Let us now shift our attention from the industrial process to the product. Environmental burdens arise as much from what leaves the factory gate as from what emerges from the factory pipeline. And environmental management strategies have to take account of the product in two very specific ways. First, it is the demand for products which drives the industrial processes, and hence provokes the environmental emissions from industry. Second, and equally importantly, products also pollute. In particular, when they are thrown away they result in the ever-increasing quantities of postconsumer waste with which industrial societies are having to cope.
Clearly, therefore, environmental management should not confine itself to industrial processes. Even if much of the focus of the pollution prevention work of the 1980s has been on industrial processes, we must somehow address the product itself if we are to get at the roots of environmental degradation. But what can we do about product pollution? Products wear out. The laws of thermodynamics tell us that they must wear out. Materials become degraded and energy becomes dissipated as the result of activity in the economic system.
Although we cannot escape completely from this inevitable degradation and dissipation of materials, we can look for opportunities to reduce it to a minimum. In particular, we can do this by ensuring that we get the maximum possible use out of material products, by preventing needless dissipation into the environment, and by preserving and protecting products from unnecessary decay and obsolescence. This overall strategy has been called product-life extension.
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