Disposable towards Sustainability

foto in scala di grigi di un fila di carrelli del supermercato

It was in 1827 when the first disposable products were formed: the removable collar for shirts, “invented” by a housewife who was tired of washing her husband’s shirts, solely for cleaning the collar. The husband sensed the potential of the idea and opened a factory to produce the removable collars. Almost 2 centuries have passed, and many things have changed.

Firstly, the disposable model has spread greatly in both production and consumption. Secondly, consumerism has become an unstoppable trend: it is estimated that by 2030 the global consumer class will reach 5 billion. Thirdly, the progressive spread of economic wellbeing has transformed us from consumers of basic necessities into bulimic consumers of sub-secondary goods, that is, not necessary for survival. This change went hand in hand with the emergence of a new marketing paradigm which, in addition to satisfying pre-existing needs, creates needs in the consumer that do not exist. The accessory chain store Tiger embodies the model just described: among the necessary items sold, we also find on the site many “things you didn’t know existed”, i.e. things that the consumer isn’t aware of. Well, this consumerist paradigm feeds the entire economic system worldwide.

Each consumer has the power to “leave their own mark” by making responsible purchasing choices. “Rewarding” companies that seek to reduce waste or to facilitate the transition to the circular economy. An economy based on the reduction of waste and for reusing materials. The economist Leonardo Becchetti has coined the expression “vote with the wallet” precisely to indicate that the choices of consumers determine the choices of companies and, a domino effect towards politics. Companies, on their part, are increasingly committed to reducing their environmental impact. Tiger, to return to the previous example, makes ecological choices, uses recycled materials and strives to create more sustainable and less impactful products. And yet, it strongly invites us to buy things that we ignore the existence of, that is, superfluous objects.

Here is the profound contradiction that characterizes the system: businesses and consumers can make green choices, but as long as the disposable model dominates and styles of consumption enslaved by ever new desires, the consumer model is unlikely to change. Only a profound renewal of mentality and a long-term vision will be able to guarantee a sustainable development: a development that satisfies the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to satisfy theirs. Can the unlimited multiplication of the desires of billions of consumers be sustainable?