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.

Latest News

Thru hikers linked by life on the Appalachian Trail

Riley Moriarty


Of thousands who attempt to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, only one in four make it.

The AT, completed in 1937, runs over roughly 2,200 miles, from Springer Mountain in Georgia’s Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest to Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park of Maine.

Keep ReadingShow less
17th Annual New England Clambake: a community feast for a cause

The clambake returns to SWSA's Satre Hill July 27 to support the Jane Lloyd Fund.


The 17th Annual Traditional New England Clambake, sponsored by NBT Bank and benefiting the Jane Lloyd Fund, is set for Saturday, July 27, transforming the Salisbury Winter Sports Association’s Satre Hill into a cornucopia of mouthwatering food, live music, and community spirit.

The Jane Lloyd Fund, now in its 19th year, is administered by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and helps families battling cancer with day-to-day living expenses. Tanya Tedder, who serves on the fund’s small advisory board, was instrumental in the forming of the organization. After Jane Lloyd passed away in 2005 after an eight-year battle with cancer, the family asked Tedder to help start the foundation. “I was struggling myself with some loss,” said Tedder. “You know, you get in that spot, and you don’t know what to do with yourself. Someone once said to me, ‘Grief is just love with no place to go.’ I was absolutely thrilled to be asked and thrilled to jump into a mission that was so meaningful for the community.”

Keep ReadingShow less
Getting to know our green neighbors

Cover of "The Light Eaters" by Zoe Schlanger.


This installment of The Ungardener was to be about soil health but I will save that topic as I am compelled to tell you about a book I finished exactly three minutes before writing this sentence. It is called “The Light Eaters.” Written by Zoe Schlanger, a journalist by background, the book relays both the cutting edge of plant science and the outdated norms that surround this science. I promise that, in reading this book, you will be fascinated by what scientists are discovering about plants which extends far beyond the notions of plant communication and commerce — the wood wide web — that soaked into our consciousnesses several years ago. You might even find, as I did, some evidence for the empathetic, heart-expanding sentiment one feels in nature.

A staff writer for the Atlantic who left her full-time job to write this book, Schlanger has travelled around the world to bring us stories from scientists and researchers that evidence sophisticated plant behavior. These findings suggest a kind of plant ‘agency’ and perhaps even a consciousness; controversial notions that some in the scientific community have not been willing or able to distill into the prevailing human-centric conceptions of intelligence.

Keep ReadingShow less