Challenging the Throwaway Culture of Convenience

aluminum can on beach, trash, waste, throwaway culture, deep living“There is no reason that the universe should be designed for our convenience.”
~ John D. Barrow

Saving the world isn’t hard. It’s just inconvenient.

Why? We live in a throwaway society built upon convenience.

We throw away stuff and the natural resources that make it possible. We throw away people by turning a blind eye. We throw away ideas when they don’t fit into our ideological norm.

We throw away without a sense of responsibility; without guilt or shame; without acknowledging the dignity of the Earth that has given of itself for our so-called gain. We spite the Mother that has done nothing but provide for our every whim.

The long-term viability of humanity—as well as all other species and the planet itself—is being compromised for the sake of convenience. FASTER, CHEAPER, EASIER. That’s the mantra of Modern Society. It’s a sad testament to the supposed ingenuity and genius of humankind. Plunder, pillage, profit. Repeat ad nauseam.

Pause for a moment and look around. Our lives – yours and mine – are surrounded by the throwaway mindset. It’s so difficult to escape. The Engine of Capitalism hums along because of it. Western culture thrives like blood-sucking mosquito on it.

Broke or worn? Toss and replace. New version? Toss and upgrade. Out of style? Toss and get back in with the crowd before anyone notices. One-time-use This; disposable That.

It’s been generations in the making, ushered in with the dawn of the modern industrial age. And since then, we’ve been polishing it on the backs of cheap energy and cheap labor. For me, this is the ugly downside of technology, of innovation, of brainpower. We have sold our spirit for All-In-One Gadgets, All-Purpose Gizmos and One-Time-Use-Everything Else.

I might be nostalgic but where did the cobbler go? The TV and vacuum cleaner repairman? The seamstress? The DIY gusto that Saturdays, a few screwdrivers, wrenches and some elbow grease used to be made for? Heck, even duct tape and superglue are going out of style.

Alas, I always try to come back to the root cause, the silver bullet reason. But for this, I don’t think there is one.

Cheap energy and labor certainly makes more things affordable for more people. Throw in easy access to credit and an ever-rising debt ceiling. Add a big dash of Stuff=Happiness mentality. And top it off with a blatant ignorance and disregard for the Earth and its life-giving bounty. What you get is a recipe for disaster. And the truth is: The egg timer is close to hitting zero on this one.

Further, I believe there is a direct connection between our search for the FASTER/CHEAPER/EASIER and some of the most pressing issues of modern (in particular, American) society: Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, education and literacy, climate change, rapidly diminishing biodiversity; the list can go on.

If we are to turn this thing around – to reclaim our lives and the Life of the planet – this culture of convenience must come to an end. It is unsustainable. It is not the lesson we should be passing on to our children. It is not a pathway for living deeply each day.

The only sure fire way to start bucking this culture is to not contribute to it. To rise up and take a stand. To confront and challenge the Culture of Convenience head on with zeal and fervor:

  • Just Say No. Start consuming less. Today. Challenge yourself to make do with what you have.
  • Go In For the Long Haul. Invest in quality goods and start taking care of what you own.
  • Be Resourceful. Seek to fix and repair, not toss and replace.
  • Strip Down. Avoid things that are over-packaged. Forgo packaging and bagging when you can.
  • See the Bigger Picture. Shift your perspective on Nature and your place in it.
  • See Down the Road. Think about the trickle down effects of each choice you make.
  • Pay It Forward. Teach your children and set an example for them.
  • Put It On the Line. Walk the talk. Then challenge your friends and family to keep up with you.

Personally, I am renewing my commitment to not be part of the problem. Here is my commitment to you:

  • I will never buy a coffee if I don’t have my reusable mug with me; won’t even think of bottled water
  • I will never buy or eat a meal if I cannot use reusable dinnerware and silverware
  • If I do have to buy something I will make sure I can recycle or compost it
  • I will not use elevators or escalators but take the stairs; I will walk, bike or take public transportation wherever possible
  • I will not use one-time-use items like paper towels, wrapping stuff, and bags; I will find alternative uses for anything I already have on hand
  • I will freecycle, donate or sell any household item I eliminate in the constant pursuit of getting rid of unnecessary things.
  • I will give periodic updates on The New Pursuit to keep you updated and keep me honest.

