By Chris R. on 5 October 2010 in The Localizer -
Image above: Thermoformed disposable plastic food containers use precious energy and end up promoting unsustainable living. From (http://www.packaging-int.com/article/ingeo-biopackaging-broadens-scope-at-emballage-08.html).
As we know, much of our consumer-driven economy has long been dedicated to delivering to those of us who can pay for it, a lifestyle that is increasingly convenient and comfortable. As many new products (and some services) are introduced, certain facets of our lives are becoming more and more simplified, convenient, and comfortable such as through disposable products.
Examples abound of the plastic disposable single-serving container or towelette that was previously handled with a sturdy glass bottle containing numerous doses or servings or a heavy-duty sponge that had to be rinsed out and stored for later use.
But more and more, most of our products are resembling the use-once-and-toss classification of picnic ware and the volume of garbage headed to the landfill is no doubt increasing as most of these disposable products are either not recycled or are not even recyclable...even if that itself were a worthy goal at this point.
Add to that the shaky new category of biodegradable packaging, surely far less environmentally benign than marketers suggest, and my guess is that most consumers have no clue of the damage they cause. And as the swelling class of consumers ride the demographic wave to retail nirvana, each new generation of modern-day hunter-gatherers leaves in its wake an ever-larger pile of refuse as newer and better products are devised merely for their ease of disposability.
How many happy meal toys do you have left from all of those meals bought at fast food outlets over the years?
Did you decide to keep them when you nostalgically held them in your hand as your moving day packing triage allowed you the time to give great thought to each and every bit of flotsam, jetsam, and dryer lint in your attic, toy bin, or garage?
My guess is that if you keep even one such useless lead and chromium-laden piece of toxic waste, your potential proclivity for hoarding is quite promising.
Even toys bought at retail are taken home for a few days worth of listless play in this unimaginative culture of canned and pre-programmed media-driven entertainment. Each season of action figures or robots become nearly instantaneously out-of-date just like fashion in any other sector of the consumer economy. As this deeply destructive economic model further matures (sic) and evolves, the timeline for product obsolescence becomes ever more compressed, marketing for holidays begins ever earlier, new holidays are invented, and your specific needs are continuously expanded (e.g. Viagra, toe fungus relief, anti-aging cremes).
But a mere glance at the supermarket shelf reveals the wide range of disposable products where there were once more sturdy methods for accomplishing the same task. Swiffers and their cousins Wet Swiffers and Swiffer Dusters replace dust cloths, sponge mops, and feather dusters. Better? Arguably they may be more effective but they're all disposable and end up in landfills "swiftly".
Need some cold medicine? Forget that old glass bottle of cough syrup. Now you can have single-serving cough medicine in "to-go" disposable plastic spoons or sachets. And aren't you supposed to stay in bed and away from the office or school if you're sick? More and more products that previously were measured from jars or cans now have single-serving pouches or powder packs that each result in a small but cumulative presence in the landfill.
On-the-go meals in plastic tubs or boPET polyester film lined containers fill several aisles in grocery stores while home cooked meals become ever more rare. The examples in every facet of living including food preparation and storage, home health, cleaning and home maintenance, recreation, and more are ubiquitous and each and every one of these plastic disposable time-saving or convenience adding devices require fossil fuel to manufacture.
And nearly every one of these petroleum-based products likely ends up in the landfill within six months of their manufacture. Interestingly, today a Wall Street Journal article reports that a purportedly bio-degradable bag made for Frito Lay's Sun Chips was discontinued because it made too much noise....think about that for a second. While we're becoming more and more dependent on these conveniences, using more limited fossil fuels in the process, and fouling our landscapes with higher and broader mounds of garbage, we are also losing on the flip side.
As we rely more and more on convenience goods and packaging, many of us are getting rid of the tools of slow food, the high quality cookware, the canning pots and accessories, and other accoutrements of spending a longer time in the kitchen preparing a well thought out family meal. Likewise, many of us are losing the food preparation and cooking skills that one or more members of every household possessed and which was passed down from generation to generation, many as closely guarded secrets of some specialized dish or recipe.
As much as I enjoyed my mother's shrimp creole, roast beef, or roasted duck, I couldn't begin to fathom how to prepare them like she did and would likely turn to the electronic media to find some recipe to experiment with. This family heirloom knowledge is gone forever, at least for us.
The point of this rather circuitous post is that our cultural behaviors, rooted in a misguided belief in perpetual growth and "progress" are creating devastation in all facets of life and living, choking ecosystems, creating floating islands at sea, killing wildlife, and making our landscapes look more and more like third-world smoldering dumps or sewage-laden canals.
The creation of ever more types of waste for more fleeting convenience, regardless of the necessity derived from our hectic pointless lifestyles, is literally covering the planet with plastic, on land and at sea. As peak petroleum looms as a dire threat to the shaky stability of our civilization, we use this dwindling resource to manufacture single-serving containers of liquid candy or disposable fast-food meal toys.
Surely this hints at some form of psychosis, doesn't it? And as our lifestyles beg further time-saving conveniences, we lose the skills, knowledge, and culture that many of our parents and their ancestors took great trouble to try to pass along to us for further generations.
As peak oil and other threats to our troubled civilization strip away our ability to produce such extravagances, hopefully we will be left with a sufficient skill base and a clean enough environment in which we can begin to feed ourselves with local food and build communities anew without the toxicity of the current culture.