Throw-away society

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The throw-away society is a human society strongly influenced by consumerism. The term describes a critical view of overconsumption and excessive production of short-lived or disposable items over durable goods that can be repaired.

Origin of the term[edit]

In its August 1, 1955 issue Life magazine published an article titled "Throwaway Living".[1] This article has been cited as the source that first used the term "throw-away society".[2]

Rise of packaging waste[edit]

As a consequence of economic growth, we have seen both increased production and increased product waste during the last century. Between the start of New York City waste collections in 1905 and 2005 there was a tenfold rise in "product waste" (packaging and old products), from 92 to 1,242 pounds (42 to 563 kilograms) per person per year. Containers and packaging now represent 32 percent of all municipal solid waste. Non-durable goods (defined as products in use for less than three years) constitute 27 percent, while durable goods comprise 16 percent.[3]

Food service and disposable food packaging[edit]

Disposable tableware was a key part of the business strategy of chain fast food restaurants in the US.[4] In order for the business model to work, fast food chains found it economically advantageous to convince consumers through advertising campaigns to carry their own tableware to a waste bins, in order to avoid labor expenses incurred in clearing tables.[5] By establishing a custom in which customers are encouraged to carry disposables, some of the internal costs of the disposable tableware can be offset.

In 2002, Taiwan began taking action to reduce the use of disposable tableware at institutions and businesses, and to reduce the use of plastic bags. Yearly, the nation of 17.7 million people was producing 59,000 tonnes (58,000 long tons; 65,000 short tons) of disposable tableware waste and 105,000 tonnes (103,000 long tons; 116,000 short tons) of waste plastic bags, and increasing measures have been taken in the years since then to reduce the amount of waste.[6] In 2013, Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) banned outright the use of disposable tableware in the nation's 968 schools, government agencies and hospitals. The ban is expected to eliminate 2,600 tonnes (2,600 long tons; 2,900 short tons) of waste like disposable cups yearly.[7]

In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, laws banning use of disposable food and drink containers at large-scale events have been enacted. Such a ban has been in place in Munich, Germany since 1991, applying to all city facilities and events. This includes events of all sizes, including very large ones (Christmas market, Auer-Dult Faire, Oktoberfest and Munich City Marathon). For small events of a few hundred people, the city has arranged for a corporation offer rental of crockery and dishwasher equipment. In part through this regulation, Munich reduced the waste generated by Oktoberfest, which attracts tens of thousands of people, from 11,000 metric tons in 1990 to 550 tons in 1999.[8]

China produces about 57 billion pairs of single-use chopsticks yearly, of which half are exported. About 45 percent are made from trees – about 3.8 million of them – mainly cotton wood, birch, and spruce, the remainder being made from bamboo. Japan uses about 24 billion pairs of these disposables per year, and globally about 80 billion pairs are thrown away by about 1.4 million people. Reusable chopsticks in restaurants have a lifespan of 130 meals. In Japan, with disposable ones costing about 2 cents and reusable ones costing typically $1.17, the reusables better the $2.60 breakeven cost. Campaigns in several countries to reduce this waste are beginning to have some effect.[9][10]

Waste and socioeconomic status[edit]

Garbage produced because of the rise in disposable products is often shipped from richer to poorer nations, causing environmental and social problems for developing nations. Most notable are the large shipments of trash from North America and Western Europe to Africa and Asia due to the relatively low cost of disposal. By the 1990s, over half of all nations in Africa have faced negative externalities from toxic waste dumped by richer countries. Waste, both toxic and non-toxic is often dumped without safety regulations. It is thrown in unlined and unregulated landfills where it contaminates soil and water, and even burnt, which circulates toxins in the air. Recently, electronic waste shipped to Nigeria has increased due to higher consumption of electronics by North America Europe, with hundreds of shipments of old electronics dropped off at Lagos, Nigeria, every month. A significantly large percentage of the trash being hazardous waste shipped with the "explicit intent of cheap (and unsafe) disposal". China, also, receives huge amounts of waste, often toxic material, averaging 1.9 million tons per year, because companies find it cheaper to ship garbage away rather than dispose of it themselves. [11]

Food waste[edit]

In 2004, a University of Arizona study indicates that forty to fifty percent of all edible food never gets eaten. Every year $43 billion worth of edible food is estimated to be thrown away.[12]

Planned obsolescence[edit]

"Planned obsolescence" is a manufacturing philosophy developed in the 1920s and 1930s, when mass production became popular. The goal is to make a product or part that will fail, or become less desirable over time or after a certain amount of use. Vance Packard, author of The Waste Makers, book published in 1960, called this "the systematic attempt of business to make us wasteful, debt-ridden, permanently discontented individuals."

