Throw-away culture is an attitude and sad reality that we face today. In days gone by it was not uncommon to mend and reuse items to get maximum benefits out of a single purchase. But those days are far behind us!
We are a society influenced by consumerism and as this trend grew, so did over-consumption. As economic growth swelled and with the resulting boom in production and employment, excessive and mass production of short-lived products became the new normal. This formed a society of individuals who had the purchasing power as well as the attitude and preference for these new disposable items. Influenced by over-consumption, the addiction for newer and newer things was born.
This attitude and way of living has shaped industrial design where many brands now use a technique called planned obsolescence to market and manage their own economic growth. Planned obsolescence is a way to make products or parts that will become entirely redundant or less desirable over time. With such items reaching the end of their lifecycle within an absurdly short amount of time and new products coming out in their millions every day, it has become a systematic way to make the consumer buy more, become wasteful and be permanently discontented. Feeding off this psychological discontent, consumers are encouraged to buy more and more and more!
Alongside the increase in mass production prices become lower and the affordability of a product increases, creating a favorable situation for the use-and-throw culture. Trends in the industry show an inclination towards preference of disposability of a product over its durability. Seasonality of products can be seen clearly in the fashion industry where they have created a cycle of short-term use which are then thrown when they are not trendy anymore. Every high-end brand releases its fall and spring collections in a year creating a buzz in the market and making all of the previous year’s collections obsolete and out of fashion. We as individuals are fed the notion of staying on trend to increase our social status, thus making us more inclined towards the throwaway culture. A clothing item that could have lasted for years with loving and fair usage is now discarded in six months or less in the name of fashion.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the ugly side of use-and-throw culture even more. In an attempt to be safe people have been using disposable masks on a daily basis, seen as a necessity in current times, that has created further pollution and affected the “Save the Oceans” campaign negatively. What can be solved by the use of a simple reusable, washable cloth mask by non-medical professionals has affected several years’ worth of work cleaning the oceans!
We need to understand that the resources available to us on this planet are limited and will be exhausted one day. Using these resources more sparingly and slowly will delay the day that we will exhaust them, but it cannot be our only solution. Awareness around this concept of finite supply must aid us in changing our attitude towards use-and-throw products. This current take-make-dispose linear economy must also change. It has not only affected the planets resources, but also created several other problems for the planet like the waste crisis. An estimated 12 billion tons of plastic is predicted to reach the landfills by 2050 and considering the average time it takes for a plastic bottle to degrade is 450 years, these predictions are alarming. In addition to land waste, nearly 10 million tons of plastic pollute the sea every year with plastic traces found in all sea turtles, 44% sea birds and nearly 22% cetaceans. This plastic and other waste is mostly packaging and one-time use items. The waste ranges from straws, take-away cups, bottles and many other products that have sustainable alternatives and solutions.
Apart from innovation in this field, the main focus should be in changing public attitudes to make them shift from a throw-away mentality to a sustainable one. Only when we choose change can we create a difference in the world. Solutions for this are to reuse and repair the products we already have before looking for newer options. Considering collaborating and/or renting products that we only need 1-2 times can be another example of lowering consumption. We must stop buying plastic and disposable items and aim for re-usable, recyclable items like glass bottles, cloth shopping bags, beeswax food wraps, bamboo straws etc. Generating awareness regarding sustainable packaging and opting for it is also necessary. Planning for long term use of objects and only buying from brands that value durability rather than planned obsolescence will prove to be cost saving as well as less time-consuming. A buck saved today to buy lower quality products will only cost us more money in the future to repeat the purchase again and again. Well-planned and informed purchasing must be valued.
Our aim should be to develop into a circular economy where every resource is used and reused. It provides a path for regenerative and restorative living. All products, especially textiles, plastics and even metals, must be designed for the intention of recovery, recycling and reuse. Lowering the consumption of virgin resources will reduce waste and retain the resources for many generations to come. This will have long term effects benefiting the planet and mankind.