Home | About | Donate

Our Throw-Away Society


Our Throw-Away Society

Eileen McCabe

Mainstream western culture is addicted to the convenience of plastic, to single-use items, cheap electronics of limited lifespan, and excessive packaging that assures us of safety and cleanliness. In the face of horrific images of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and mutilated wildlife, we are starting to wake-up to the necessity of curbing our addiction to these conveniences. This will require not just active engagement and action by government and industry, but a fundamental paradigm shift by every individual.


Of course, reducing plastic is an indispensable goal, but simply returning to glass will not solve the pollution problem unless we also return to reusing and/or recycling glass containers. There was a time when all those glass milk bottles, soft drink bottles and beer bottles were refundable and were cleaned and reused by the industries which produced the beverages (not to mention the vast number of standard canning jars which were reused at the household level), Reverting from plastic to glass will be helpful only if we stop throwing all the jars and bottles in the landfills (which is, of course, the main point in McCabe’s article).


Some of us who were raised in rural areas remember when milk came in a metal pail, still warm from the cow or goat. Soap was a concoction grandma made while grandad was making vinegar. Containers of all sorts were reused for years.


Sorry Eileen, I am 67 and remember all too well but because I am this age I too have been disposed of. Oh well.


Plastic containers for bathroom products was the right answer, the wrong answer was in how we developed plastic technology. We (citizens through their government) should have been forcing companies to develop biodegradable/compostable ‘plastics’ as soon as the term plastic was coined. All single use plastic should be required to be compostable and real metrics on what that means exactly must be in place. These plastics cost more and so there will be washable, returnable containers that may be more cost competitive (this method has its own environmental cost of shipping a heaver weight and washing/sterilizing). Other plastics that are not compostable must be designed for recyclability (I’m aware this is harder than metal or glass, but it is not impossible). Going back to glass bottles in the shower is a terrible solution - that’s just an invitation for injury (Metal would be better).

In general, asking the consumer to do drive the right answer when it is more expensive is almost always the wrong answer - poor people have to get the cheapest, and too many rich people don’t care. The right answer is always to regulate the production and trade end of things.