Yes, these are small things. But they are achievable. They initiate momentum within the broader world and set the stage for bigger and better challenges down the road.

Will you join me? Will you take a stand today and start bucking The Throwaway Culture of Convenience? How will you do it? Leave a comment and share your plan of attack.

Be well,

If you found this helpful, please consider sharing it with your circle. You may also enjoy these posts:

[Image: piggley]

26 Responses to “Challenging the Throwaway Culture of Convenience”
  1. Terrance Kalka says:

    An Alan Watts quote comes to mind: “There are four fundamental philosophical questions:
    The first one is: Who started it?
    The second is: Are we going to make it?
    The third is: Where are we going to put it?
    The fourth is: Who’s going to clean up?”

  2. Lynn Fang says:

    That’s great! The things I still need to work on:

    - invest in some reusable to-go silverware/containers
    - purge unnecessary items

    But I never buy coffee now without my reusable mug. And I’m way more mindful of my purchases, and enjoying life without a car. I was losing motivation a little to keep moving forward. So thanks for the inspiration! Have a great day!

  3. Bill Gerlach says:

    Lynn // You’re welcome. Glad to have helped in a small way. You’ve hit the nail on the head — it IS about being mindful of our actions and decisions. If we can understand and comprehend the downstream effects of our potential actions, I believe we will make better decisions regarding those actions.

    When I do an update, I think I’ll include some pics of this “kit” I’ve assembled to take with me each day to work. My favorite item: the spork! Everyone should own one!

    Be well and thanks for stopping by!

  4. Bill Gerlach says:

    Terrance // I had never read that quote before but it fits perfectly with this. I think society is starting to figure out we have a problem with #3, but the ‘out of site, out of mind’ mentality continues to reign. As for #4, I think that’s starting to gain some headway — especially with things like the plastic ‘islands’ getting press and frankly, stuff like the BP oil spill. But even closer to home, walk the streets, walk the parks — our trash is everywhere.

    Thanks for stopping by. Glad you did!

  5. Jennifer Vincent says:

    Just out of curiosity what do you use instead of paper towels and toilet paper? When I was in Russia they used hand towels for paper towels and a washcloth and water spray thing (???) for toilet paper. I loved the idea of the handtowels but have to admit I pulled out my kleenex when going to the bathroom.

  6. Bill Gerlach says:

    Jennifer // I was deliberate in not listing toilet paper — I don’t think I could ever get my wife and kids to follow me there! So for now, TP is still in the rotation. As far as paper towels, I will either use a dishcloth I can wash or a sponge.

    I think it’s also worth noting that I was deliberate in stating “I” in all of this. For the time being, I am reaffirming my personal commitment to this way of living. While my wife (and by default, kids) are on the same page as much as possible, there is much more of a balance at play. She stays home with three young kids and sometimes has to err on the side of convenience. Even still, if she uses a paper-based product (e.g., paper towel, pizza box) 9 times out of ten that makes its way to the compost pile. If it’s plastic we will try as much as possible to find a new use for it. It’s a good example of finding that happy medium with those you love. ;)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  7. David Hood says:

    Nice post Bill. I’m a firm believer that in order to support change we need to provide pathways for people that make it easier for them to make the change. Clear, simple explanations and guidelines with practical examples are a great start.

    I came across not so long ago and have been led to the great work of the Pachamama Alliance in creating an environmentally sustainable, socially just & spiritually fulfilling world. Check out

    As it happens, I attended their ‘Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream’ Symposium yesterday and it gives a wonderful platform to enable what you’ve written about to happen. Great bunch of folk too. :) Well recommended to anyone:

    Great stuff, thanks! :)

  8. Bill Gerlach says:

    David // Thanks so much for stopping by and the comment. I saw your tweet earlier on that and check it out. Amazing — almost like an instant connection of sorts. I signed up for their newsletter. I’ve been on the lookout for something like their symposium/training for a while (e.g., what Joanna Macy offers). Nothing ever seems to be on the East Coast of the U.S., where I’m at. :( I’ll keep on looking!

    I agree that creating a simple, easy-to-follow pathway is critical to success. For me, there is also that prerequisite of awareness. The awareness to realize that there is a better way. An awareness that leads to a new perspective on all Life — that humanity is not the end all be all, but rather one piece of a dynamic and beautifully intricate (and huge!) eco-sphere. It is that kind of awakening that I want to work for. That’s why I wrote my series on changing perspectives very early on in the still-brief history of The New Pursuit.

