Thursday, November 20, 2008

our disposable culture

So I've mentioned twice to different people within the last two weeks about how paper towels actually contain plastic (which helps make them more durable, etc.) and they were both shocked! The things you may not know! (This information can be found in the always wonderful method book, squeaky green! I know that's where I heard about this... hold on, now I gotta go look it up.) Which leads me to...

Wow! An amazing article from Life Less Plastic!

"I grew up in a home where paper towels were used for everything. When there was a spill, you cleaned it up with a paper towel. When you wanted to dry your hands, heck, just use a paper towel. These throw-away towels were the solution for everything, and I never thought twice about it.

But now I see that instead of being a solution for anything, they are part of a huge problem--our disposable culture--a sickness that creates huge amounts of waste and is pushing Americans into deeper and deeper debt.

What's Causing Our Disposable Culture?
The causes are hard to pin down, but I think the following are some of the likely reasons we've opted for this new way of living:

+ Allowing ourselves to be over-worked: Americans work some of the longest hours in the world, and therefore have less time and energy for tasks like cooking meals and cleaning. This apparently makes us more likely to buy things that promise to save us time like pre-cooked meals and magical cleaning products.

+ An obsession with convenience: Sometime in the past, oh, let's say 50 years, savvy marketers convinced Americans that convenience is the way of the future. At first, this probably made sense to people, especially since we were (and are) over-worked, but these days, many of these needless products end up clogging our arteries and filling up our cupboards and closets (which we don't have time to organize).

+ Watching too much television: The average American watches 4 hours and 35 minutes of television per day, which is exactly 4 hours and 35 minutes of time spent being persuaded by misrepresentations of what American life is really like and by the commercials and product placements on the air.

+ Credit cards: Average credit card debt in the United States is now at $6,600 per household, which shows that most of us seem to have lost sight of just how much we should really be spending. Instead of being frugal, people feel like they have enough money to buy any of the myriad disposable goods on the market.

+ A misunderstanding of the term "healthy": It seems that people are so desperate to lose weight these days that they will buy any processed food that claims to be healthy or low-calorie. The problem is that these products typically have loads of packaging and are usually a far cry from being good for you. My favorite example right now is Hostess' 100 Calorie Packs of Muffins. You can't find the ingredients on their website (I wonder why?), but I saw them recently, and it was the longest list of ingredients I'd ever seen.

+ A need for cleanliness and a distaste for dirt: It seems like everyone these days wants their homes to be absolutely spotless, but can't handle the idea of touching something dirty. Case in point: this afternoon I read an article reviewing disposable cleaning products from the magazine Real Simple that said, "A majority of testers found picking clumps of hair and dust bunnies off [the mop] distasteful enough to throw their votes in favor of the pricier Swiffer system." So basically people have become so removed from the act of cleaning that they won't even touch dust bunnies? Strange.

+ Fear of germs: Just about every other newscast and commercial I see contains a story about food borne illnesses or scary, scary germs. It seems we're being convinced to live in fear of sickness, and therefore to buy a huge array of cleaning products, many of which probably don't even get used (I mean, it's not like we have time to clean anyway).

+ Fashion, fashion, fashion: Changing in the blink of an eye, fashion is continuously giving us an out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new mentality. And these days, this sort of fashion is spreading to things like refrigerators and the size of your floor boards. Whether we blame HGTV (which is surely part of the problem) or our appetite to spend, the need to constantly replace the things we own is expensive, time-consuming, and bad for the environment.

+ The Symptoms of Our Illness: Obviously things like paper towels and disposable napkins have been plaguing us for awhile, but it seems that more and more disposable products get launched into the American buy-o-sphere everday.

My Questions
Wasn't there a time when people saw value in rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty? What's happened?

How can we return to the idea that living simply and frugally is a valued way of life?

Will people ever see that sometimes the disposable items aren't necessarily better?

And the question on everyone's minds: If we can't find time to cook dinner, why do we have enough time to watch 4.5 hours of t.v.?"


And here's a great tip from Graham Hill:

"Paper towels - These things are expensive, take up space, and kill trees. According to the EPA, paper and paperboard products constitute the largest portion of municipal solid waste (MSW). Just go cloth. Anything that is designed for a one-time use should be re-examined, but the paper towel is enemy #1. And c'mon people!'s not that hard to use a dishtowel. You don't even have to buy one...cut up some of your wrecked clothing and you're good to go."

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