The Materials Book

37 7 Is the Price Right? What if producers and consumers were responsible for the full impact of materials? Currently, material prices don’t take costs to the environment, labor, and finite resource stocks into full account. In the book A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things , Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore argue that many undervalued elements—from lives to nature— lead to commodities being priced below their full impact. 1 Human and environmental costs are generated by a material during extraction, production, and installation, but also during de-montage, removal, and recycling. If life-cycle accounting were reflected in material pricing, the actual impact of material use would be more evident to consumers. Prices that reflect the full environmental cost of production, use, and disposal could help make material use more sustainable. 2 A recycling tax modeled on electronic-waste recycling fees could provide one possibility. In places like Switzerland, the European Union, and California, consumers pay a nominal surcharge for future electronics recycling at the moment of purchase, and California also uses a similar model for mattresses, for instance. Could something similar work for building components? What price should we set for the value of coming generations to have access to the same environmental quality and resources? 1 Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore, A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018). 2 Friedrich Schmidt-Bleek, Future: Beyond Climatic Change (Carnoules, France: Factor Ten Institute, 2008), 9.