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Author Topic: Envy, Greed, and Waste  (Read 2969 times)
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Robert Skipper
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« on: June 04, 2012, 07:08:18 PM »

June 4, 2012

Our whole economy seems to be based on envy, greed, and waste.  The economy has not always been this way, but it has long tolerated those vices.  Since the 'seventies, however, the economy has become more and more reliant on a certain type of thoughtless, irresponsible consumer to keep it going.  If all of America were suddenly to revert back to the virtues that defined society one hundred years ago, the economy would probably collapse overnight. 

Let me take waste, for example.  Even if you buy very little, everything you buy has waste built into it in a number of ways.  First, almost everything is packaged in fixed sizes, so you generally have to buy either more or less than you need.  Rather than buy less than we need, most of us will buy too much, and end up throwing away the excess.  A good example is the mismatch between packages of hot dogs and hot dog buns.  Hot dogs are sold in packages of ten, and buns are sold in packages of eight.  Whichever one you get in the right amount, you must buy too much of the other.  I'm not charging conspiracy, here.  I'm just saying that packaging inevitably creates waste by forcing at least some of us to buy in quantities that do not suit our needs.  This particular case forces waste on anyone who serves hot dogs. 

Second, all packaging is trash.  Whether it is plastic, Styrofoam, aluminum cans, glass, or cardboard, it is no longer created with an eye toward reuse.  Some packaging must be destroyed in the very act of opening it, like the hanging thick plastic display packages that take tin snips to cut open.  Some are like a puzzle box, made of multiple layers, each of which must be thrown away.  This observation may sound odd--after all, how could it be any other way?  But those of us who grew up before plastic packaging remember decorative cans, glass canisters, crates, stiff cardboard containers, and even hinged wooden boxes.  When we ate all the Ritz crackers, we could use the tin to store Lincoln logs or toy soldiers.  Cigar boxes made great drawer organizers.  Milk crates stacked to make storage shelves in the garage.  I still use an old snuff jar as a pencil holder.  I buy purified water, but I buy it from a dispenser and I reuse my own plastic gallon jugs until they wear out.  What I wouldn't give now for one of those gallon jars the milkman used to bring to our house every week and then take away to be sterilized and reused. 

Finally, for convenience, single-serving packages have become popular.  You still have to buy packages of multiple servings, but a twenty-four-pack of single servings means packaging for the packaging.  Sometimes as much plastic goes into a single-serving as would normally be used for all twelve servings if they were combined.  For example, Keurig coffee pods involve individual plastic and metal foil packages that cannot be recycled and must be used up and thrown away with every cup of coffee.  Why?  So we don't have to measure out the exact amount of coffee we want.  When I get a cup of coffee at Starbucks I notice the Styrofoam or cardboard cup, the plastic lid, the plastic-packaged individual creamers, the individual packets of sugar, the wooden or plastic stirrers, the napkin, and the disposable tray, if I have an order for more than one person.  That whole pile of trash is for just one shot of espresso.  When I can't finish my meal at a restaurant, I get Styrofoam takeout packaging in a plastic bag, with plastic forks, and plastic packages of condiments. 

All of this must be thrown away, and very little of it can be recycled.  But packaging is so omnipresent that we don't notice it any more.  We have become a culture of waste.  Does this help the economy?  Clearly it helps that relatively new part of the economy that has emerged in symbiosis with our wastefulness.  It takes money, people, and resources to make packaging that gets a single use before being discarded.  At first someone had an idea of how to package something and pushed that idea, then it caught on, then the demand grew, then supply followed the demand, which accelerated the demand.  Because we are willing to waste so much, falling demand is no longer a sensitive natural brake for production.  Now many people's lives and well being is dependent on you and me throwing away almost as much material as we consume.  But the down side is there is an island in the Pacific Ocean, twice the size of Texas, of floating nonbiodegradable garbage.  That island cannot shrink; it cannot be assimilated into the environment; it must grow as long as our addiction to waste accelerates. 
« Last Edit: June 04, 2012, 11:11:31 PM by Robert Skipper » Logged
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