    Onward we go. Thanks again for stopping by and helping to share the post with others. I truly appreciate it. Be well.

  9. maryann says:

    The more aware of my environment I have become, the more angst it is causing me. I am trying to do my small part- recycling, reusing, freecycle, etc . – but all around me I see waste.

    The colleague who used to throw away clothes (!) that I now collect from her to donate…
    The plastic bottles & cans that I bring home from work beacuse there is no recycle pickup for local businesses…
    The piles of reusable things that line the street on trash collection day…

    And even in my own home: the inevitable plastic grocery bag that makes its way into our house, is re-used as a garbage bag, and yet I feel guilty because it’s not biodegradable…

    I actually suffer when I see all this waste & yet I rationally I know I cannot save the planet by myself.
    It just all seems so futile…

  10. Bill Gerlach says:

    maryann // What you are doing IS making a difference. Maybe you can’t see it in terms of the physical things around you, but try and shift your perspective and look at it from the example you are setting for others. How, through your simple and heartfelt actions, you are showing others that there IS a better way to live. A better way to demonstrate our collective responsibility towards the Earth. In your own way, you are being a catalyst for those around you. It might take time, but remain steadfast in what you are doing!

    The feelings you have are not yours alone. I, too have those same feelings (which is a big reason why I am writing this blog). As individuals such as yourself become more in tune with their life and the Life of the World around them, I believe we are undergoing a physical and psychological change within our Environment. Emotions are rising; a genuine empathy for this world is developing. These budding connections and feelings will serve to turn the tide — to seed a new consciousness for how we view our existence as just one of many, many threads within the Fabric of Life. I call it ‘eco-being’ and I believe it is a real and tangible thing.

    Your comments are solidifying the need for me to write more about this concept of ‘eco-being’ more openly. Thank you so much for your readership, comments, and willingness to share your deep feelings. I appreciate it more than you know. Be well.

    (P.S.: For some extra inspiration, you should check out Raam Dev’s new collaborative e-book, “Small Ways to Make a Big Difference”. Absolutely wonderful.)

  11. Vanessa says:

    As easy as these things sound sometimes they’re super hard to keep up with. Especially when others think you’re crazy for doing them. At least for me.

    But the truth is we DO have to start making these small changes and keep to them because we’re creatures of habit and until we start creating new and healthier habits, we’ll be in the same unsustainable rut. And hopefully on the way we’ll inspire others to do the same :)

  12. Bill Gerlach says:

    Vanessa // Indeed, we are creatures of habit. For good or for bad. Change is so hard for so many people. From where I am observing things, I continue to ponder how we crack the Awareness nut.

    How do we make people realize that A) what /we are doing is having a dire consequence on the long-term viability of the planet; and B) that there is a better way? Sure, unfortunate events like the Gulf oil spill bombard you with imagery; or you can just continue to get hit over and over with data like this. I’m not sure.

    I keep coming back to the fact that I don’t think the vast majority of the population will take concrete steps to change their behavior until it hits them in the wallet. Money (or the lack of it) tends to be one of the strongest motivators for behavior change.

    I’m not sure. If you figure it out, let me know… :) Be well and thanks for stopping by.

  13. Majeeda says:

    In our kitchen draw next to the reusable dishcloths pile we have always had another pile of cloths which we use for other things – for the kids to wipe hands and faces and other little jobs which you don’t really want to use a dishcloth for. They are sooo handy. After we use them we just soak them in a bucket until wash day.

    I touched on similar ideas to this recently in a post but I really like your post and I love your words: “Saving the world isn’t hard. It’s just inconvenient.” ! Well put.

  14. Bill Gerlach says:

    Hi Majeeda // First off, thanks so much for stopping by and taking time to comment. I appreciate it.

    I love your idea! And it’s great that you’re teaching your kids simple lessons in the midst of their day-to-day. Funny, we have a similar type of draw — only it’s filled with old reusable cloth diapers. They are handy for just about anything!

    That statement might come across as being negative or pessimist, but I think it’s true. We are creatures of habit. And when you mess with comfort and convenience… whoa, just hold up. “I want to help, but…”

    I love your post (perhaps the one you’re referring to?) on “What can I do?”. It starts at home, then spreads outward like a ripple pool — through the community and beyond. I am going to have to Netflix “Dirt” — sounds great.

