Posted On April 8, 2000
One of the biggest problems our society faces is the amount of waste we produce. Our dumpsters, our landfills, and our landscapes are overflowing with waste. What is waste?
Websters defines waste as (1) Using, consuming, or expending thoughtlessly (2) to lose or cause to lose energy, strength or vigor and (3) to fail to take advantage of; lose: waste an opportunity.
I’d like to offer another definitionto add to this list. Waste is an unused resource. I’ll repeat that, because I think it’s important: Waste is an unused resource.
Our society is overflowing with waste- resources we are not using. From paper cups to food waste to no longer wanted, though once favorite toys to senior citizens who are pigeon holed into “ human landfills” depriving us of their life experience and wisdom. Why do we do it? Why is our society like this?
Let me explain. After World War II, we entered a period when the industrial base which had been built to supply a world war was turned to civilian use. After years of rationing and scarceness, suddenly there was more than one society could use. A new ethic was born, a new society was born. “ The Throwaway Society”. You’ve heard that term before, right?
The throwaway society was able to provide maximum employment and offer huge amounts of goods and services to the public at prices they could afford. Suddenly, Americans had more available to them through production and gainful employment. The key though, was to keep people spending their paychecks by providing incentives to buy “new, bigger, better” products. By building in obsoleteness, we could keep the factories in full production creating a disgusting symbiosis….people had more income to spend, and it was necessary to encourage them to spend it to keep the assembly lines rolling.
Sounds pretty good, right? Not know, but at the time it did. It wasn’t an easy thing to do though. As Americans, we’re descended from imminently practical ancestors. Ask your grandparents…it may be hard to believe now, but prior to about 1950, there were three values most Americans shared…Frugality, Economy, and Neighborly Cooperation. These weren’t just arbitrary values. Survival depended on it.
Frugality, which we look at as a bad thing,”being cheap”. In fact, frugality is defined as practicing or marked by economy…What does that mean? Well, it means making the best possible buying decision, weighing the power of your buying dollar and getting the most for it. Makes sense, right?
Ecoonomy refers to running your household efficiently, using that frugality to make your dollar go even further sot that you can buy more seed, a new plow, or maybe even splurge and get one of them newfangled telephones to communicat with your neighbors and loved ones.
Neighborly cooperation meant knowing your neighbors and being willing to help them with your skills or work- What you got in return was the help of your neighbors with their skills of work. Imagine a barn raising, where all the men in a neighborhood come together to create something. And instead of pigeonholing the women, children, and elderly at home- utilizing their skills to benefit everyone. The men, and the women who choose to, work on the structure, the other women prepare a midday meal for the workers, and meanwhile, the elderly and children spend quality time together removing plants from where the structure will go, or just learning from each other. Youth and experience, who says they don’t go together.
You see, our ancestors needed these values of economy, frugality, and neighborly cooperation….and so do we. Without them, there was and is no hope of building homes where families can grow up and prosper.
So, back to the 1950s. In order to get people to support this new “ throwaway society”, the simple values needed to be replaced with a new ethic. That ethic was a different sort of economy…the government realized that in order to make it successful, the capital had to be in a constant flow, from employers to employeees, from employees back to the employers. By building in the concept of consumer debt, they ensured that people would need to keep working in order to satisfy the need to “ keep up with the Joneses”. In short, it worked, in a very short period of time economy, frugality, and neighborly cooperation had gone out the window.
The self made man replaced the community leader as role model and the new model replaced the trusted old car. The new products rolled off the shelves nearly as quick as they were produced and dreams of utopia inspired newer, bigger, and better replacements even quicker. Which brings us to today.
We’re starting to see the drawbacks of this “throwaway society”. Consumer debt is at an all time high. Instead of working less, we’re working more. Do you realize a family with one income used to typically be able to buy a home, raise multiple children, and still have time to enjoy the home and kids? Now it’s all we can do to have two incomes support a rental home with one child– and forget about time to enjoy either.
The key to this problem lies in our perception of waste and the three values I’ve been telling you about.
For example: a few years ago, I started paying attention to the amount of “waste” I produced… amazingly, I was producing more than 15 pounds a week! Me, a single guy! What did I do? I started by recycling. Jars, pizza cartons, packaging, bottles, scrap paper. Next, I started to compost. My food scraps now create healthy soil for my garden. I was still producing to much waste. So I started to pay attention to packaging, refusing to buy overpackaged products. I was still producing several pounds of waste every week- so I started thinking of ways I could use waht was still going into my garbage…instead of tossing it. As an example, I’ve found over 70 uses for plastic grocery bags! Isn’t that amazing?