Once upon a time, we did not have giant landfills full of refuse from all of our disposable conveniences. We relied on reusable items to fulfill our daily needs and we found ways to prolong the utility and longevity of what we owned. Americans were frugal by nature. After WWII, however, our national prosperity and an increase in our collective leisure time brought forth an era of disposable convenience. Instead of looking to buy products that would last, we began to look for many products that could be tossed away when we were done using them.
The most egregious and downright silly of the disposable products that I recall are the paper dresses that were sold in the late 1960’s. These dresses were offered first by Scott Paper Company, and then by Hallmark and even Pillsbury, among others. Paper dresses were sold in surprisingly huge numbers – half a million by the Scott Paper Company alone – and were to be thrown away when they had been worn out in anywhere from one to twelve uses!
Fortunately, I have not seen too many paper dresses or other paper attire recently, but there are still a number of costly disposable items that we do still use, and they impose a burden on our environment and our wallets. Here are five that you should do without.
Disposable Razors: For years, I used a disposable razor. I have a thick beard so if I used a razor more than once, I would invariably look like a victim from a slasher film. Nevertheless, for years, I spent about $6 per week on disposable razors. Then, early last year, I saw a great deal on an electric razor on Amazon – I think I paid $49 for a $189 shaver, or something similarly discounted – so I made the investment in an electric razor. I have used it ever since and instead of spending $6 per week I spend nothing more than a couple of pennies to charge my razor. I save money and I keep plastic and metal out of our landfills by not having to throw away a package of used razors every week.
Paper Towels and Napkins: There are only two reasons that you really need to use disposable paper products: if you are in the bathroom or if you need to write something down and cannot use an electronic device to do so. Otherwise, most disposable paper products can be replaced with longer lasting reusable products. Rather than spend a dollar or more per roll of paper towels for your kitchen, invest in a dozen or two cloth towels that you can wash and reuse. Rather than use disposable paper napkins, invest in basic cloth or linen napkins that you can similarly wash and reuse. Chances are good, that if you are shopping a lot in the paper products aisle of your grocery store, you are unnecessarily throwing away your money with your disposable paper.
Plastic Utensils, Paper Plates and Disposable Cups: Whether you use them outside or indoors, plastic eating utensils, paper plates and disposable cups offer you a minimum of convenience and a maximum of waste. Rather than serve meals on disposable products, buy a set of sturdy hard plastic plates and cups that you can use whenever you need them, indoors or out. They will not break if they are dropped and they can be cleaned and reused, saving you the cost of replenishing your disposable stock. Of course, I would not suggest that you serve a picnic lunch on your fine china, but it is a waste of money to buy disposable plates, cups or utensils.
Coffee Cups and Coffee Filters: I try not to buy coffee when I am out of the house. In case I decide to treat myself, however, I always carry a travel mug from the coffee shop that I prefer. The travel mug cost me $2.49 when I bought it, a price that included a free cup of coffee which usually sells for $1.69 per cup. Refills are only 99 cents so I save 70 cents on every cup and the travel mug has already more than paid for it.
I often carry a thermos of coffee with me when I do go out and I fill my own travel mug up. When I brew coffee at home, I always use a permanent gold filter in my coffee maker rather than disposable paper filters. I do not save a lot of money by using a permanent filter (about $2.00 every six weeks) but I never have to worry about running out of filters.
Printer Ink: Many of you probably already do this but I find that there is no reason to purchase new ink cartridges for my printer. I take my used cartridges to an office supply store near my home and they refill them for less than new cartridges would cost. The quality is just fine and the price is better than the cost of new cartridges.
What other disposable items do you think we can do without? Avoiding disposable products saves us money in the long term and it saves our landfills, too. And in case you are wondering, I could still find paper dresses available on-line, even today, but thankfully, I don’t think they have caught on again…