Throw Away Society
Taken in an ally south of Robson Street .. Yes, I am aware of the irony of using a relatively new camera to preach about “Throw Away Society” the camera was purchased in 2008, but in my defense the last one (circa 1994) was stolen.
Today I overheard two strangers talking about how much they hate all the excess packaging that comes on the products they buy. Wouldn’t they be surprised to know they were subsidizing it with their tax dollars?
According to the US federal government (which tracks these things–I don’t know what our federal government does…) packaging has increased 51 percent since 1980. And that understates the real impact. Consider how packaging has changed in the past 26 years.
You can fit 600 pounds of old-fashioned glass bottles and jars in a box one cubic yard in size. To handle a comparable weight in plastic bottles and jars, you need a box 16 times bigger. With the increase in packaging, that means we need a box 24 times bigger.
Twenty-four times more garbage trucks, 24 times more landfill space… and that’s just for the packaging. Throw-away products in our throw away society have increased 86 percent over the same period. Three times the rate of population growth.
The cost of dealing with all that waste falls squarely on local communities. It’s up to us to build the landfills, finance the incinerators, and provide the convenient weekly collection to which we have all become accustomed.
But finance it we have. A report being circulated by Metro Vancouver reminds us that in our country $1.5 billion was spent by municipal governments in 2000 on solid waste management. That cost was offset by a mere $97 million in recycling revenues.
That’s over $1.4 billion public dollars spent in a single year to subsidize the producers of excess packaging and throwaway products.
The companies that profit from these subsidies will be sending their big guns to Vancouver this week to participate in an invitation-only Packaging Symposium organized by Metro Vancouver.
They will be happy to hear about Metro Vancouver’s draft waste management plan, which will give them a big boost.
The region’s plan requires our municipal governments to spend more to recycle plastic packaging (even though there are no markets for the material).And the rest that can’t be recycled? We’ll build big burners and pump it up into the atmosphere.
(The report mentioned above was penned for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities by RIS, the Ontario consulting firm that works closely with the producers of throwaway products and packaging.)
Environmentalists today are campaigning for “reduce, recycle and re-use” in a bid to save the world, but we as a nation, have adopted “replace” as our mantra. Whether it is big stuff like household goods, cars, laptops or smaller things like disposable diapers and tissues, we are constantly replacing things in our life with little regard for our environmental woes or financial situation. This throw away society is killing us!
The reasons for our becoming a throw away society are manifold. In a quest for better living standards, we wish to own the latest equipments and gadgets. Once new things are acquired, short-term euphoria is experienced till a new model in the market makes our possessions redundant and outmoded. There is then a scramble to dispose off these “unwanted” things to second hand shops and scrimp, save or borrow to buy the latest stuff.
The markets today are flooded with cheap, “for single use only” things that are more in demand than high priced quality items. Mind boggling mobile phone accessories that change the look of your handset in the blink of an eye, shoes that quickly come apart at seams, cheap T-shirts that lose color and shape after a single wash and watches that stop telling time before three months are over and yet there is a rush to buy more and more till our houses and closets seem to be overflowing with goods that are more in quantity and less in value.
It would have been a different matter if convenience and better living standards were the only reason behind the burgeoning use of disposable items. With changing times, our values and norms have also shifted shape. There is intense competition and rivalry among the affluent for becoming society’s trend setters. The trickledown effect of this tendency has played havoc on the middle-class strata.
People are working long arduous hours to earn more and more money so that they can keep up with Joneses and Smiths or else lose face. This money is being spent to replace things of personal use, electronic items, household stuff, and automobiles at an alarming rate. It no longer matters if they are perfectly functional, what matters is that there is a new model in the market.
The current abundance of choice coupled with the ease with which things are discarded as soon as they lose their newness has given rise to intense consumerism in our society with simplicity and gratification being its first victims. It is indeed a sad reflection of our times as a society that lives in throes of consumerism is not able to sustain its values and traditions for long.
Throw Away Society