Waste Not Want Not... Or Not
by Ruby Bayan
"Don't throw it away -- 'sayang'! (Wasteful!)" That's what my Mother always says, gradually molding me into one of the most efficient pack rats in the world. My Mom would have been aghast if she had to live here -- completely flabbergast at how people in America guiltlessly toss everything into the dumpster.
The word "disposable" must've been coined in America because here, throwaways are preferred; consumers even pay extra to enjoy the convenience of acquiring an item, then promptly tossing it in the trash after a reasonable degree of consumption. Why wash, rinse, fold, or store something that had already served its primary purpose? Buy it, use it, toss it, and then buy a new one. Simple.
Of course, this applies quite appropriately to items such as diapers, paper plates, and toilet paper -- not even the pack rat that I am would consider washing, rinsing, and folding them for reuse. But I discovered that here in the Land of Plenty, the disposable concept has advanced far beyond paper products and toiletries.
In the Philippines I had to bring my own pack of tissue paper everywhere I went because chancing upon a roll of toilet paper in a public restroom was like tripping over a bag of cash. I had adapted to the fact that it was simply not viable, for some reason, to maintain a steady supply of paper products in the public toilets.
Here in America, things are different. One finds jumbo rolls of toilet paper and stacks of hand paper towels in the remotest restroom -- even in those portable toilets in the middle of nowhere. It's unbelievable! And because of the apparent abundance, people have the tendency to unwind several feet of tissue and snatch a dozen or so paper towels to wipe off the slightest hint of untidiness.
At food courts, movie popcorn stands, and hot dog stalls, diners grab fistfuls of paper napkins from the dispensers, use a couple to wipe their fingertips, and toss the rest, still folded neatly together. Incredible. And here come the cleaners. Do they use cloth rags? Nah. Paper towels. Wipe and toss. Okay, some of the towels are already recycled paper, but still.
How does the "disposable is good" concept go beyond paper products? From condiment cups, contact lenses, and underwear, it graduates to furniture, appliances, and vehicles -- all ending up in the dumpster. I understand that most times it's cost-effective to just junk a piece of furniture or equipment rather than spend for refurbishment and repair. Labor is expensive here, so, buying a replacement item would be more logical.
Come to think of it, the throwaway attitude has become commonsensical in the American environment. Why? Because the country has plenty of trees and natural produce, countless recycle/trash management facilities, expensive manpower, hundreds of theme parks, and so little time. In America, life's simply too short to bleach diapers, wash kitchen rags, or fold underwear.
Nevertheless, my Mom will be proud of me; I'm still her heir apparent as Recycle Queen of old pickle jars, mildew-stained shower curtains, leftover candles, and empty water jugs. No matter how abundant things are here in America, I still abhor waste. And I constantly absolve myself of guilt by thinking twice before I toss anything in the trash. "Wait, let's keep this, you never know when you'll need an empty bottle of hair dye."
[First published in BastaPinoy News]