consumerism lifestyle waste

The changing culture of disposability

In the past, most things that you owned were built to last. Household goods were expensive, and you looked after what you had, repairing things and maintaining them. In the early 20th century, new industrial processes and new materials – plastic especially – began to change that. One of the first and best known examples is the Dixie cup, invented in 1907 in response to a health scare about shared tin cups used at public water fountains. Vending machines with paper cups were a much more hygienic solution. Today, we get through billions of paper and plastic cups every year, 146 billion in the US alone.

It’s a funny thing, disposability. One-use items are often more convenient. You don’t need to wash them and put them away, or worry about breaking them, and they’re more hygienic, especially for medical equipment. On the other hand, it’s far cheaper to own real things and re-use them. Objects built to last are always more satisfying to use, they have weight and body and we can take pride in owning them. You don’t really own a disposable item, you just use it. Then there’s the waste. Sometimes it’s a palpable sense, when you gather up paper plates at the end of a party perhaps. Usually it’s not, and the problem of landfill, off-gas and sea plastic happen far away and without thought.

Each of us has negotiated our own compromises here. I take my mug with a lid to the coffee shop at the station, but I gather from the friendly Welsh man who serves me that this is unusual. We use real nappies on the boy. And yet I will read a newspaper and it won’t cross my mind that I’m consuming a one-use disposable item. I don’t take a plate to the pizza place down the road, although it’s less than a minute’s walk away and the thought has crossed my mind.

We all draw our lines somewhere, deciding what is acceptable and what is wasteful. The idea of ‘disposable fashion’ seems a step too far for most of us. Or perhaps one-use prefilled plastic wine glasses with tear-off foil lids – surely that’s crossing a line somehow.

I’ve been thinking about disposability because I read a reference recently to a 1955 article in Life magazine called ‘Throwaway Living’. I was curious and I looked it up.


It’s a neat cultural artefact, evidence of the excitement around plastic (see also Disney’s plastic house of the future exhibit). The article is all about liberation, “the objects flying through the air in this picture would take 40 hours to clean – except that no housewife need bother. They are all meant to be thrown away after use.”

The picture includes familiar items like cups, foil trays, paper tablecloths and disposable barbecues. Other things didn’t catch on, like throwaway vases and flowers, buckets, or disposable guest towels. The picture also includes disposable duck and goose decoys in the bottom right, and I couldn’t tell you if those still exist or not.

What’s interesting to me is how our attitudes towards disposability have changed and continue to change. Here is a carefree, celebratory feel to throwing things away that might make many of us feel uncomfortable now. It looks naive, maybe even reckless. The idea of being able to eat off disposable plates and throw them away was thrilling and futuristic. Now it seems lazy, although only if we were cooking for ourselves and serving it up onto paper plates. (If it’s a takeaway, it’s okay to eat off disposable dishes – that’s one of the unspoken moral codes of disposability.)

Plastic bags are one of the areas where our attitudes are changing at the moment. There is a growing awareness that our plastic bag use is excessive, and that we throw away far more than we need to. In the last few years supermarkets have started offering recycling services. More of us take our bags to the shops, or chastise ourselves for forgetting. Enlightened places like Wales and Ireland have banned the use of free plastic bags and cut the use of them dramatically. Tabloid newspapers have run campaigns on plastic bags, a sure sign of a changing moral norm.

We still throw away too much, but our attitudes towards disposable things are changing and maturing. I may shake my head at those pre-filled wine glasses, but a glance back at that Life article shows where we might have been.


    1. Nice article. I have thought a lot about this topic. I think that there are times when disposable items are helpful and time-saving, but other times when they are a waste of energy.
      Merry Christmas!

  1. I’m surprised you don’t like the pre-filled wine glass. At an outdoor event these are designed for you would use disposable plastic glasses anyway. The alternative is more expensive and heavy glass glasses that if they break shower sharp glass over grass where it is dangerous and hard to remove. Add in the increased fuel costs of carrying the glass glasses and the glass wine bottles (more carbon too) and the labour costs in filling the glasses, collecting, storing and cleaning them and the economics, green and cash stack up in pre-filled favour.