    Be well.

  15. Majeeda says:

    Bill, thanks for visiting. Our old nappies are still in circulation too!! My eldest is 5 – I don’t know what we would do without them :)

    Your statement didn’t strike me as pessimistic so much as realistic. From there we have somewhere to go so for me it’s not all bad…I can see we just need to move towards the solution. It’s definitely a catchy phrase and I might quote you on that sometime, I hope you don’t mind.

  16. Bill Gerlach says:

    By all means, Majeeda, quote away. Don’t mind at all if it helps further the dialogue. Be well!

  17. Coomhola says:

    On my kitchen windowsill I keep two stack of antique, 100% cotton hand-towels and serviettes for clean-ups and drying. I don’t have a dishwasher … I use the minimal amount of environmentally kind washing up liquid in a cup, which I dip my dishcloth, or scrubber into, and rinse all in a single bath when finished (I learned this whilst living with some thrifty folk in Scotland). In our area recycling (Central CA beach community) has been the norm for years, but I’ve got our recycled waste down to putting, a requested, smaller container out just once a month, and trash to every other week. I have a garbage disposal, but don’t use it, composting as much as possible, I turn off every light left on needlessly, use the forced air heating only when our bones have turned to popsicles. As a family, we have used the same cotton-cloth nappies for every child, and have been freecycling, especially in Mexico, since before there was a word for it. Every week I trot on down the our local farmers market toting my Euro string bags, and come home with organic produce only (well sometimes flowers), sans any extra bagging. I rarely buy new … most would be surprised at some of the lovely antique/used and previously worn items available for next to nothing (style counts here). We don’t drink/eat anything packaged in plastic, tin or aluminium, or use aerosol cans. What usually keeps me veering toward the strait and narrow is remembering how my grandmother lived, and what she was capable of whilst raising nine children with no modern conveniences (except a treadle sewing machine), no supermarket or grocery within miles, no automobile, no forced air heating and no costly entertainment … they all played musical instruments and made their own fun by having weekend ceilidhs … dance/singing/food parties hailing relatives and neighbors from near and far, with all children, (and there were a lot of those) in attendance … and went camping at the beach for pleasure.

    And, as an almost lifelong photographer, I’ve been privy to the damage done, vowing years ago to do my part in seeing that the beauty of what we still have left remains undisturbed and wondrous to the new eyes of those coming next. They, ultimately, along with the Creator, will be the judges and recipients of our actions an inactions. Okay … stepping down of my soapbox for now! Cheers!

  18. Coomhola says:

    Whoops … that was supposed to read ‘and inactions’, as well as ‘stepping down off’ … just doesn’t pay to type faster than your brain goes.

  19. Bill Gerlach says:

    Coomhola // Thanks so much for stopping by and taking time to leave such an amazing snapshot of your life. That’s very impressive and inspiring! Have you ever thought of sharing all your tips and know-how via blogging or something similar? You definitely have stories and experiences to share!

    And you’re right — those that come after us will most certainly judge what we did or more importantly, what we failed to do. There is a lot of motivation to be found in that.

  20. SherryGreens says:

    Hi Bill. I will join you! I want to start 2011 with a commitment to not buy anything brand new for 3 months, other than food and TP. I want to try that one on and see how it feels. I am just starting my environmental journey, and many of your posts here have been very inspiring. I have also been inspired by your commitment to to green the office, and have just suggested this as a project for me in 2011 to my boss! I will see what he says about it in the new year, I am sure it might have caught him off gaurd. Have a great day and Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  21. Bill Gerlach says:

    Hi Sherry,

    Those are fantastic ideas! Make sure you’re blogging about your experiences!

    I think so many of us could go three months (or longer) without buying anything new (aside from those sundries, of course). Even if you did need something, could you get it at a second-hand/thrift store? I was in one yesterday looking for something — and there are so many good finds in there.

    As far as the Green Team, that just rocks! I left you a comment with some thoughts. Being in Finance is one of the BEST places to be to launch your sustainable business platform. The story you can pull together with data (financial or otherwise) can really help give your efforts the credibility they need to succeed. Let me know if I can help in any other way.

    Good luck and Happy New Year!

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