Abolishing Private Ownership

Before I get jumped on by the Libertarians for being a socialist or communist, I need to explain I don't mean eliminating the concept of private property. I mean eliminating the concept of ownership and replacing it with "usage rights".

No one ever really owns anything permanently, they just possess it for a period of time. At the end of the period they dispose of it. It wears out and is discarded, or is sold, or eventually the owner dies and the item is passed on to others. So we don't "own" things we just use them for awhile.

What I'm proposing is formalizing this concept. Whenever a non-consumable item is purchased there is a usage fee included in the price. When the useful life of the product is over it is returned to a designated facility and the fee is returned to the buyer. The facility does not have to be the original store or manufacturer, but can be a proxy set up for this purpose. We already see some small scale attempts at this model. Batteries and inkjet and toner cartridges are now recycled and, in some cases, a premium is paid for their return. But this only works if the item has commercial recycling value. Bottle recycling is used in many areas to reduce litter, but the deposit is only nominal and the effort mostly depends upon people's good will.

I know the EU has been taking steps to force manufactures to be responsible for recycling problematic items like electronic devices, but my idea would extend to almost everything. The only thing that would be exempt would be things like food. Items that are deliberately made to be disposable, like bathroom paper products would have a fee added to the price to compensate for the unrecoverable cost to the environment. Even food items which are packaged would be subjected to a fee based upon the fact that most packaging is unsuitable for recycling. In the US there has been a trend to package fresh vegetables. This started with simple plastic bags, but has now progressed to rigid plastic containers. We even have potatoes individually shrink wrapped in some cases. A properly designed fee would put a stop to this pointless waste.

The fees on the items which are not returned go into a fund which is used for subsidizing the cost of the recycling and responsible disposal program. Buyers of items like clothing which are donated to charities when the owner tires of them would lose the fee, but this would be considered part of the charitable donation. If the recipient later turns in the clothing to the recycling center they would receive the fee refund and this would just increase the value of the charitable donation to them.

With proper attention to the fee schedule and the ease of returning items this could have several benefits. It could cut down on the purchase of disposable products in favor of recyclable ones. It could eliminate the amount of solid waste to be handled. And it could reduce the amount of raw materials needed to manufacture new items which replace those turned in.

Having people realize that the don't "own" things might also bring a bit of humility back to those who have lost the connection with the finiteness of the real world.

Moral: We are only borrowing this world, so lets leave some for the next generation.

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If you have any comments or for further discussions email me at robert.feinman@gmail.com
Copyright © 2006 Robert D Feinman
Feel free to use the ideas, but the words are mine.