    Since disposable nappies and reusable ones are level pegging on the environmental stakes they come down to convenience. Our first was in reusable nappies. Compared to disposables they are a huge pain and number 2 has been in disposables as you have less time to devote to pointless stuff. The time spent washing and folding nappies and changing clothes after leaks (disposables leak far less, trust me) is time lost with the kids. It is worth the extra cost (where if you do use reusables for more than 1 child you can amortise the cost better)

    Its the holistic view on disposability that is hard to see for every item. It is experience that drives our views which is why we have dropped many of them, added in our gut feelings.

    That said many attitudes haven’t changed. I’ve done charity bag packing at Welsh shops and I’m amazed by how many people still just buy new bags rather than bring old ones. Then again I do it because I’m a skinflint and bags for life are easier to pack. Greenness has nothing to do with it – cost and convenience win.

    1. I can’t quite put my finger on why I don’t like the pre-filled wine glasses. Perhaps I’m just suspicious that a wine that’s been packaged in plastic wouldn’t be worth drinking, but then I sound like a snob for saying so. I do think in most situations you could just use regular (and much thinner) plastic glasses and pour from a bottle.

      The toss-up between disposable or reusable nappies is a choice between energy and water consumption or landfill, as far as the environment is concerned. Reusables are cheaper, which possibly swings it. We haven’t had too much trouble with them either, there are lots of different designs these days, some of them very good. My wife joined a kind of nappy library where you could borrow different types and see which ones worked before shelling out for them.

      On the other hand, you can now get biodegradeable disposable nappies, which is a nice compromise.

      1. You don’t sound like a wine snob, though I’d expect wine from bottles at these type of events not to be much cop either. Cheap plonk from bottle or glass. Pre-filled just sounds easier to carry several glasses back to your friends with the foil lids still in place.

      2. It is preferable to drink wine out of thin glass, but maybe it’s a cultural thing! Look, in France we drink out of a thin glass, while in some parts of Spain (also with good wine) we drink out of thick water type glasses. But the plastic thing is a bit too much over all. We have switched a long time ago to mason jars and re-using glass sauce or dip jars to use instead of plastic tope-ware. Washing dishes or nappies don’t have to consume that much water, it just takes a bit of reprograming ourselves at the sink…water doesn’t need to be running the whole time! Ok Ok I’ll stop here because I see myself going into a rant.

        1. Re-using mason jars is a wonderful idea and a crafty being could decorate the jars nicely enough to be fashionably used at a function; but the plain version is fabulous too. This way wealth could be attainable, if not history. :-)//mm

          1. My family have a few of those in circulation, we tend to give them back and forth to each other with various tasty things inside. Although I notice I have a few empty ones around, so it must be my turn to make something.

            1. Yes, Jeremy, it’s time. But you could just go visiting family (and friends) with empty containers in hand — ’tis the season of fattening, so lots of food will be freely given. LOL :-)//mm

        2. I like the idea of using jam jars for water glasses. Some of them would work quite well but other are either too large or have a lip that would be difficult to drink from.
          I’m going to give this a try in 2013.

  2. great post – and who drinks wine, pre-packed in a plastic glass? Yuckity yuck that cannot be good. Glasses dont have to be glass – we travel with steel beakers so we can sip fine beverages in a civilised manner… but then we are such a class act x

  3. I’m completely with you on choosing where my compromises are. I consider myself a fairly enthusiastic recycler for example, but at parties as you suggest the effort gets the better of me and the disposable goods come out.

    My other current compromise (well that I think about) is based on “which bin is it in?”

    As part of the households waste management system we have bins dotted variously around the house. When it comes to emptying them I find that unless the recyclable material is on the very top of the bin, I don’t dig through to sort it out, just shrug and stick it in the waste.

    If I don’t recycle stuff in the kitchen recycling zone (bin with 2 bits) immediately and it finds its way into say the bedroom bin or bathroom bin, then it doesn’t get recycled as a rule.

  4. I really loved this post. In today’s Green Culture, we forget that at one point plastics and disposability were the coolest thing. It goes to show how our culture affects our environment. Your article gives me hope that our attitude shift will result in more eco-friendly world!

