Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's official: the Landfill Prize Top 10

From oh-so-clever toothbrushes to an infant care timer. What you said you could really live without

Are you, by any chance, brushing your teeth with the most resource-wasting, overcomplex piece of gadgetry that’s been witnessed by internet voters in the past 12 months? The £179 Sonicare electric toothbrush, made by Philips, has just been voted the winner of the first annual Landfill prize, the award for Britain’s cleverest rubbish – unnecessarily convoluted consumer inventions that help to increase the teetering junkpile of refuse we Britons produce every year.

Nominations from the thousands of visitors to the Landfill Prize website (including a great many Times Online readers) have now been judged by a panel of four, in which I joined Mark Watson the comedian, Carl Honoré, the author of In Praise of Slow, and Anna Shepard, The Times’s ecology columnist. Below, the Philips' brush, along with its fellow top-ten nominees in the Landfill Hall of Shame are luridly exposed in all their guilty, planet-draining detail.

There’s a serious side to this lampoonery. I launched the prize to coincide with my new book, Enough: breaking free from the world of more, and both aim to highlight the fact that, 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 got fixated on producing and consuming ever more wastefully complex stuff that has no future. It's there to take our money and time on its brief trip from factory to landfill. Strange genius, indeed, as you’ll see from these…

1. The £179 toothbrush

The Philips Sonicare Flexcare brush comes with it’s own ultraviolet-light sanitising equipment, as well as a whole lot of other bells and whistles such as three cleaning modes (including “massage”) and different brushing routines. But a survey by Which? in November 2007 found that it performed only as effectively as a well-wielded £4 electric brush. Ordinary manual brushes can prove just as effective as high-end electrics if used properly, the survey adds.

2. The ijoyride

All home-exercise equipment tends to be used little and discarded often, according to research surveys. But the ijoyride caught our nominators’ attention for all the wrong reasons. To quote from a Saturday magazine advert, it’s "a new exercise machine that gives you all the benefits and none of the costs of owing a horse". It looks more like a bucking loo, though. See the website:

3. Ambi-Pur plug in “three-fragrance” air freshener

All plug-in fresheners are effectively devices that suck electricity while spreading synthetic chemicals around your home. The Ambi Pur 3volution is the pinnacle of this plug-in mania, a unit that contains three vials of perfume which it emits in rotation every 45 minutes, so your nose never gets “tired” of the smell. The refill bottles make for good instant landfill, too.

4. Gillette’s six-bladed, battery-powered, wet razor

Welcome to the Gillette Fusion Power Razor. We’ll let the company’s blurb explain this one… “Battery-powered shaving system emits gentle micro-pulses for an incredible shaving experience. Now with Low Battery Indicator Light and Automatic Shut-Off. The front of the razor has 5 Blade Shaving Surface Technology with five PowerGlide blades spaced closer together to help reduce pressure. The back of the razor has 1 Precision Trimmer Blade... built into the cartridge.” How on Earth did mankind manage to evolve without all that?

5. The Slingbox

It provides the very unuseful function of allowing you, if you have broadband, to watch your own TV from anywhere in the world that you have access to the internet. So now you can spend a fortune going to South Africa or wherever on holiday and spend your time there making sure that you don't miss an episode of Emmerdale.

6. Hammacher Schlemmer infant-care timer

A fine example of the guilt-inducing stuff that is sold for new mothers. It’s basically a plastic digital clock with lots of buttons and “an LCD that displays the elapsed time since your infant's last feeding, diaper change, nap, etc...” So you can tell when baby’s hungry or damp. Doesn’t Mother Nature do that anyway?

7. Braun Tassimo coffee maker

The machine got nominated for the wasteful "T" discs or pods (made of plastic and foil) of which at least one and sometimes two must be used for every cup of coffee. There appears to be no way to reuse these nor any way to recycle them, given their mixture of materials, so after contributing just one cup of coffee to the world, these things end up in the landfill.

8. The pocket sundial

Various models available, all equally impractical. See them at:

9. PYRAMAT Wireless Sound Rocker Gaming Chair

PC World markets a special "gaming" chair aimed at children of all ages, an S-shaped rocking chair with built-in headphones, in which kids and kidults can sit to play their computer games. “What are we coming to?” said its nominator. “Children should be outside playing not sitting on their arses playing games all day.”

10. The E.ON PowerDown

You plug your computer and peripherals into it, and when you turn your PC off, it turns the peripherals off too. Cute idea, but as its nominator says, “My scanner uses 2 watts on standby, and the printer uses 3. So that's saving a maximum of 5 watts for 14 hours a day – or 70 watts per day. However, if you cut the printer’s power, it does a complete cleaning cycle, wasting ink when it starts. But more to the point, you will never recoup more energy than is used making all that plastic and metal, then shipping it over from China.”

For all the rest of this year’s Landfill nominations, and an in-depth explanation of the awards, visit The Landfill Prize . Meanwhile, I’ll get busy making a model of the Philips brush atop a pile of grubby landfill, as a special trophy that I’ll attempt to award to the makers in person. I’m not completely sure, though, that they will be keen to receive it. We’ll see.

© John Naish 2008. Enough: Breaking Free From the World of More (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99), is published this week. It is available from Times BooksFirst for £15.29, p&p free: 0870 1608080 or visit

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