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Ever wonder what happens when we toss old cell phones in the trash? Take the paper we read in the morning, and the jeans and t-shirts we wear. Have you ever considered what impacts these products have on the environment, from beginning to end?
INFORM’s Secret Life Series is a collection of videos that highlight the environmental impacts of everyday products we all use.
What is a product’s “life cycle”?
When we talk about the environmental impacts of products, we like to speak in terms of a product’s “life cycle,” which include all phases in a product’s life, from raw material extraction all the way to its end-of-life management. Every phase of this life cycle has potential impacts on the environment.
Consider this: during the extraction phase, raw materials must be extracted from the earth and refined before they go to the factories where products are made. The manufacturing phase uses energy and creates pollution. Transportation between each phase generates more negative impacts on the environment from the burning of fossil fuels. During the product’s use phase, it might require energy, use more natural resources and create more pollution. When the product reaches the end of its useful life, a choice is made either to recycle it and put it back into use (creating a circular pattern of use) or toss it in the trash (a linear pattern of use). Choices are made all along this chain, and understanding what those choices are is critical if we are to protect our environment and our health.