  5. Your reflections bring to my mind many of the concerns raised by the poet/essayist Wendell Berry who writes a lot about our stewardship of creation and our failure to take care of what we’ve been given. Good post.

  6. I thought the end of your second last paragraph was interesting in that one waste is “advertising” another: Tabloid newspapers have run campaigns on plastic bags….

    In my ideal world, tabloid newspapers would be one of the first things to go as complete and utter waste.

    You’re right about everyone having a line. It’s good to be conscious of it and try to move it in the right direction. Great post.

  7. Excellent post, thanks for sharing. By the way, wine that comes packaged in anything other than a glass container is not worth drinking. I also agree with the plastic bag point. We do try to remember to bring our own fabric bags from home when we go to the grocery. And, if purchasing a single item or two I generally refuse the bag. It is just as easy to carry the items in hand. It just seems wasteful to be tossing all those plastic bags and other items into the trash bin to be hauled off to a landfill somewhere. It’s just wrong.

    1. It’s such an automatic thing, the plastic bag. We have a cornershop about a minute’s walk from our house. I must have been in there hundreds of times, and since I’m usually getting one or two things I never bag the stuff up. But the guy at the counter always gets me one, every time.

  8. My dad is retired and while not rich, not hurting for money. But he grew up a poor farm boy and “waste” offends his sensibilities so. Nothing disgusts him more, or makes him happier, than walking through the neighborhood and finding something that someone threw out but that is easily repaired. And the long term neighbors in the neighborhood love him because he can either fix their item, or he’s got another one in the house that he found, drove the truck down and picked up, took home and repaired and then didn’t know what to do with. Pool pumps, washer/dryers, water softeners, vacuum cleaners, etc… It’s funny, the idea of “disposable” is changing, as you say, but it’s also differentiated by class lines. What’s disposable in his neighborhood is repairable in mine.

    1. I have a neighbour who does that. I’m not very good at fixing things, so I tend to only pick up things that I’m confident I can use. I once made a cage extension for a friend’s pet chinchilla, from the shelves from a discarded fridge. I was quite pleased with that.

  9. An excellent article. And it brings up an interesting point. These days it’s about convenience. Who the heck is a house wife with 40 hours to clean things anymore? The housewife mentality is leaving and it leaves us with less time… Since often times both parents have to work to pay the bills. Do we have the time to wash 20 plates, cups knives and forks from that party when we have to go to work the next day?
    It’s fascinating how much things are interconnected. Our economy, population, gender percentages and discrimination, fossil fuels, recycling, sustainible food production VS factory farms… Each of them contibute in thier own way.

    1. There’s so much more in this little article that we could explore, and the idea that women stay at home and clean is one of them. And that raises a question – did women start going to work because convenience products freed up their time, or did women going back to work create demand for convenience products?

  10. This immediately throws me into introspection, which is a favorite past-time of mind. I immediately wonder about disposable commitments (like marriage) and throw away lives (like the unborn children). You make some thought-provoking points, but I wonder if its a symptom of a deeper issue. It provokes me to wonder: Are we the only society that enjoys comfort at a cost?

    1. I think one of the sad aspects of this is that all these convenience products, including disposable life arrangements, are supposed to keep us light on our feet and free up our time. But what do we use that time for? Working the same long hours as before! So it’s a strangely circular thing, consumerism.

      1. I think that people are using their freed up time to entertain themselves. We have video on demand on every TV in the house, on our laptops, cell phones, tablets etc. I can watch a movie while moving from room to room in my house and not miss a scene. This means that we have TVs in every room of our house.
        People are spending hours playing on line games and having 0 human interaction.
        We have 1 TV in our house and I have no idea why anyone would want to watch a movie on a 4″ LCD screen on their phone.
        But these are the ways people fill up their free time. Basically they are consuming more by using disposable items to free up time.

  11. Good post. Regarding the throw away feeding items: Not so long ago my aunt told me that here (Colombia) the hygiene practices for packaging disposable dishes leave a lot to desire (the process isn’t completely mechanized). Now, I haven’t been able to double check on that, but since she works in the sector I prefer to believe her and refuse them… Or wash them beforehand.

    It is good to know how the things we use are made… And where do they end up.

