When contemporary thinkers critique consumerism, it is all too often done in the abstract. With notable exceptions, the immense waste and inefficiency of a world economy driven by absurd desires rather than essential needs is attacked with anecdotes or theory, rather than exhaustive exploration. Bearing this in mind, let’s dissect one particularly ludicrous product, and the cost that such a product exacts on our world.
Any parent, babysitter, or unfortunate family member can tell you the wonder of the disposable diaper. This product liberated generations of caretakers from the unenviable task of washing soiled diapers. Notable about these products, however, is the wide array of art and embellishment they bare. Even the most generic brands of diaper feature some kind of artistic flare.
Making diapers prettier seems innocent enough at first glance; however, considering their purpose, the fact that most every brand of disposable diaper features colorful patterns and images is nothing short of obscene.
The images themselves only exist to sell more product. They don’t improve the lives of the child, nor do they particularly benefit the care taker. A clear counter to the age old fable of the “rational actor” in economics, putting patterns and images on diapers is inarguably and indefensibly wasteful. To be blunt, we are expending resources and exploiting laborers so that we can make our toddler’s defecation-receptacles more visually appealing.
While on its surface the wastefulness of these images might seem insignificant, closer examination reveals the disturbingly large impact of these needlessly colorful fecal-vehicles.
For most disposable diapers, the patterns and images are added through an adhesive plastic film on which the images are printed before being applied to the diaper itself. This film makes up roughly 3% of each diaper by weight. Excluding the coloring and adhesive, this means that each diaper requires .84 grams of polyethylene plastic to be fashionable.
Once again, this doesn’t seem like a significant amount of waste. But with the United States using twenty-seven billion (yes billion) disposable diapers in 2008, that waste of .84 grams of plastic/diaper becomes twenty-three billion grams, or fifty million pounds of wasted plastic.
That’s fifty million pounds of non biodegradable, virtually everlasting, ocean polluting, fossil-fuel supporting polyethylene, all so our babies can have visually appealing soil-sacks.
But the waste doesn’t end there.
In order for the paintings we put on our poop-pouches to really stand out, disposable diaper manufacturers use liquid chlorine to bleach the diaper-fiber white. Environmental concerns aside (including the fact that many chlorine plants still use mercury to this day), the electrolyzation of chlorine gas requires three-thousand kWh of electricity per metric tonne of chlorine in ideal conditions. Assuming the absolute best figures available (with each diaper using only .05 grams of chlorine to bleach its fiber white), we are still using around four million kWh of electricity to dye dung-drawers in the United States every year. That is enough electricity to power one hundred and thirty four thousand homes for a day.
At this point, the cost of consumerism should be painfully clear. Looking at only two of the resources needlessly expended on diapers, it is obvious that our consumer based economy has not produced innovation and efficiency, but rather crippling waste. Without even discussing the workers who spend their lives putting cartoons on crap-catchers, or questioning the necessity of disposable diapers in the first place, the egregious distribution of resources that capitalism begets is plain to see.
Instead of dedicating our labor and resources towards preventing the starvation of three million children every year, instead of striving for advances in science and technology, and instead of working towards protecting our future, consumerism has driven us to trade these utopian dreams for fashionable fart-fluffers.
While we waste billions of dollars making shit sacks pretty, 13 million American children live in hunger. We are responsible for that suffering, and only dramatic reform, and an abandonment of our grossly opulent lifestyles, can end it.
So, rather than continuing to describe the horrors of consumerism through abstract ideas and theoretically based argumentation, let us instead simply remember the cost of a colorful diaper.Like (0)