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J.R. Buchanan


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March 1, 2015

Disposable culture

I dislike items that are designed to be used once, or a limited number of times, then thrown away. Sometimes it saves money, sometimes it's more convenient, but it bothers me. It's wasteful. It leads to landfills full of plastic crap, and has led to five ocean gyres filled with nothing but trash. The great Pacific Garbage Patch is the most famous of these.

It goes beyond that though. There's something spiritually wrong about limited use items too. Someone put time into designing the item, and other people put time into making the item. Then we use it, and without a thought, we throw it out? It feels wrong.

What made me think about this subject tonight? It wasn't the disposable plates and utensils we used at KFC. I didn't like them, but they aren't what triggered this line of thought.

What did? A new printer. Everyone knows the story, it's cheaper to buy a new printer than it is to buy new ink cartridges for the old one. We've been using a nice printer at our house for years. It's nice enough that it couldn't be replaced more cheaply than the ink cartridges.

At least it was. Last week I had a school project that required me to print in color. We were out of color ink. So we went to buy a new color cartridge for it. The price had doubled since the last one was purchased last year. $50 for an ink cartridge? They weren't stocked everywhere anymore either. The black cartridge had gone up a lot too.

I didn't want to spend the money, at least until I got paid, so I took my laptop to a friend's house and used his ink up. (Thanks Jeff!).

Today we were at a discount store, and I saw a nice looking printer for $99. Not much more than a new set of cartridges for the old printer. I thought, "but how much do the cartridges cost?" We checked, and they were cheap! Much less than we had been paying for the cartridges for the old printer even before they went up in price. (Not so cheap that they are a really great deal though, printer ink is likely one of the most expensive fluids on the planet)

So what did we do? The economically expedient thing, of course. We got the new printer. Not only is it cheaper to operate than the old one, but it's a printer/scanner/copier/fax machine, the old one did not have fax capabilities. How often do you need to fax nowadays? Not often, but some agencies still want forms faxed to them and faxing from an office supply store is quite expensive, so we'll be saving money in another way. The new printer also has a duplexer, which the old one did not. It also prints way, way faster than the old one. And has wireless capability, really nice for the laptops and tablets.

So why am I vaguely uncomfortable, even though we came out ahead on cost and functionality? I just did what I hate, and got rid of a perfectly operational piece of equipment, which was doing it's job just as it was designed and manufactured to, simply for money and convenience.

Since no one is going to want something that costs so much to operate (and may be impossible to operate soon, it looks like they are phasing out the supplies for it), we can't give it to a friend. We can't donate it to a a thrift shop, that wouldn't be nice to the potential buyer. Then again, who buys a used printer at a thrift store? They always just seem to sit there collecting dust. Then likely go to a landfill to make room for more used printers that no one buys.

It's going to wind up in a landfill. Since electronics is a hobby of mine, I'll likely take it apart and re-use some of the parts, but most of the unit is headed straight to recycling, which really means that it's going to a landfill, as I understand that most plastics turned over for recycling don't actually get recycled, especially now that China won't allow it to be imported anymore.

I'm just uncomfortable about this.

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