Disposability & planned obsolescence

Packaging is a nightmare for landfills and every household in America. Whilst General Mills and Nabisco reduced the volume of cereal boxes, they never changed the size of the box – the top ¼ is empty. When you ask them why, they use the simple excuse, “settling of product.” The pleasure you have, as a consumer, is that your garbage can gets just as full, actually quicker, since you have to buy more than one box to get the same amount of food.

Plastic is a nightmare for the environment. Every fish bought and caught has, on inspection, micro particles of plastic in its gut. Similarly, crows, all sorts of scavengers like cats and coyotes, who are dissected are found to be riddled with plastic particles. The volume of plastic bottles in America goes up every year. In 1960 we wasted only 390,000 tons of plastic. Ten years later it was 2,900,000 tons. By 1990 it was 13,780,000 tons, by 2010 it had risen to 24,370,000 tons and by 2020 it reached 31,260,000 tons. That’s 62,520,000,000 pounds of plastic thrown away in the USA alone. That’s 189 pounds for every single American per year now. Last year the USA bought and discarded 29,000,000,000 plastic bottles which required 86,310 barrels of crude oil, each containing 42 gallons, making a total of 3,625,020 gallons of the black-brown ooze.

All that ended up in the ocean, landfills, local dumps, and nature.

Another nightmare is planned obsolescence. When you make, for example, a refrigerator, if you know a component inside will wear out in the likely time of, say, 15 years, there is no point in making the rest of the fridge any better. Engineers, provoked by the cost savings demanded by the bosses, make the fridge metal thinner, make the compressor likely to last just about 15 years, the rubber gaskets begin to fail about then too. All this is planned. All this is deliberate. Instead of seeing that one or more components will not last past 15 years – making extra parts and warehousing them for that 15 year expiry date – the manufacturers instead reduce the warranty, claim that 15 years was a good life for an appliance and quickly create a cultural and advertising beat-the-Jones model of buy new, feel rejuvenated, shopping is the American way!

The list of nightmare products – from cars to phones, from computers to TV sets, from shoes to sheets, from cookware to shovels – all have planned obsolescence or disposability in their manufacture profiles. You can buy a shovel that will last a lifetime, but it will be twice as expensive; not because it cost much more to make, but because they will only sell one and make the profit once instead of maybe 5 or 6 in a lifetime of buying cheaply made ones, likely from China.

And yet you can find – American made – products designed to last a lifetime. Toilets, bathtubs, houses, car wheels, filing cabinets, windows, doors, Christmas ornaments… there are thousands of things made in America that are designed, in fact must, last a lifetime. Next time you go to buy something, ask yourself if you want it to last. Chances are it’ll be made in the USA and will be both durable and become a familiar part of your life, not merely discardable in all too short a time.

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.

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