Throwaway culture fills garbage dumps

The growing availability of disposable goods such as cameras, plastic party ware, contact lenses and even swimsuits are adding to the world’s garbage heaps. Greeks use about 60,000 tons of disposable plastic every year, including «free» plastic bags at supermarkets, according to the Ecological Recycling Association. Of course, these actually cost 300 million euros, a cost that is included in the price of the products. The latest addition to the throwaway culture is a 20-minute digital video camera, the size of a small MP3 player that records films of VHF quality which can then be stored on DVD. Next to arrive will be disposable DVDs. Last Christmas the film «Noel» was on sale on a self-destructing DVD disc, to all appearances just like any ordinary disc apart from its red surface. The real difference is the chemical substances that react with air as soon as the disc is removed from its protective covering. The disc turns black after 48 hours and cannot be reused. Also in the US are disposable cell phones for those who have left their own at home. Disposable cell-phone cards used to be on sale in Greece as gifts to friends and loved ones, to be used for just one call. Disposable contact lenses have been marketed as a solution to the problem of hygiene. Disposable underwear and pantyhose are to meet the needs of those whose luggage has been lost, or even just for those with changeable tastes. The French firm FMR has imported disposable swimsuits for men and women, made of discarded paper napkins, although the company reassures swimmers they will not dissolve in water. «Even after five days in the water, there is no problem,» claims the advertisement. The suits sell for about 7 euros. The list includes not only disposable diapers, cigarette lighters, gloves, aprons, coasters, razors and sachets of instant coffee, but also bust uplifts for women who don’t want to wear a bra. Sales of water in plastic bottles have been rising dramatically in Greece, as well as all kinds of plastic tableware and toiletries such as disposable toothbrushes provided for air travelers and hotel guests. The next step of course is disposable clothing. Nearly all bottled drinks sold in Europe are sold in disposable plastic bottles. World sales of disposable cameras reached a total value of 430 million in 2003. Plastic bottles are gradually replacing glass bottles for beer and the remaining cardboard containers still used for milk. «The prevalence of disposable products is a reflection of our culture,» said Georgios Panogyrakis, professor of marketing at Athens Economics University. «When everything is disposable, it shows that we are not investing in the future. We only care about making life easy at the moment, and not about the long-term consequences of our actions. It is a new consumer model and a marketing approach that promotes the idea of a product that you can get rid of after you use it,» he said. Naturally we don’t care about what happens to them afterward; whether they pile up in a landfill, or are just thrown onto an illegal garbage dump. Yet advertising no longer sings the praise of a product that «lasts forever,» as it once did, perhaps because that way fewer objects are sold. Some disposables meet a real need, but for most of them, needs are created by modern lifestyles. For example, when people’s working hours and conditions are constantly changing, it is rare that a pot goes on the stove. People resort to prepared food (in plastic containers). And of course plastic is light, flexible and sturdy.