When almost everything we buy is disposable, people become disposable, too. Here’s why throwaway society isn’t working — and how you can help fix it.
Throwaway society? What’s that?
Lucky for me, I don’t print many documents these days because replacement cartridges for my inkjet are pricey. In fact, a brand new printer doesn’t cost much more than a new ink cartridge.
For kicks and giggles, I did a quick price comparison. A new ink cartridge for my printer currently runs about $33. The cost to replace the exact same model of printer comes in at a cool $58.
Ridiculous, right? But that’s what a throwaway society looks like. And here’s why it sucks.
Things we lose when everything is disposable
Unfortunately, printers aren’t the only things that have become disposable. When we replaced our microwave last month, the sales guy said that appliances aren’t investments anymore. Microwaves, dishwashers and ovens are commodities that are intentionally designed to be replaced every few years.
At some point, we decided to stop fixing things. When something malfunctions or doesn’t work the way we think it should, we just throw it away and buy a new one. The throwaway society mentality is dangerous and it’s quickly bled into categories of life that are a lot more important than consumer goods:
- Relationships: Marriage hit a rough patch? Did you have an argument with someone at your church or social group? In throwaway society, relationships are disposable. No muss, no fuss. You can just move on and replace otherwise fixable relationships with completely new ones.
- Employment: Employers’ loyalty to workers is at an all-time low. Low-wage workers are often treated as disposable assets that can be easily replaced. Rather than investing in workers by paying a living wage, some companies adopt a take-it-or-leave-it attitude and pay workers the legal minimum.
- Value of life: Life itself loses value in a throwaway society. When we’re used to walking away from broken things and less-than-perfect situations, the sick, the poor, the weak and the vulnerable pay the price.
Fixing throwaway society
Earlier this week, I ran across a Fast Company story about manufacturers that are bucking the throwaway society trend and making products that are easily repaired, rather than replaced.
For example, one company is making a durable backpack with a timeless, intelligent design that makes it easy to repair zippers and other components. The owners hope customers will still be using their backpacks after years and years of use. And the company offers a 25-year warranty to back up its design philosophy.
I’m a fan of anything that can be repaired instead of replaced. But here’s the question that’s been bouncing around my head for the past few days: What if we started treating everything like a 25-year backpack?
- What if we stopped viewing relationships as disposable and started working out our disagreements in the context of committed community?
- What if we re-envisioned employment as a long-term relationship in which employers treat workers with loyalty, dignity and respect — and workers treat their employers the same way?
- What if we decided to reinvest our time and energy in advocating for and caring for elderly, sick, weak and vulnerable people?
The bottom line is that people aren’t disposable in the kingdom of God. Despite our weaknesses and shortcomings, we all have worth.
By rejecting throwaway society and all it stands for, we make a powerful and prophetic statement about the permanent value of life in a world where value is too often measured with dollar signs.