Our Disposable Culture

I know that yesterday, I brought up hobbies and crafts, and I’m going to talk a bit about that again today, but I’m going to do so from a different perspective. You see, there’s a reason I’m going to bring up my interest in woodworking against today.

You see, the reason is that I got interested in woodworking because I was disgusted with our disposable society.

A while back, we had a DVD player crap out. It was still under warranty, so we called up the manufacturer. They told us to take it to the store we got it from and they would replace it.

You see, it wasn’t cost effective to try and repair this DVD player. It was made cheaply enough that it was more cost effective to toss it out and just hand us a new one when it stopped working.

And this was years ago, long before Blu Ray became the default, so DVD players weren’t that cheap, all in all.

But it started to sink in then that we live in a disposable culture.

We have disposable plates, disposable cups, disposable napkins, disposable forks, disposable knives, disposable table cloths, everything is disposable, and that’s just dinner.

Everywhere you look, things are basically disposable.

Like I mentioned before, electronics aren’t meant to be repaired, they’re meant to be replaced.

This was really driven home to me recently when a bookcase in our living room collapsed. It wasn’t a high quality bookcase, but it was what we could afford at the time and we really needed a bookcase. I’m an avid reader. My wife also enjoys reading, though maybe not as much as me. Our son also enjoys reading.

As such, we’re clearly “book” people.

So we got what we could afford and it lasted for a while. I’m not sure how long, but at least five years. Unfortunately, it started leaning and then one day, my daughter messed with it after being told not to and the whole damn thing fell apart.

Now, I have books stacked all around the living room, all because our bookcase was built to be disposable.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming the company for selling me what I knew then was ultimately a disposable product. I’m more upset that we, as a culture, seem to actually want it this way. After all, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have these kinds of products, now would we?

The kicker?

Our disposable culture is expensive as hell for us consumers.

Take paper plates, for example. My family prefers the Dixie paper plates (yes, we use these. No, I’m not happy about it). They cost $11.98 right now at Walmart for a 150 count package.

If you take these plates for a family of four that uses them three times per day–after all, three meals means three plates per person, it works out to 12.5 days per package.  That’s about $.96 per day.

Not much, right?

Consider that means you pay $350.40 per year, and you start to see that maybe it’s cheaper to eat off of actual dishes. That doesn’t touch other disposable dining options, either. Those all add onto things as well.

Using my bookcase, I paid less than $100 for that bookcase, if I remember correctly. Now, I have to replace it, which means I will probably spend another $100 or so. If I buy one just like it, I’ll have spent $200 on bookcases and I’ll know I’ll have to spend more later on.

Or, I could just drop $280 once and get this one from Home Depot

If I’d have done that the first time, I’d still have a bookcase and not have to worry about it again.

But it’s not just furniture where we see this. We have a culture that wants cheap. They want immediate gratification and that means something they can get cheaply right now and that means it’s tempting. It’s tempting for anyone.

And it’s because of our culture.

Remember folks, businesses create products to fill perceived needs. If those needs don’t exist, they stop offering the products in question. They don’t force us to buy them that way.

So if we want to change it, we have to change the culture. We have to make it so they understand that the market they used to cater to no longer exists, so they’d better start making better products for us.

The auto industry builds cars to be repaired and it’s doing fine. The same with the firearm industry, believe it or not, and they’re not hurting either. While people “dispose” of their cars or guns because our culture values replacing things all the time, both have a large number of people picking them up used. It works.

We just need to shift the culture so that is the norm, not the exception. Yes, we’ll pay more upfront, but in the end? We’ll all come out ahead.

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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