A sorry tale of waste and windscreen wipers

Replacing windscreen wiper blades can involve a lot of unnecessary waste.
Picture: Getty Images

Replacing windscreen wiper blades can involve a lot of unnecessary waste. Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Cars are something of a mystery to me and largely, I’m happy for it to stay that way, writes thrifty living columnist Sheena Grant.

I don’t really want to know about the intricacies of the alternator, starter motor or anything else; all I really care about is that mine is reliable and gets me from A to B in relative comfort and as economically as possible.

But this week I’ve learned something rather troubling about cars; something that, perhaps, shouldn’t actually come as much of a surprise given the huge amounts of waste we all know cars generate. I’m thinking, principally, of the UK’s tally of 40 million waste tyres a year.

It’s a massive headache to try and reduce that waste by recycling as many of these tyres as possible into useful products, such as playground surfaces, running tracks and carpet underlay. But most used tyres, apparently, still end up as waste, which is obviously undesirable but probably unavoidable, given our vehicle-powered way of life.

That’s not the case with other types of car-related waste, however, which seems to be driven (excuse the pun) by something else entirely. Take, for instance, windscreen wipers. The rubber wiping surface on mine was starting to disintegrate so I asked my local garage about replacing it, thinking, it would be a simple case of removing the perished rubber and slotting in a new piece.

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It used to be, apparently, but nowadays the whole wiper blade is replaced from where it connects to the wiper arm. What’s more - and this is where it gets really silly - different cars have different connector fittings. At my local garage, replacement blades come in a pack with four different connectors. You find the one that’s right for your car and the rest? Well, manufacturers don’t want them back so they are surplus to requirements.

It’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to waste in the motor industry, I was informed. From excess packaging to excess parts, the trade is awash with unnecessary waste, which we’re all paying for in some way. Surely it’s not beyond the wit of manufacturers to design a better system. This one, it seems to me, is designed only to squander the world’s resources and increase costs to consumers.

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