Disposable Society: Capitalism and Consumerism Combined?

It was an interesting day of picking up otherwise “unimportant things,” noting my own urges to just dispose of varied materials, and observing my precious “living environment. ” At the end of the day, it was time for sorting out other people’s “thrash” and noting my own habits plus reflecting on these various disposable items that I am supposed to learn from. These are what I have seen and what I have realized. Food items and their packaging materials come at the top of the list. Second in line, I found office and school materials – paper clips, ballpen caps, paper, etc.
Then there were the miscellaneous home and personal items, various odds and ends including Styrofoam pieces from certain packaging materials, plastic containers bolts and nuts and various unidentified metal pieces, pieces of colored cloth, cigarette butts, an old plastic toy top, a CD, and a torn magazine. There are other small items not include in the list here but basically these are my categorizations of the disposable or “disposed” items collected in a day of walking and observing around.
From one angle, it is a most convenient, socially constructed environment that we have—the so-called modern society with all its technology and other trappings. Part of the convenience lies in the disposability of many, if not all the items, that we see around us and which we utilize for meaningful survival on the planet. For example, how would we be able to store and therefore distribute food across great distances without the modern techniques of food packaging?
The sanitary handling of food through these technologies however have an implication after the packaged food has been consumed: where goes the inedible packaging? There is a need for food manufacturers to factor in this question in their development of packing and packaging technology. Everyday, everyone eats, and the more we consume, the more we throw away. In 2004, a University of Arizona study indicates that forty to fifty percent of all edible food never gets eaten. Every year $43 billion worth of edible food is estimated to be thrown away.
(“US wastes half its food,” 2007) What can be done about this? To eat less? Joking aside, we have to be more responsible consumers. There’s a hungry world out there. Moreover, developing biodegradable packaging and eating utensils could be the simple long-term solution perhaps so that environmental pollution is lessened. Or how about edible utensils for a species that is constantly on the go? Perhaps someday. Ours is a society that does not sleep. 24-7 we say. Society moves every second, every day and the more we move, the more be create garbage, the more we develop disposables.
Ours has become a disposable society. Even many relationships today seem disposable — fleeting and cold. In the coldness of many offices and supposed institutions of learning, many items are disposable. Containers, small items that make work less tedious like those yellow sticker-like notepads, pens, and computer printer ink cartridges, among others. In the relative warmth of some homes, still we see the signs of disposability: the Christmas tree, the decorations from the last party, the old TV guides.
How would life be if we had disposable parents? Frightening thought? Indeed, but perhaps not for some who may have had the unfortunate experience of having dysfunctional parents or adults in their life. Work and family, 24-7, in modern societies, live off disposables. They make life easy and they spur more productivity and innovation. On the large downside, we are using off precious scarce resources, which can be depleted in the long run, and dirtying up the whole planet against the interest of future generations.
At the heart of all this is a peculiar system that is consumerist in orientation. Consumerism is a lifestyle fanned by the current economic system, an orientation that appears negatively utilitarian, unduly pleasure-oriented, and has no regard for long-term negative consequences of degrading the planet’s natural environment. As things are consumed and disposed, more production and profit is created to replace the old disposed material. What would the world be if things were not as disposable? Production could grind to a halt, as there could be less needs to fulfill.
If cars, for instance, were not too disposable and new models are not made to be so appealing (as if they were needed and not simply desired), where would the car industry be now? We see this even in the use of computer technologies. As Smith (2008) notes: Creating products that aren’t meant to last is a very viable business strategy as this means that consumers will need to buy replacement products… In a more modern context, consider videogames. Old games, like Pong, could be played over and over again. Today’s games, like the popular Grand Theft Auto series, have a beginning and an end.
Once you “beat the game” you need to buy the next installment in the series. The same concept applies to computer software. If you call Microsoft and try to get support for Windows 98, a once expensive product that still works just fine on many computers, you’ll be told that it is no longer supported. It’s not that the product doesn’t work, it’s that the company wants you to buy the latest and greatest version of whatever they’re selling. Is not consumerism and capitalism complementary with the reality of a disposable society? The profit seekers are only too glad we throw their products away—the sooner, the better.
References
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2001/08/30/60minutes/rooney/main308969.shtml
“US wastes half its food.” http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/news/ng.asp?id=56376-us-wastes-half. Retrieved on 2007-10-01.
Smith, L. (2008). The Disposable Society: An Expensive Place To Live. http://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/07/disposablesociety.asp. Retrieved on 2008-05-02.

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