Durability of goods[edit]

Producers make goods disposable rather than durable so that consumers must continue to repurchase the good, earning the producer a steady supply of customers, rather than a one-time purchase. Profit is maximized for the firm when the usefulness of a good is "uneconomically short", because firms can spend the least amount possible creating a nondurable good, which they sell repeatedly to the customer.[13]

Goods are often replaced even before their usefulness runs out. The perceived durability of a good in a throwaway society is often less that its physical durability. For example, in fast fashion, consumers buy the latest, novelty item because producers market styles that pass with the seasons. There is pressure on producers to advertise an increased number of "seasons", creating new styles so consumers can update their wardrobes often by buying cheap and flimsy, yet stylish clothes to keep up with current fashion trends.[14] Items that once were considered durable items are now almost exclusively disposable, so it is actually more difficult for consumers who want a durable version to find anywhere selling one. The shift to disposable was ostensibly because of reasons such as convenience or hygiene, even if the inconvenience of using a durable version is very slight, or there is no proven increase in hygiene. This can lead to higher costs over time, more waste produced, more resources used, and lesser quality goods.[15]

Not only has there been a movement by manufacturers towards goods that are less durable and not maintainable, producers have also withheld technology that would make common goods more durable, such as in the manufacture of light bulbs.[16]

Christian church attitude[edit]

Pope Francis frequently speaks about a "throwaway culture" in which unwanted items and unwanted people, such as the unborn, the elderly, and the poor, are discarded as waste.[17][18][19] In his encyclical Laudato si', he discusses pollution, waste, the lack of recycling, and the destruction of the earth as symptoms of this throwaway culture.[20]

Francis stated that in a throwaway culture, even human lives are seen as disposable.[19][20] He also cited the dangers of this culture in connection with immigration, saying, "A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world."[21]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.lifemagazineconnection.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1069
  2. ^ http://photo.pds.org:5012/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre2007121404
  3. ^ Products, Waste, And The End Of The Throwaway Society, Helen Spiegelman and Bill Sheehan, The Networker, http://www.sehn.org/Volume_10-2.html
  4. ^ McDonald's ad "Feed the Wastebaskets" (video), training children to bus disposable packaging (alternate link)
  5. ^ http://skoozeme.com/issues/dontbus.html
  6. ^ Env. Research Foundation (undated). Taiwan’s Plastics Ban.
  7. ^ China Post. June 5, 2013. EPA to ban disposable cups from June 1.
  8. ^ Pre-Waste EU. (undated). Ban on disposable food and drink containers at events in Munich, Germany (Pre-waste factsheet 99)
  9. ^ New York Times. Reus Oct. 24, 2011. Disposable Chopsticks Strip Asian Forests. By Rachel Nuwer.
  10. ^ Ecopedia. 2013. How Wooden Chopsticks Are Killing Nature. By Alastair Shaw.
  11. ^ Liddick, Donald (2011). Crimes Against Nature. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 14–16. ISBN 978-0-313-38464-6. 
  12. ^ "US wastes half its food". Retrieved 2014-07-05. 
  13. ^ Bulow, Jeremy (November 1986). "An Economic Theory of Planned Obsolescence". The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 101 (4): 729. doi:10.2307/1884176. Retrieved 29 November 2017. 
  14. ^ Bhardwaj, Vertica; Fairhurst, Ann (18 February 2010). "Fast fashion: response to changes in the fashion industry". The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research. 20 (1). doi:10.1080/09593960903498300. Retrieved 29 November 2017. 
  15. ^ Cooper, Tim (2010). Longer Lasting Products: Alternatives To The Throwaway Society. New York, New York: Routledge. pp. 4–6. ISBN 978-0-566-08808-7. 
  16. ^ Cooper, Tim (2010). Longer Lasting Products: Alternatives To The Throwaway Society. New York, New York: Routledge. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-566-08808-7. 
  17. ^ Vallely, Paul (June 28, 2015). "The Pope's Ecological Vow". Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  18. ^ Reno, R.R. (June 18, 2015). "The Return of Catholic Anti-Modernism". Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  19. ^ a b "Pope Calls Abortion Evidence of Throwaway Culture". Retrieved 2014-01-13. 
  20. ^ a b "Encyclical Letter Laudato Si' Of The Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home (official English-language text of encyclical)". Retrieved June 18, 2015. 
  21. ^ "Pope calls for protection of unaccompanied child migrants". Retrieved 2014-07-22.