Living in America, one thing is certain – we live in excess consumption.
Whether it’s the endless array of food at a local buffet or the one too many shop-til-you-drop outings, we overconsume, overindulge and continue going for more.
And we find this never ending cycle of consuming and trashing reinforced in many facets of our lives.
How did we get to this point where we’re not satisfied with one item so much so that we would throw it out to get another one just like it?
Here are some ideas as to how and why the throwaway culture became synonymous with our modern lifestyle in America:
- The concept of planned obsolescence. About 100 years ago, manufacturers began to create products that would have limited life spans to drive consumers to purchase more in an attempt to drive up sales revenue.
- The rise of the nuclear family occurred at the same time as the rise of capitalism. As family sizes reduced, heads of households found themselves with more responsibilities at home – cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, etc. – and less leisure time. With the introduction and successful marketing of single-use products – from cutlery to diapers to beverage bottles and more – this allowed for families to spend more time with each other and less time doing all that “dirty” work.
- The feminist movement of the 1960s brought more adults into the workforce. The rise of both men and women in the workplace resulted in less time for adults to do, let alone care, about mundane tasks at home. As a result, the demands for convenience and single-use products from tired Americans increased.
- The fear of germs. According to Disposable America, “New concerns about germs made sealed ‘sanitary’ packaging desirable.” By marketing that new items were cleaner than reused (and cleaned) containers, Americans opted for the “safer” option of the two.
- The idea that consuming will bring happiness. One of the worst aspects that has been marketed around consumerism is that purchasing products will result in happiness. This unachievable goal drags individuals into an endless cycle of unnecessary consumption. If the individual feels unhappy, he or she may think it’s time to buy something else that will make him or her become happy this time.
- The novelty of an item is short-lived. How many times have you purchased something that you wanted for so long, yet once you received the item, you grow bored of it quickly? We expect endless entertainment yet grow bored so quickly.
- The Internet allowed for new channels to showcase wealth. From print media to TV to the internet, the concept of “Keeping up with the Jones” no longer meant comparing yourself to your neighbors. The idea, instead, transformed into a “Keeping up with the Kardashians” mentality, where it didn’t matter where you lived. Anyone could see your lifestyle if you showcased it digitally. And that meant consuming more to appear successful, even if your digital neighbor lived half way across the world.
- The fear of a consistent image and the need for individuality. Fashion magazines for decades have marketed to us that it’s a tragedy to wear the same item of clothing more than once, let alone wear the same item as someone else. When originality = new clothes, the opportunity for waste is tremendous.
- The growing gap between the rich and the poor. When you live paycheck to paycheck, environmental concerns aren’t a top priority if it’s not convenient or cheap to address. Investing in higher quality goods and spending the time researching and practicing a low waste lifestyle requires time and money, both of which are hard to come by for a majority of Americans.
- The fear of rejection. Once disposable goods became mainstream, “old school” methods started phasing out. Along with it, the culture of rejecting older and less efficient methods crept into social circles. Opinionated friends and popular individuals in work or home environments could quickly ostracize any individual who went against the throwaway culture.
- The idea that spread worldwide. The influences of the west have reached most other countries when it comes to convenience culture. And the same reasons that plagued us affect even the developing world.
When we step back and look at all these reasons as to why we live in a throwaway society now, the underlying themes center around convenience, successful marketing of single-use products and fear.
As a result, the throwaway mentality has been engrained in most of us for all of our lives. And breaking free from it may seem like an impossible task.
Americans, let alone the rest of the world, have had a taste of the convenient throwaway lifestyle. And taking away the convenience isn’t an ideal situation.
But if we can embrace a change and are willing to try an alternative method, we can find convenient solutions that offer the same result and help reduce the environmental impact.