Convenience: Why Modern Society Is Predisposed to Waste

If you ever find yourself wondering just how much waste consumers generate, just walk slowly through your neighborhood on garbage collection day. Take a peek inside some of the garbage cans. If you see a big pile of trash not contained in a receptacle, take note of what you see. You might be surprised.

It seems like modern society is predisposed to waste. In other words, we generate waste without even thinking about it. But why? What is it about modern life that causes us to generate more waste than our ancestors did so many generations ago?

The answer could be as easy as one word: convenience. Modern life is all about convenience. We obsess over it. We build our lives around it. We want everything to be as convenient as possible, so that we barely have to lift a finger to do or get what we want. That creates waste.

Real-Life Examples

Associating convenience with waste is not mere speculation. There are real-life examples all around us. For instance, do you stop at the coffee shop on your way to work every morning? If so, do you get your coffee served in a disposable cup?

Coffee shops no longer serve in reusable mugs because that would require consumers to come in and sit down. Consumers rarely use their own travel mug because it is more convenient to throw a paper cup in the trash.

Want another real-life example? Look no further than paper plates and plastic utensils. Believe it or not, there are people who use them because they don’t like washing dishes. It is easier to clear the table by throwing everything in the trash.

Cheap, Mass-Produced Goods

Our desire for convenience is exacerbated by cheap, mass-produced goods. Paper coffee cups are doable because manufacturers can produce them for fractions of a penny. It might cost your local coffee shop anywhere from $.03-$.05 to buy a single cup. Passing the cost along to you is barely a blip on your radar screen.

Even high-ticket items are cheap. Take the TV, for example. TVs used to cost an arm and a leg. They were so expensive that you wouldn’t think about throwing one away unless absolutely necessary. If something went wrong, you called the repair man.

Today’s TVs are cheap by comparison. They are so cheap that we no longer wait for them to break before getting rid of them. All it takes to send us shopping for a new one is a bigger screen or a few new features.

It Doesn’t Make Sense

What makes all of this so crazy is that it doesn’t really make sense. If we stepped back and looked at waste logically, we would see our own folly. But we do not. Instead, we stick with the status quo. We do what we have always done.

Pale Blue Earth is a Park City, Utah company that sells USB rechargeable batteries. They say the difference between lithium-ion and alkaline batteries, in terms of cost, tells us everything we need to know about our ignorance.

A single lithium-ion battery can be recharged 1,000+ times. That means you have to purchase 1,000 alkaline batteries to achieve the same practical use as a single lithium-ion battery. Alkaline batteries are a lot more expensive over the long term, and yet we keep buying them. Tens of millions are purchased every year in this country alone.

Modern society is predisposed to waste. One of the big motivating factors behind it is our love of convenience. Until we determine that convenience isn’t everything, we will continue producing waste in ever larger volumes.