The disposable society

Do you know the history behind the disposable cup?

I didn't until recently. Its fascinating, but more interesting is the consequences of the disposable cup and where it led  . . .  to a whole new way of thinking about a disposable society.

It all started in 1918 and the influenza pandemic which killed millions of people.

In America in 1907, a lawyer called Lawrence Luellen was worried that one of the worst culprits in spreading germs was the humble public drinking fountain, many of which were installed in schools, office buildings and railways stations.

Here, a single glass or metal cup might be shared by hundreds of different people. Luellen came up with the idea of a placing a paper cup dispenser beside a water cooler so that the drinking utensil
could be thrown away after the water had been drunk.

The cup was a simple thing made from a cylinder of plain paper wrapped around a disc of paper as its bottom. Paraffin, a waxy by-product of petroleum, was used to make the paper waterproof.  Evangelical in his drive for disease prevention and backed by businessman Hugh Moore, he formed the Individual Drinking Cup Company of New York and carried out a widespread campaign to educate people on the dangers of sharing drinking vessels. 

. . . this lead to the Styofoam cup in the 1960's and to what we have today - a disposable society where something is used once (or a few times) and tossed away without thought:

Plastic soft drink/water bottles

Even things we buy like fridges, microwaves, televisions, washing machines, phones, computers, cameras etc.. are only designed to last a short number of years and be tossed away rather than being repaired. We discouraged in keeping our goods too long (and get them repaired if they break) and strongly encouraged to "upgrade" and toss away the "out-dated" product.  This is particulary the case with mobile phones and tablets.  You are seen as being a dinosaur if your phone is a few years old. 

Do you think we will one day stop our 'throw away" society and start using products that can last much longer?  I think we might as we are already seeing small changes in things like the "re-usable cup" (wow new concept!!) and the "re-usable" grocery bags (didn't my grandmother use these!) and how about the re-usable nappy (now, I have fallen off my chair)!!!  I think we have a growing number of younger people who are concerned about the environment, however I think it is selective as whilst they use the re-usable cup, they will still upgrade their technology on a regular basis.

We only have a limited supply of natural materials, we do need to be less "disposable" and more thoughtful about what we throw away - landfill will only hold so much of our waste. 

Food for thought: With the burgeoning fashion for takeaway drinking, it is therefore not surprising to learn that the simple paper cup is responsible for the felling of over 6 million trees a year in America alone. And while we may well be drinking more hygienically, it's a reminder that the simplest designs can have a huge global impact.

All quotes are sourced from the ABC article by Colin Bisset


  1. very good things to consider. I like to think of myself as environmentally friendly and do try to reduce what I use. I find it frustrating that electrical items don't seem to last as long as they do & that it's often cheaper to replace then than to repair them!

    1. My husband got a call from Optus today wanting to upgrade his iPhone and one of the options was paying a little more and getting a new phone every 12 months - regardless of whether the phone was still working. That really is a throw-away concept. He said no.

  2. I hate the throw-away way of thinking. I really detest it. It really annoys me. I try to use things that can be re-used over and over - I only use paper plates and cups for big gatherings when it would be impossible or impractical to use anything else. I hate the fact that appliances last such a short time - I try to make them last as long as possible. My washing machine is 10 years old and I'm very thankful for that!
    Mobile phone is something that I get replaced regularly simply because they tend to slow down and not work so well after more than 2 years. My original phone lasted me many many years, but the newer ones really do break too quickly. Thankfully Optus does offer a free phone upgrade every 2 years - otherwise I don't think I could afford to own one!
    Recently our printer started deteriorating, and we were trying to decide whether to get a new one or get it fixed (costs almost as much to get it fixed as to buy a new one with some parts replacements etc being very pricey). We decided to fix it and buy the part instead of replacing it, but it's hopeless! It still doesn't work properly and has more problems now than it did before we tried to salvage it! What a horrible way to build things! In the past people took pride in their work, in what they produced or manufactured and tried to make it as strong and long-lasting as possible. I hate the fact that that kind of honour and honesty and pride in one's work has disappeared. It's awful.
    And yes, I feel strongly about this!! ;)


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