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The Landfill Prize Top Ten

John Naish

16th February, 2010

Golf club shaped urinal anyone? Digital fridge magnet? Nominate your contenders for Britain's most useless consumer product before 22nd February...

Thanks to modern high tech, we should now have all the gear we need to enjoy comfortable, contented lives. Our culture is easily capable of producing myriad consumer items that are durable, reliable and useful enough to give years of great service.

It's not like that, though. We're beset with messages that tell us that the stuff we've got now isn't good enough - that we need more stuff, that we need stuff that's somehow improved, with ever more extras and options. It's all got to be new, too, rather than, ugh, so last year.

We've become fixated on producing and consuming stuff that has no future. It's only there to take our money on its brief trip from factory to landfill.

That's why I launched the Landfill Prize in 2008 to coincide with my book, Enough: Breaking Free From the World of More.

The prize celebrates the stupendous creativity of the people tasked with inventing constantly inflated new wants for us to want. It's a monument to perverse imagination and needless consumption.

Most importantly, it's a plea for us to say, 'Thanks. We've got enough stuff', and to evolve ourselves out of this crazy cycle.

This year's top ten frontrunners

The Uroclub

Here's one for the incontinent golfer in your life: it's the Uroclub - a hollow plastic club in which you can urinate mid-round, instead of an eco-friendly bush or tree to pee behind in the time-honoured way. And that's not all: there's also a tie-on 'modesty blanket'. Imagine picking out a full Uroclub instead of a driver at the 11th hole...
Nominated by Robert Chamberlain

Digital fridge magnet

Is scribbling notes with a pen on a whiteboard to complex, too onerous... too 20th century? Here's the Digital Video Memo, a fridge magnet on which you can record a 30-second video message. You've only added a digital screen, a rechargeable battery system, a computer and a camera to the planet's landfill potential.
Nominated by Karen Varga

Operatic pasta timer

So, you want to cook pasta, you have no sense of time - or even a kitchen timer - and you've never learnt how to tell if your pasta's al dente (ie throw it at a wall and see if it sticks). You may be the one person on earth who needs the Al Dente Operatic Pasta Timer. It's a pasta timer in the shape of a little man, which has an inbuilt water-activated timer. When the water has been boiling long enough, the timer sings opera with an electronic computer voice.
Nominated by Philip Evans, France



Any others that should be added? Comment here



The Kindle

‘Not only is it a completely unnecessary piece of electronic rubbish, it seeks to replace a design classic: the far-from obsolete, cheap and entirely reusable (ask any library!) book,' says Ben Duncan, who nominated it. ‘It creates a whole new market in copyrighted material as it does so, meaning literature is reduced from being a pastime and an art form to being a piece of tradable intellectual property.'
Nominated by Ben Duncan, Brighton

'The Stig' merchandise

‘Putting aside the environmentally cavalier antics of Top Gear, it just ends up a million miles from anything to do with a racing driver, with bubble bath and duvet sets,' says Jeremy Wilson, who nominated this: ‘It's the worst kind of lazy tick-box merchandising, for equally lazy present buyers whose imagination doesn't stretch beyond the 'gift ideas for men' shelf of the department store.
Nominated by Jeremy Wilson

The Dryear Ear Dryer

'Drying your ears has never been simpler or more effective'. Or, at £69, could it be more expensive? The device slots into the ear canal and blows hot air. Oh, and the instructions advise you to dry your ears with a towel first.
Nominated by Anna, London
 
Reel Putter

A golf putting club with an attached fishing reel, so you can reel in your putts. ‘I think they copied this idea from a Bugs Bunny cartoon,' says Blacknose.
Nominated by Blacknose

Cuisinart Soup Maker

Instead of using a saucepan and blender which can be used for soup, stews, custard, sauces and much more, you buy a £149 soup machine to make soup...
Nominated by Stephen Watson

The Desktop V Twin Engine

The exhaust equals the noise output of a kitchen blender. It operates up to 10 minutes from a full tank. And it achieves? Absolutely nothing. For the princely sum of £1,000.
Nominated by Dave B, Sunderland

100 per cent organic cotton toilet tissue

‘We can wipe our bums cheaply with something that is recycled from a renewable resource,' says Julian Baggini. ‘So why set aside valuable agricultural land to grow cotton for us to do so?'
Nominated by Julian Baggini

The 2010 Landfill Prize wants your nominations for the most pointless, frivoulous, wasteful and over-complicated consumer products over the last 12 months. Find out more here.

The prizewinner will be judged on Monday 22 February

 


FIVE WAYS TO CRAP-PROOF YOUR BRAIN

1 Take a break

Pausing between deciding to buy something and taking it to the checkout can dramatically increase the chance of the cash staying in your purse, says a study in December's Journal of Consumer Research. Do you really want the thing in the first place?

2 Don't even touch that plastic

Studies on 330 people in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied confirm the popular suspicion that it is much easier to spend money in the form of a credit card. The New York University-led report concludes that we regard anything but hard cash as 'Monopoly play money' - and that real currency is the only thing to use if you want to experience the 'pain of paying'.

3 Keep calm and don't panic

We may be more liable to spree when we can least afford it, because when we are stressed we can feel driven to hoard things, says a study of students in the journal, Behavioural Research Therapy. This may have an evolutionary explanation: getting gripped by the urge to stockpile provisions in times of threat would have helped our ancestors' survival chances.

This residual instinct can also help to explain how sales campaigns may work en masse by collectively preying on our deepest insecurities - you smell funny, you're not good enough, no one likes you.

4 Shun special offers

Chain stores love to make you feel that you're getting a generous deal, because this makes you buy more than you need. When you see low-priced special-offer goods on the shelves, your brain tends to go soppy with gratitude at the shop's generosity. That surge of positive emotion makes you want to return the favour by splashing out on unnecessary items. It's called the 'spill-over effect'. But there's no need to splash out.

5 Think global

We feel compelled to buy stuff because our tribal instincts make us measure ourselves materially against our peers, to see if we are doing OK in life. In the developed world, this massively distorts our idea of what we need just to be averagely OK. A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last year found that wealthy Londoners no longer feel rich, because they do not mix with less affluent people any more.

We need to look wider, to the global neighbourhood that technology and travel have brought to our doorsteps. About half of humanity lives on less than £1 a day. More than 852 million people do not get enough to eat, around 1.6 billion have no electricity and a third of the world's people have never made a phone call, say United Nations statistics. Meanwhile, a fifth of the Earth's people buy nearly 90 per cent of all the consumer goods. That's us, the stressed guys in the wealthy, wasteful neighbourhood.



John Naish is a freelance journalist and author of Enough, Breaking Free From the World of More, (Hodder & Stoughton, £7.99)

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