Can the disposable be sustainable?
A smartphone does lots of things, many of them astounding. One thing it doesn’t do is last very long. Generally two or three years before it gets thrown away. Usually because it’s not worth buying a new battery for it relative to the value of the phone itself at this point – and also because by this point, the phone itself is becoming outdated.
Even if it still works – and even if you decided to buy a new battery for it and damn the cost-to-value ratio, maybe because you really like the phone – the phone will become useless soon enough regardless because it won’t “supported” by its manufacturer. All those neat things the phone used to be able to do it won’t be able to do anymore. You can’t update it; the apps no longer work.
Throw it away – get a new one. It isn’t very . . . sustainable.
Think about the Everest of tossed sail fawns accumulating in landfills all over the world. Yes, they can be recycled – in theory. But in fact, many aren’t. And then there’s the energy that went into making them… and making new ones…. hmmmm.
Corded wall phones, on the other hand, lasted decades. Sometimes, generations. Pre-Millennials will remember the phone in the kitchen they grew up with and couldn’t quite reach when they were six still being there after they’d grown up, gone off to college and come home again for a visit.
It worked as well in 1995 as it had back in 1975. And probably still works today – assuming it hasn’t been tossed in favor of a sail fawn.
Like non-electric cars vs. the rapidly approaching and artificially-induced tsunami of electric cars. Which are the cell phones of transportation – and just as sustainable.
They are battery-powered, first of all. And no matter the hype about increased range, batteries – the ones actually in existence, not the prophesied Batteries of The Future (which never seems to arrive) they deteriorate over time, just like the 12V starter batteries that have been starting the engines of non-electric cars for the past almost 100 years.
Batteries store electricity, which is then drained to power something – either the starter motor, as in a non-electric car or the electric motor that propels the car, if it’s an electric car.
In a non-electric car, the battery is recharged as you drive by the alternator, a kind of mini utility plant that is itself powered mechanically by the running gas engine – usually via a belt-driven pulley. It generates electricity and feeds some it back it the battery, where it is stored and ready for the next cycle of starting up the car’s engine.
But both types of batteries have the same downside in one respect: Their ability to accept and store a charge is finite and will decline over time – the amount of time varying according to the number of times the battery is discharged and then recharged.
Some batteries – 12 volt or lithium ion – last longer than others, especially if they aren’t subjected to heavy discharge and fast charge cycling (mark those italics, EV people).
But neither will last as long as the car.
And disposable sooner.
The difference is the 12 volt starter battery in a non-electric car is worth replacing – several times over the car’s life – because it only costs about $100. But the electric car’s battery – which costs several thousand dollars – isn’t worth replacing even once.
It makes perfect sense to put a new $100 12 volt starter battery in a 10-year-old non-electric car with a retail value of $6,000. It makes sense putting another $100 battery in the same car five years later when it’s only worth $3,000. And it still makes sense to put a third $100 battery into the same car when it’s 20-years-old and only worth $1,500 – if the car still runs more or less well.
You throw away the electric car. Get a new one. Just like you would a sail fawn.
Which car is more . . . sustainable?
Or rather, which cars?
How much energy – and raw materials, many of them not very pleasant and very hard on the Earth in terms of getting them out of the Earth, such as cobalt – does it take to make a single 400 pound electric car battery pack?
How about two?
That’s 800 pounds – roughly – of unpleasant materials and all the energy it took to convert them into two EV battery packs which will still not give the EV the economically viable service life of one non-electric car, which will generally go at least 15 years before it approaches the end of its economically viable useful service life – defined as that moment when it’s not worth spending more than “x” to keep it going because the car itself is only worth “y.”
That moment comes much sooner with an electric car because of the high cost of a replacement battery vs. the depreciated value of the electric car.
But it’s not only the batteries.
EVs are also much more electronically disposable.
The motors are simple and low maintenance but the systems which control them (and supervise the maintenance/charging-discharging of the batteries) are not. When those fritz out – or are no longer “supported” – the car is as useless as an eight-year-old smartphone, Even if its motors have another 200,000 miles of life left in them.
And that’s not very . . . sustainable.
. . .
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