Thursday, February 3, 2011

killing ourselves with convenience

disclaimer: i don't even like the word. it almost becomes a cop-out, like i'm refusing to claim my own opinion. i will say this, though -- it IS just an opinion. agree, disagree, or don't give a care. either way, it's my thought process, and i'm claiming it.

there's a new product on the market, made by a very popular company whose brand name has become synonymous with its product, so much so that people don't say "please hand me a disposable facial tissue," they say, "please hand me a (brand name)." i'm sure you know the brand, if not the product. their newest item is a disposable hand towel, made for use after each hand washing. its packaging, very conveniently, is made to fit on top of a towel bar (much like you'd find in many household bathrooms) in place of a cloth hand towel. the brand touts the germ-avoiding wonders of using one disposable towel per person after each hand washing, and never having to wash another cloth hand towel. they're attempting to make life more convenient and more sanitary, by providing one-time-use disposable products.

let's think back just a few years, to how many items that are now one-time-use disposables, which were once NOT. because i'm a nanny, i immediately consider how many disposable products we use and throw away per day, per child. dirty or wet diapers are our main export, usually around eight to ten per day (and these are laden with chemicals used to absorb more, so they can stay on longer -- convenience, again... but at what cost). then i think about the number of dirty wipes also thrown away (at least one per diaper), the number of tissues we use to wipe little noses (some days none, some days 20+), and the number of papertowels used to clean up just about ANY spill (and there are a LOT, with babies and toddlers). that's just items used on a daily basis, with one child!

why use a child as an example here? they emulate -- it's how they learn. it's short-sighted, though. a child thinks "nanny uses a paper towel to clean up a mess. next time i make a mess, i'll use a paper towel to clean it. nanny throws the paper towel in the garbage can. i'll do that, too." a child does NOT think, "if everyone in our city uses one paper towel per person, per day, that's 50,000 paper towels per day sitting around, waiting to decompose. tomorrow, it will be 100,000. a week from now, it will be 700,000. a month from now, it will be 3 million. 3 million paper towels takes up a lot of space. and how many people live in my country? and how much space do we have? and what other kinds of products are going to the landfill because we prize convenience over consciousness?" (if your child thinks this, please let me know... i'd like to high-five them AND you.)

once upon a time, people almost exclusively used cloth diapers, cloth wipes, cloth handkerchiefs, and cloth dish towels/rags. you buy them once, wash them after each use, and use them until they fall apart. in fact, some people even REUSED their items later -- when children no longer needed the cloth diapers, they would often be used as cleaning rags or, i don't know... stuffing for homemade pillows. i'm not saying these types of items wouldn't eventually end up in landfills at some point in their product life span. i'm just saying that they end up there, in less quantity and much less often (because we're not throwing them away, every day). they are multiple-use items. furthermore, what's with the selective environmentalism? why can we use a washable burp cloth (spit-up is just as gross as nasal drippings, in my opinion) for the baby, but not use a cloth handkerchief for ourself? why can we rely on our washing machines to clean one, but not the other?

let's get back to the child example. a child thinks: "i accept using one-time-use disposables because it is the way i have been lead to believe is appropriate and allowable. plus, it's convenient because i'm not the one doing the work!" a child does not necessarily think: "wait... what if there's a better way to clean and reduce germs, that won't cause 50,000 extra pieces of trash per day in the landfill near my city?" those are adult thoughts, the thoughts of a brain that can conceptualize beyond themselves. it's high time we jump on the adult bandwagon here... me included.

sadly, it's not simply a matter of providing convenience or better sanitation. one-time-use disposables promote a lifestyle which allows you to simply throw away your problems. companies are marketing to a lazy, paranoid society, one who doesn't want to do one more load of laundry a week to clean their own filth -- they just want to throw it away, for someone else to handle. the company fosters a dependence on these items by making you believe you can't perform a certain task without the item, at least not without risking grave consequences (in this case, germs!!). what gross, germ-ridden person is wiping their poorly-cleansed hands all over your cloth hand towel in your personal bathroom and forcing you to use it for months on end without washing? no one but yourself. yeah, think about that. YOU are in control of how well you wash your hands (which should be well enough to remove any significant germs) and how often you wash your hand towels. maybe it would be different if we didn't know any better, but we do.

here's the portion of this program where i jump off my high horse, and tell you a little about my own life. i use paper towels, probably on a weekly basis. i occasionally buy disposable napkins, plates, cups, and utensils for parties. i don't always carry my own reusable grocery bags. i have probably used over 100,000 disposable diapers in my career as a nanny... maybe more! i don't wash my own hand towels as often as i should when i don't have guests. i am lazy. i have taken the easy road. i have done all of this, in the past, without considering how it might affect the world around me, or even me... but one-time-use disposables aren't helping me overcome this. they're feeding the laziness, telling me it's okay to be lazy as long as i'm buying something to temporarily fix it. another problem is that it's never enough. we've tired of washing diapers, handkerchiefs, and hand towels. what's next? bath towels, bed linens, clothing? or, here's one that might hit home for some of you: technology.

as i'm starting to become more aware about the kind of life i'm leading, and of the world around me, i'm forming more opinions about what's right for me. it's not about the guilt i feel for making (what i consider to be) bad decisions, though. it's about wanting to be better, to live a better life. at the core, i'm not necessarily trying to identify with a particular environmental cause. i want to live a more conscious life, and that should extend to every part of my life... including my hand towels.

oh, and just to bring it back around to the title, here's an alternate title i considered but found to be a little too long: how natural selection is going to kill off our species with laziness and apathy.

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