  12. I try to be very mindful about disposable items and buying items that have a lot of packaging involved – I really hate packaging. I know that in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t make much difference but it makes me feel better. Recently we were looking at buying a unit and one of the reasons I decided not to was because there was nowhere to hang your washing – you had to use a dryer all the time. It just seemed such a waste not only environmentally but also financially. Having three grown children I now cringe at the thought of all the packaging I’ve contributed to landfill via toys – have you ever tried to get a Barbie out of a box! However I did use cloth nappies which might somehow even it out. I used to always take my ‘enviro-bags’ to the shops when buying groceries but I don’t at the moment because I recently read an article that said the production of those bags causes as much damage to the environment as plastic bags, so now I use the plastic bags but take them back to be recycled – it’s hard to do the right thing when there are so many conflicting opinions about. Lolling at the pre filled wine glass – never heard of such a thing!

  13. Excellent article and great image to go with it. I am glad that some people are starting to understand how awful is to waste things. My parents grew up just after the WWII, when Italy, like many other countries, was extremely impoverished and people knew how to treasure the little things they had.

    Today many of us got too much so we often don’t feel any attachment on how we spent money ,on what we buy or conscious towards the environment. I frankly believe we should treasure what we own much more and be more self conscious on not wasting anything when possible.

  14. I am very lucky to live in a City that has Recycle Centers for just about everything. (Free of charge) Including liquids such as Paint and other household chemicals, computers and other electronics like cell phones, vacuum cleaners, toasters etc. Every household has a bin for recyclables such as plastics, glass, cardboard and tin cans that gets picked up weekly along with the trash. I work at an Animal Hospital, we recycle everything we can, including the cases that syringes come in. The syringes and other sharps go into Medical Waste containers. All employees are amazingly diligent at keeping recyclables separate because we have made it so easy to toss those items in little containers around the different areas of work.
    The sad thing is I believe we have become a disposable society in general. I see it on occasion at work, the dog is sick, it will cost money, put it down and get another. Disposable. It has become too easy to “throw away”, everyone is in a hurry to move on to the next thing. It didn’t happen overnight, it developed over time, my lifetime. I’m a 50’s born kid, I remember when getting a dishwasher made you one of the elite, along with a “color” TV and power windows in the car.
    Having said that, we are now seeing a whole new generation of kids taking action. It makes me happy for them for they will have a much greener future. They are going to college to learn and perfect “Green Technology”. Good lucrative careers are being made and built and society in general will benefit overall.

    1. My wife and I had a baby last year and I was amazed at how many things the hospital used that are disposable. A lot of them made sense, others were just for speed and convenience. I can see how it would be difficult to sort and recycle on the job in that kind of busy context, so I admire you and your colleagues for making it a habit!

  15. Jeremy we are soul brothers. I feel exactly the same as you do about disposability. I am invoved with recycling both at home and delivering bags of recycled bottles to a locqal collection center at work. We could do so much more but are just too complacent. THis along with out of control debt in the United States are a couple things I think that could finally sink our country.

  16. Great post – and I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

    In many places in Europe you have to pay for plastic bags at supermarkets, and even these are thick, high-quality bags that are meant to be used again and again – Italy has gone so far as to ban the use of plastic bags entirely. It’s shocking when I go back to the States and the baggers at supermarkets or large retail outlets use about four times as many bags as is necessary, putting only a couple of items in each bag.

    Many of our electronics these days seem more or less disposable, which presents another slew of problems. If you haven’t already, check out Story of Stuff’s video:

    Keep it up, my good man.

  17. Something of this sort which has driven me to transports of dismay is the current outbreak of Keurig/Tassimo/Nespresso single-serving pre-packaged little brew-pots. Have a half-dozen friends over for an evening and, if relying upon one of these things you’ve got a sacrificial pyramid of the little brutes on the way to… the land-fill? The Pacific Gyre? I also agree with the previous poster about modern electronics… which is unsurprising, as I prefer to communicate via fountain pens made five or six decades ago (NON-disposable plastics, those).

    1. Yes, that’s a wasteful and very expensive way to enjoy coffee. In my opinion it doesn’t taste any better than the coffee from my cafetiere or stovetop espresso maker either. Although cleaning both of those is a pain, that’s probably why people do it.

