“What if we made it so cheap we could throw it away?”

Cheap, short-living objects: Replacement of an expensive object, system or process.


It’s common to cite disposable razors and hypodermic needles as examples of cheap, short-living objects.

Also consider the modern automobile, with crumple zones and airbags intended to save the lives of their occupants in a crash. While not cheap from one perspective, these are vehicles are far cheaper than a vehicle able to withstand such crashes multiple times while saving their occupants – such vehicles would likely be preposterously heavy and ponderous, and cost far too much to build and operate.


Nascar engines are torn down after every race. Knowing this, race teams can treat the engines as disposable and create around 800 hp from a throwback, naturally aspirated, two-valve, carbureted V8, since durability needn’t be at the forefront of concerns.

Against trend?

Many jurisdictions are attempting to stem the tide of disposable goods (coffee cups, food packaging, shopping bags) as the environmental impact is increasingly obvious and detrimental. Many fortunes have been made producing disposable goods, but this may not be a Principle to turn to by default.

SpaceX and the reusable rocket

SpaceX is changing the economics of space travel by making its rockets not disposable and instead recovering first and even second stages of their rockets.

As Elon Musk has observed:

“Rockets are the only form of transportation on Earth where the vehicle is built anew for each journey. What if you had to build a new plane for every flight?”

Cartridge oil filters reduce waste

Cartridge automotive oil filters, where the filter media is replaced but the enclosure is kept, are replacing the traditional canister filters where the whole assembly was discarded. This is a good example of carefully assessing the costs and benefits of discarding and assembling. Discarding only the filter media means lower material costs and less garbage. This is an example of conscious application of Principle 27, making the least amount of material disposable.

More examples

As I stumble across real world examples of this Inventive Principle in action I add them here.

Your turn

What problems do you face that this inventive principle could help solve? Have you used this principle before?