Friday, 11 December 2015

perverse incentives

There is an article on the BBC News today about the huge number of sofas being thrown away, rather than reused.  In order for a second hand sofa to be sold, or even given away for use, it must have a fire safety label, demonstrating that it has been treated with fire retardant.

On the one hand, this is a perfectly sensible regulation: I remember horrific stories of people killed by the choking black smoke from burning foam in their furniture.

On the other hand, perfectly good, and fire retardant, sofas are being dumped, because they have no label.  People tear the label off.  The Beeb reports bemusedly that:
The labels often appear to be a haphazard afterthought, loosely and carelessly stuck in random positions, flapping about in a way which seems to almost invite customers to cut them off.
There’s also a quote from someone looking at sustainable sofas:
It’s clear that many furniture companies have not really given much consideration to encouraging a future life for their sofas once their customers have finished with them
I’m bemused by the bemusement.  Maybe the placement isn’t an afterthought, and maybe furniture companies have considered the future life of their products.  After all, what incentive is there for manufacturers to encourage reuse?  For every person who gets a second hand sofa, that is a potential loss of the sale of a new sofa.

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