Our Disposable Society
As Americans, we are privileged to many luxuries. Not every country allows its citizens to start their own businesses or provides the education it takes to run a company. Our free market system allows for many different goods and services to compete fairly for people's dollars. The freedom given to us by our forefathers grants the opportunity to choose between these goods and services. Put all these realities together and it's no wonder we have so many different forms of products. A relatively recent phenomenon that has subsequently emerged in our society is the prevalence of disposable products. Because of their convenience, efficiency, and relatively low cost, disposable products have become the choice over their reusable forms for many consumers. Everyday activities such as grooming, cleaning, eating, and child care are where most disposable products enter our lives. It is possible for one individual to use dozens of disposable products daily, from blowing noses to changing a child's diaper. Considering the amount of disposable goods being bought and discarded after one use, problems have inevitably arisen. The most obvious and tangible problem is environmental damage. Other consequences include declining values of family, relationships, and human life. Thus, the disposable phenomenon is worth studying and researching not only because it plays a large part in nearly everyone's life but because the problems that arise from it could be pinpointed and possibly solved.
The popularity and prevalence of disposable products can be attributed to several sociological factors. First, disposables fall in line with Ritzer's "McDonaldization of society." The values of efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control are all espoused in disposable products. Take disposable contacts, for example. They are more efficient than regular contacts because the user doesn't have to think about cleaning them or worrying about them getting lost or damaged. All thought has been removed from the process. Disposable contacts take less time to set up and there are multiple pairs in each package, thus illustrating the calculability aspect. They are predictable, meaning each contact is the same and the problems associated with cleaning solution and trays are eliminated. And the user has control over when to dispose of the contacts and start a new pair. Another reason for the popularity and acceptance of disposable products is the ideal images we associate with them. "Ideal culture" is a set of values, knowledge, and beliefs we hold as a society. For many people, the disposable product represents the values of freedom of choice, cleanliness, and convenience. Finally, the disposable phenomenon has been promoted to us through mass marketing and advertising tactics. Ritzer explains the reasons for our country's "hyper consumption" in his piece Enchanting a Disenchanted World. One of the explanations he gives for the increase in consumption is the marketing geared toward people to buy more and more products. In this respect, the companies that produce disposable products engage in mass marketing tactics to convince consumers to buy their products. The attractive features of the disposable product are highlighted, such as its efficiency and ability to make life easier. For example, the television commercial for Swiffer depicts maids and butlers from popular television sitcoms and shows them relaxing and having fun at a tropical resort. The ad claims that "cleaning doesn't have to be a full-time job" and tells viewers to "Stop cleaning. Swiffer." The marketers hope the audience will buy a Swiffer to make cleaning easier and less time-consuming. Thus, marketing influences our society a great deal and contributes not only to our "hyper consumption" but the popularity of disposable products.
What advertising doesn't tell us, however,...