North, South, East, And Waste
When I first emigrated to America, from a Europe which was still recovering from World War II, one of my earliest impressions was that the whole society seemed to be built on the principle of wastefulness. I said to myself, “In this country, I could live on what people throw away.”
For better or worse, I have never lost that feeling. For example, I still can’t get over the fact that millions of people actually pay for bottled drinking water when perfectly free water is available at their kitchen sink. [Note: I know that this, and other things I’m going to say here, will raise objections from many readers – and I do know some of the counter-arguments, e.g. that tap water may have harmful impurities. But I feel that advertising and other forms of mind-control have in many cases conditioned people to make the wasteful choices.] And of course, the whole process of bottling and distributing the water in manufactured plastic containers, which then have to be collected and re-cycled – although it may provide employment and profits for thousands – is still enormously wasteful.
Then there are cars. Why do people use them so wastefully, driving short distances that they could easily walk or even bicycle – which of course would also be better for them physically – to say nothing of the traffic congestion and air pollution they cause? Many of these motorists drive to commercial gymnasiums and pay money for the exercise they could give themselves!
And what about greeting cards? Why do so many of us pay sky high prices for slick mass-produced paper sentiments, as if the amount you spent could convey the depth of your feeling? It happens that I am more than casually acquainted with this particular industry, having been producing my own line of printed messages since 1967. But mine have always been on postcards, saving an envelope, and for many years, the price was ten cents each. To me it has been heartbreaking each time this price has had to be raised – but even now it is only 50 cents, which could be ten per cent of what something more fancy will cost you. Nevertheless, I admit that, by selling my verbal creations, I am exploiting the inability of many to articulate their personal thoughts and feelings. But in this case, the waste is of people’s own potential talents. Surely it is not mere happenstance that, before greeting cards even existed, the level of fluency in expressing themselves seems to have been much higher among ordinary people than it is today.
Incidentally, some of my own cards do actually discuss the topic of waste, with such messages as:
Wealth gives you the power to be wasteful – but not the right.
Nothing that’s precious should be wasted – even if you think there will always be plenty of it.
Another highly wasteful aspect of our consumer society is its worship of packaging. Often the cost of the “container” constitutes a large proportion of the price of whatever item we buy. And of course, the purpose of the package is not just to protect its contents, but to sell them. The package is the final, and often the most important advertisement, always appearing, at what, in marketing lingo, is known as the “point of sale.”
Lately our “throw away society” has been preoccupied with the problem of plastic drinking straws, which, for generations, have been supplied free in eating-places, and then disposed of after each use. I myself use such a straw every morning when I walk around my block, sipping from a special closed coffee-mug. But I use the same straw every day – and can’t even remember when I last needed a replacement. Of course, I wash the straw carefully after each use. But it never seems to wear out. However, I have never even seen the idea suggested that restaurants could also wash and re-use the straws, just as they do with the spoons, forks, and cups which people also put to their lips.
I could probably continue almost endlessly listing all the ways in which our society is wasteful. (E.g. the billions spent questionably on the supposed “Defense” of our country – but on that, please don’t even get me started!)
However there is one final absurdity which I’d like to throw at you. It is the penny – our virtually useless one-cent coin. Do you know how much each one costs to make? – 1 ½ cents!