyclables are immaculate.
I too clean the recyclables in my household, but without using more than a tiny amount of additional water. The way I do this is by allocating a small amount of space in the dishwasher to the cans, jars and plastic containers that are destined for recycling. I also try to use as many of the nooks and crannies amid the stacked plates and cups as I can for the recyclables. It's remarkable how much more you can actually squeeze in when you organize the racks as thoughtfully as possible.

Result: minimal extra water use, and minimal physical effort, because the only recyclables I wash by hand are the bottles and cartons I rinse out. The main cost is the extra time it takes me to optimize the efficiency with which I load the dishwasher, i.e. about ten minutes every three days.

Re: Rant

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Jul 28, 2020 3:23 am

Going back to Phil's rant, there's one further aspect of the lifecycle of a product which ought in principle to be considered when assessing and comparing the ethical and environmental implications of a particular purchase decision.

This is the issue of how the item will be disposed of when its original function has ended: can it be reused, repaired, repurposed or recycled? And when there is no feasible way of extending its life and/or nobody wants it because it is obsolete, can its components be reclaimed or disposed of safely?

As consumers we have little or no access to the product end-of-life information that would be relevant for optimizing our purchase decisions. The most that the majority of consumers can expect to see is a triangular symbol stamped on packaging material that indicates that it can be recycled. But an awful lot of the things we buy are complex products which are cost-prohibitive to disassemble, even if the components are recyclable in principle. We also have very little idea regarding the details of product recycling, the way the recycling industry is set up, and the complexity of the enterprise.

For instance, a lot of plastic waste is particularly hard to recycle, either because its type cannot easily be identified or because it comprises a mix of plastics. Familiar examples are the laminated thin-film plastics on top of soft fruit cartons which are composed of two fused sheets of dissimilar plastic, or plastic food cartons which have been heat-sealed around the edges, a process which also fuses at least two types of plastic. Dyes and other additives also add to the complexity.

In practice, such materials are so hard to separate for recycling that they are usually either landfilled, burned or sometimes incorporated into objects where the exact composition of the material is not so critical, such as planks or outdoor benches.

However, all the reprocessing involved in responsibly recycling end-of-life products assumes the existence of multiple factors: a profitable market for the reprocessed material, reprocessing facilities with the capacity, expertise and financing to handle the products to be reprocessed, and a regulatory framework which encourages or mandates the responsible disposal of such products.

But as we know, the existence of these necessary conditions in a given part of the world is not guaranteed, and the current stagnation of the world economy means low prices for some recycled products (such as paper) due to low demand. We would also need to factor in the environmental footprint of transporting all these materials to and from the places they will (hopefully) be recycled or reprocessed.

In the context of so much complexity, market fluctuations affecting recycled products, and the general lack of clarity regarding the nature and even the timing of the ultimate fate of their purchases, consumers are likely to throw up their hands in confusion -- if they even think about these issues at all.

Frankly, who can blame them? But it remains an aspect of our global over-consumption where there is a desperate need for political and popular will, plus financial resources to back it up, to devise and apply effective solutions as soon as possible. Otherwise our planet will turn into even more of a ravaged, toxic wasteland than it is already.

However, I'm not holding my breath. :?

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