    2. The waste is one of the reasons we switched from a Keurig to a coffeemaker that makes either a full pot or a single cup, using your own coffee choice instead of pods or capsules or Kcups. Cost is another reason; we go through 2 full pots a day with just the two of us drinking the coffee. I wish we had recycling here because I would happily sort my glass from metal from paper like I did at our last place. At least I can compost, so that’s something.

      1. The Keurig drives me crazy. All convenience and all waste. We drink a lot of coffee and always use whole beans in one of those Cuisinart machines. Cleaning the machine is part of the ritual. Should everything that we enjoy involve no effort? Should we try to remove all effort from the things that we enjoy? And yes, we do compost the grounds.

  18. This reminds me of a documentary I saw from the 50s about “THE KITCHEN OF THE FUTURE!!” The idea was that the lady of the house could shove some raw vegetables and bread and stuff into a machine and it would come out the other side as a complete dish. I might have seen it on MST3K. It was pretty funny.

    People back then also thought that automats would thrive in the future, but now they’ve been relegated to highway rest stops and gas stations, Who wants a two dollar tuna sandwich from inside a glass container that probably hasn’t been cleaned in a week? No thanks.

  19. it’s so true what you’ve written, and I particularly agree with the ‘drawing your own lines’ bit. in our world, extreme stands just don’t work. but we all need to be more aware and moderate our disposal and wastage. this goes too for the perception that if your food doesn’t look perfect and pretty it’s rotten. so much is thrown away than it is necessary. pre-packed meals are particularly problematic, it’s great for time-saving and convenience for busy people who don’t have time to cook from scratch but each meal is another plastic container thrown away. it’s really tempting but I suppose we could try minimising buying these products.

  20. brilliant post,,, I found out yesterday that i can buy pre cracked eggs , so i don’t have t0 crack them,,I still can’t get my head around it,,everything seems to be designed to accomodate people wanting tom be lazy,,,but i am from a make do and mend world and i love nothing more than sending time in my workshop out the back with my boys fixing things,,thanks for your post,,it lets me know that I am not alone ;0)

  21. I agree that there is nothing more green than reducing consumption of materials in the first place. But on a more specific note: the taste and sensation of drinking from a plastic receptacle is different from that of a glass one. I wonder if this is partly a matter of psychological perception: a drink from a disposable cup feels lower value . Or maybe I’m thinking too much!

  22. This is a great article.. The world has become a place where every thing we buy is basically disposable. With the advent of the Dollar stores it has gotten worse. People just throw away what we can buy for a dollar. I actually think that we have more trash than ever.

  23. Hey! I thought this might interest you; we saw a documentary in school and it mentioned that women’s stockings in the 1930’s were so strong that they could literally be used as rope. In fact, they became so good it wasn’t profitable for companies to produce them. So they started making weaker, cheaper stockings so that people would be forced to by them waaay more often (case in point, I bought some in November that are now in the bin). My dad, who is old, said that back in the day, here in Portugal, there was a profession where specialized seamstresses would just fix slightly ripped stockings manually.

    1. That happened with light bulbs too. They used to make them to last for decades, and the oldest light bulb has been burning for over 100 years. But of course you don’t sell so many that way, so the technology actually went backwards in order to make more money.

    2. Back in the 1930s stockings were made of silk, which is indeed very strong and could be mended. The nylon stockings sold now are a petroleum product that was invented and gained popularity about the time of WWII.

  24. Even as I see more people taking their own bags to the grocery store, I see the same shoppers filling them with single-size, individually wrapped items that involve far more packaging than buying a larger size and filing one’s own containers. It’s like we still don’t get it.

    1. It’s as if we can only tackle waste one item at a time. Right now we’re all about bags, maybe in a couple of years the coffee cups will reach our collective consciousness.

  25. The culture we live in is all about convenience and “disposability” is a perfect example. For most people it is the easiest option, and consumerism has made us accustomed to everything being easy. There are significant dangers in this.
    Aside from that, the whole hiegenic justification that we use is a bit extreme. This might be far-fetched, but in medieval times, refusing to share or reuse a glass/cup was considered offensive. Nowadays, we consider it gross and unhealthy. Granted, we know a lot more now about health and contageous diseases, but to reuse and dispose of everything all the time is a bit extreme.

  26. What a lovely, thoughtful post! And so true. I bring a big canvas bag to the grocery store and the bag lady always stares at me when I hand it over to prevent her from using plastic bags (as it is I still have a huge plastic bag collection). And although I love cheaper clothes like from H&M, I draw the line at cheap shoes, as they simply do not last, and what’s the point? My hometown put a ban on plastic bags in stores and I agree, because we need to change our habits!

    1. Yep, cheap shoes are a false economy. I like my birkenstocks, which I can send back to be re-tread when they wear through. I wish more of my shoes could be repaired like that.

  27. We tried cloth with our first kid, but we didn’t know what we were doing and switched back within a day. With our third, we used all cloth, and it was pretty easy. We air-dried, so there wasn’t as much energy consumption.

    The Keurig cup trend is killing me. All those stupid little plastic cups thrown away.

    Great post!

  28. Brings to mind that old ad with the image of a Native American man staring woefully at a littered landscape with a single tear running down his face. When will we learn to respect the Earth?

  29. Oh, my, that photo did make me feel uncomfortable. Just the other day, I was tempted to buy some paper napkins with everything so Christmas-sy and on sale (another consumer gripe of mine – why so many sales, just quit the spin-psyche of marketing – oh, don’t get me started, lol). Then standing in the store admiring all the bright color coordinated (if you wish) paper napkins, I remembered my decades old basket of cloth napkins sitting on the kitchen table at the ready. Great reminder. Thank you for saying this so well.

  30. Great article! I love the photograph. The really interesting thing for me is that we often fail to recognise the extent to which disposability is more expensive than durability; it’s actually a pretty bum deal in the context of things like shoes, clothes, furniture, cars… Interesting too to think of all those jobs that must have once existed around repairing, now disappeared.

  31. Great post, very provocative. We compost or recycle 90% of our trash and garbage. On our small city lot I have managed to grow hundreds of pounds of food and I collect and re-use seeds where I can.
    We have re-usable shopping bags and re-use the plastic ones that we do get as trash can liners.
    I love finding new ways to give a second life to an item. I use glass jars to store seeds or nails. Our garbage turns into compost for the garden.
    If you do need to buy dishes, silverware etc you can often find what you need at a garage sale. Why buy new?
    As a runner I re-use the bags that I get at races for shopping bags or to takes things to the office. I never use throw away water bottles and recycle the ones I get at races.

  32. I think disposability is a vile encroachment on modern living. I hate hate HATE that I got a vaccuum last Christmas and it’s already given up the ghost. Rather than tell my mother in law who purchased it for me, I pursuaded my husband that we simply could not live without a Dyson which, I anticipate, will last a good few decades if I’m lucky! My fridge died three days ago. Yep, it upped and carked it right when we needed it most – Chrismtastime! Now I did purchase an extended warranty (thank goodness) but the repairman will be out of action until well into the new year, or at the very least the entire Christmas week including the weekends at either end. So what did I do? I went and purchased another fridge because I simply had to put my refrigerated goods somewhere! I have a Christmas lunch to prepare for! My goods simply are not going to stay cold on my kitchen bench top in the middle of an Australian summer!

    Yes, I loathe disposability. Even the new hubcaps for my car are cracked (and no I did not hit a gutter!) after just a few months and my new handbag’s handles fell off after only a few weeks! I find things are just not made as well as they used to be. My parents, on the other hand, kept the same refrigerator for at least three decades. Their vacuum was given to them as a wedding present and was only upgraded in the last ten years, and the fridge… well, I recall the very same fridge being in the house when I was growing up until I was at least twenty.

    The state (well, territory, actually) I live in has actually banned plastic bags. The Australian Capital Territory has banned the provision of plastic bags for regular shopping. They are available for purchase and are stronger, and one is encouraged to reuse them. I like this idea. It reminds me of when I lived in Germany in 1990 and they had much the same ethic. It does take Australia a little while to catch up to things.

    Asides from the mundane inconvenience of things breaking and needing to be replaced, there is a huge cost involved, and there is a huge waste involved. I really hate it. My new years resolution is to not purchase anything unless it is absolutely necessary, and if I do have to purchase I will either consider second hand, or brand new but excellent quality as not to have the inconvenience of a broken down product that is just out of warranty.

    After all that,I wish you a very merry Christmas and thank you for such a great post. xo

      1. Yes but saying that I personally do not have a spare $1200 to shell out every three years when one dies!

        1. And I was more making a point rather than saying every refrigerator should last for thirty plus years. Things are not made as well as they used to be. It’s a throwaway society!

          1. I have a cheap (less than UK £200 when bought) fridge/freezer that I bought over 10 years ago and still going strong. It owes me nothing. Sounds like you bought a lemon if it died after 3 years.

            My point that you have to look at life cycle costs including purchase and running costs. Where there is major improvements in running costs then replacement early is better than keeping it going. Its a balance.

  33. Found this post quite interesting- I currently live in Toronto, where recently there was quite a bit of drama over a plastic bag ban proposed by the city council. The ban was reversed because there was so much outrage from both consumers and store owners, who felt the government was meddling too much and felt that they should be able to have more choice and autonomy over their spending.

    I think that most people still value convenience over thinking about the long term effects their actions might have. This isn’t meant to sound too high-and-mighty- I do the exact same thing- I constantly forget my canvas bags when I go grocery shopping. I think that eventually habits will change, but I think that, unfortunately, our society has still a long way to go to prioritizing eco-friendly solutions over disposability.

  34. Postwar, modern household appliances were essentially designed for the containment of women in the home in order to make their lives happier and simpler. The appliances in those days were quality products which rarely broke down and if they did you just called the friendly “May-Tag Man”. Rarely did a Sunbeam Toaster die, I still have one that is 40 years old and it works. Sadly with the decline in quality products – families have to work twice as hard – because we have to turn around and replace everything in just a matter of months or a couple of years. Personally I’m into refurbishing old school telephones, turning them into Functional Art. Is Luton Hill near or a part of Luton? When I was a kid we moved from Toronto to Bedford and subsequently to Luton Hill.

    1. That 40 year old toaster probably uses twice as much electricity as a new one. My wife and I have a toaster over that is over 20 years old and it works fine.
      I guess I have better luck with new appliances. Most of the stuff I have purchased over the past 20 years has lasted pretty well. My rule is to never buy the cheapest of anything. The cheapest model of anything always has lower quality components and will not last.

      1. I think there is a survivor bias at work. People see 40 year old appliances that are still working and compare them to current ones which have broken down, but they forget that 40 years ago lots of those appliances kept breaking down. Those aren’t the ones that have survived (who keeps a broken fridge?) so we get a rosy picture of the past. We shouldn’t romanticise the past. As a percentage of average wages those appliances were much more expensive and far costlier to run. Repair costs were lower too due to wages being lower.

  35. The cult of disposability, to me, was a symptom of the mid-twentieth century notion that vast engineering solutions could mould everything, even the natural world. That we could conquer all disease, unhappiness and so forth. That we could conquer the labour that had always accompanied everyday life.These ideas were founded in the past up to that time and.reflected the understanding of that day. We know more now. Know better? Maybe not, we have our own problems and issues today. But certainly we know that human endeavour cannot conquer nature – that we cannot take with unlimited joy from what the planet has to give. It will run out. We will change the environment to our detriment. As you say, our attitudes to disposability are maturing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – which I much enjoyed reading.

  36. Pingback: Joe's Musings
  37. Great post! Over the past few decades more and more disposables have become recyclables. at our house we try (without becoming fanatics about it) to direct as much waste as possible to being recycled or reused. We recently upgraded out TV to a large flat-panel job and decided to donate our old 32″ CRT and a smaller high-end Trinitron for resale at a local thrift shop. Once we handed them over they were thrown in a bin for “recycling”. The old sets still worked perfectly and could have provided two families with entertainment on a budget. Had we known of the sets’ destinies beforehand, we would have taken them elsewhere. Surely recycling functioning items is wasteful.

Leave a Reply to ILY Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: