Our “Throw it Away” Society

credit: freedigitalphotos.net by Jeroen van Oostrom

credit: freedigitalphotos.net by Jeroen van Oostrom


I was having dinner with my family at a restaurant last week when I saw a couple sitting next to us who were almost finished with their meal. After the couple asked for the check, the waitress asked if they wanted to take their meal to go (there was a good amount of food left), and the couple said “no.” What?! I thought to myself! The food was perfectly good, and they could have brought it for lunch the next day or had it for dinner. I wanted to ask them if they knew there were starving children who would love to eat that food (sounding like a mother scolding her child for not finishing all the food on the plate).

It’s not just food that we throw away though, it’s pretty much everything. This seems to be the societal norm here. Lap top is a few years old, throw it away and get a new one! Tired of driving the same car for the last three years, trade it in for a newer model! It seems like we’re always getting tired of what we already have, and searching for something new to buy. This is especially true with technology. There’s always a new model every year with a few new “must-have” features encouraging consumers to throw away their old outdated products to upgrade to a new one.

Having grown up in a family that despised wasting anything, this is one of my pet peeves. We always brought home leftovers and we eat leftovers that we make at home. We were always told to turn off the light when we left a room. My parents don’t throw much away and use things until they’re unusable. I think I’m pretty good about not wasting things and not always upgrading immediately, but they put me to shame. They had the same tube television for well over a decade, only replacing it when there were red streaks on the images. As a matter of fact, I bought them a flat screen television last year because we often visit on Sundays and I couldn’t bare to watch football on that tiny 25 inch television. Yes, I am spoiled =) They have furniture and appliances in the house that pre-date me and I’m 34 years old. Now that my parents have a grandchild (Baby LRC), I’ve seen my mom take out my old toys for him to play with. Yes, I kept my toys in great condition and they are still working fine!

While it does seem as if the quality of the products that we use nowadays is poorer and does not last as long as the ones we had the previous generation, I do think that this generation just likes throwing away the old stuff and upgrading to new stuff. The media’s exaggerated portrayal of what a “rich life” looks like and all the ads encouraging us to BUY, BUY, BUY has wired many to think that we constantly need new things to be happy. We have an expectation that life is how it appears on the television we watch, in the magazines we read, and on the Facebook posts of our FB friends. Oh you know those Facebook posts where your “FB friends” upload pictures of the exciting and exotic vacations they just went on, the new car that they just bought, or the newest iPhone which they had to wait many hours to be the first one to get.

So what should you do the next time you get that itch to throw something away or to buy something new?

Think about the financial costs
It’s pretty obvious that you can save a lot of money by not constantly buying new things!

Think about the environmental costs
The production of goods and the need to deal with discarded waste puts a strain on the environment. This is especially true with electronic waste since many of those components contain contaminants which are difficult to dispose of safely.

credit: freedigitalphotos.net by anankkml

credit: freedigitalphotos.net by anankkml

Think of the clutter you create
Clutter bothers me, especially since we have such limited space. Buying more stuff inevitably leads to more clutter, which leads to the need to declutter at some point in the future.

And, the next time you decide to buy something new or throw something old away, ask yourself do you really need it and if the newest features are really something you can’t live without? With regard to the old stuff, ask yourself whether it still works and if not whether you can repair it?

59 thoughts on “Our “Throw it Away” Society

  1. Kathy

    Don’t be quick to judge the couple not taking their food home. While I usually do take a doggy bag home, there are times when I don’t. Perhaps they weren’t going home immediately and didn’t want the food sitting in the car for a long period of time. If we are traveling and have no way to refrigerate the food, unfinished restaurant meals are left behind. Or perhaps it simply wasn’t that good and they didn’t want to have to face eating food they simply didn’t like.

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Yea, I can be too quick to judge sometimes, but I’ve gone out with friends who don’t take food to go and when I asked why, they just said they don’t want to eat it again. There aren’t traveling, the food tasted fine, they simply want to eat newly cooked food each time they ate or just didn’t want to bother carrying the food home.

      Reply
        1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

          Really! What’s wrong with eating food again? If he wants it freshly cook, maybe he should cook it himself rather than making you do it! =)

          Reply
      1. EL @ Moneywatch101

        I went to a BBQ joint in July, and it was pretty bad, so more than half of my lobster roll stayed on the plate. Needless to say, I did not want to take it home. If the portions are big, food tastes good I will take it home for lunch. It all depends on the personality, but yes most people are wasteful, because they can. The environmental effect bothers me as well, there’s nothing we can do, because companies are still making new products readily available even though we might wait 10 years to buy a new laptop, it’s at a warehouse collecting dust. Hence the waste is already produced, and it just keeps growing. IF me and my millions of friends wanted to buy a laptop, I’m sure the products are readily available.
        EL @ Moneywatch101 recently posted…The 10 Secrets Millionaires Live ByMy Profile

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        1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

          Yea, I don’t think I’d have taken that home too. You’re right that the waste is already produced with many products, but that’s probably because there is a demand for it.

          Reply
  2. John @ Wise Dollar

    We were having a discussion with some friends a few weeks back about this very issue. I know we all can be guilty of giving into that feeling of buying now, or throwing away what we have that is considered old. I know I have in the past and I think so much of it, though likely not all, goes back to that instant gratification or equating new with better. Over time, that only adds up which can be a drag financially. Case in point, we had to fix our mower at the beginning of the summer. It had blown the ignition block. It ran just fine…if we could get it started. It cost us about $100 to get repaired and works like a charm now. A similar mower would’ve cost us $300 or so new. We had friends ask us why we didn’t just buy a new one and when we explained why it went in one ear and out the other. Sure, new is nice but why spend it when you don’t have to?
    John @ Wise Dollar recently posted…3 Avoidable Mistakes of Selling a HomeMy Profile

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  3. Income Surfer

    You’re spot on about waste being pervasive in our society. What I find really fascinating is that things like electronics aren’t even worth repairing. If you can buy a computer for $400, are you really going to fix it after 3 years……or just recycle it and buy another one. I note that Moore’s Law is working strongly in your favor here…..but still.

    I have fun with lawn mowers, edgers, and trimmers though. I haven’t bought any in years. My neighbors are always throwing them out. I pick one up, clean the carburetor, and give it to a friend. About 2 years ago a mower actually had broken parts…..the shop down the street replaced the part, changed the oil, swapped the spark plug, and sharpened the blade……for $35.
    -Bryan
    Income Surfer recently posted………So I Laid Myself Off…..My Profile

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      That’s true, a lot of times with electronics, it does cost less to buy a new item rather than repair. I wish I was more handy so I could fix stuff too. Pretty cool that the shop fixed the mower for $35…I see less and less repair shops nowadays which is sad.

      Reply
  4. Lauren

    I totally agree that we are a throwaway society. I do think that the quality of many items has been intentionally decreased to encourage this behavior, though. My grandmother has appliances that are older than I am that still work great- they’re heavy and durable, and you can literally feel the quality. And then there’s the junk we have today, like my mother’s blender that is barely 2 years old and is already practically useless because the buttons stopped functioning. I hate thinking of all the waste that we produce these days, and that’s partly why I love buying used and thrifted items when I can.
    Lauren recently posted…The Goal for AugustMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Buying used and thrifted items is a great way to save money and also to reduce the amount of waste we produce. I have bought used and thrifted items, but I should look into it more. Maybe I’ll find items that were manufactured a generation ago which has better quality!

      Reply
  5. Joe

    Clutter bothers me even more than people throwing things away. We all have way too much stuff these days. As for throwing things out, we rarely do unless something is really broken. We rarely upgrade for the sake of upgrading. I’m not an early adopter so that’s not a problem at all. Actually, I probably should throw out the broken XBOX that’s been collecting dust in our living room.
    Things definitely aren’t made to last these days, though.
    Joe recently posted…How to Find a Rental Property in an Expensive MarketMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Clutter bothers me too, especially since we have so little space. I’m hoping to donate a lot of the stuff I have to a thrift store. Since we’re moving soon, we really have to get rid of a lot of stuff.

      Reply
  6. Ryan @ Impersonal Finance

    I’m in total agreement with you Andrew. I can understand not wanting to take a bite of food home, but I was raised in one of those you-don’t-leave-the-table-until-your-plate-is-clean kind of households, and that kind of lesson was instilled upon us in every aspect of life. I still carry it around with me, sometimes much to the chagrin of my wife. I’m always able to find a use for something or keep using an item long after the average person would have purchased a new one… on credit.
    Ryan @ Impersonal Finance recently posted…book giveaway: investing for the rest of usMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Yep, it seems like the average person does purchase new items…on credit no less, when they’d be better off if they just held off and continue to use that item for a longer period.

      Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Thanks! It’s kind of cool to see my son playing with my old toys =) Luckily my mom has a good amount of room in her basement to keep all this stuff.

      Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Wow, didn’t know you were in the Peace Corps…must have been an interesting experience. I always use plastic grocery bags as trash bags…some people apparently buy separate bags for that purpose…why??

      Reply
  7. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    Another awesome post, Andrew, and I totally agree. One of my brothers is a garbage hauler for a living, and you wouldn’t believe the stuff he picks up on the side of the curb. Nicer stuff than I have in my house! We are pretty good about waste and about throwing things away, partially because we kind of have to right now, but mostly because we know what it’s like (from childhood) to live without much. We just bought our first flatscreen TV, but only because our old TV (the only tv we owned) died. I do have to say it felt good to finally own a flatscreen, but it also felt good knowing that we kept that tube TV until it was totally dead. It’s the same story with our lawn mower and snow blower. As old as they are, Rick keeps fixing them, and they keep working just fine, so we’ll forego buying new ones until it’s necessary.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted…Saturday Morning Ramble: More on HomesteadingMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      If they’re going to throw it out…at least donate it! I’m with you on the flatscreen, I’ll admit it’s nice to have one. Although I’ll be keeping my flatscreen for a long long time. I know many people who’ve kept upgrading them too as new ones with new features come out! It’s great that Rick is a handy guy! I need to learn to fix things too.

      Reply
  8. Aldo@MillionDollar Ninja

    I’m not saying I’m the best at keeping things for a long time, but I’m not as bad as some of my friends. I know a few guys who NEED to have the latest gadget, can’t have last year’s iPhone, oh no no no. They’re the ones you see waiting outside the store the night before while using their almost new “old” iPhone. I’ve tried to tell them but I guess making fun of them is not the way to go… they haven’t listened to me.
    Aldo@MillionDollar Ninja recently posted…9 Signs You Need A VacationMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      I have friends like that too! They post on FB that they got the latest iPhone and everyone “likes” the post and comments on how jealous they are. Ah, nope…I’m not jealous…really…

      Reply
  9. Even Steven

    I heard someone say on a podcast the other day if we would stop producing items they estimated we would not have any problems living on our “old stuff” for at least a year. I think it also depends on what you do with your old/used items in regards to hand me downs, charity, and resale, which can keep the cycle going with your old items.
    Even Steven recently posted…What I Learned on Vacation in NicaraguaMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Oh definitely, donating stuff is great too. I know you just donated a bunch of clothes recently. But I think it’s still a problem when you constantly have to have the newest and latest item.

      Reply
  10. Tonya@Budget and the Beach

    This is one area of PF that I have down very well! I kept my old boxy tv till someone just gave me a flat screen, and the same for my dvd player. I had one but no remote, so I had to sit through all the bs ads in the beginning, but a friend was so annoyed he gave me his parent’s old one that they were getting rid of. Go me! :)
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Why Do We Touch a Hot Stove?My Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Yep, you do have that down! My remote to my dvd player also broke, and I gotta say I couldn’t go without it. Not because I’m too lazy…I’d be fine if I could use the control panel on the device, but many devices have very little buttons and rely on the remote. I couldn’t skip through the ads and do other things without a remote. So I bought a new to me (used) DVD player.

      Reply
  11. Mrs. Frugalwoods

    I completely agree! We use and re-use everything we own and when it comes time to get rid of it, we donate it instead of trashing it. I hate to see people throwing out perfectly good stuff, although then I can take it out of their trash, so, hmmm ;).
    Mrs. Frugalwoods recently posted…July 2014 ExpendituresMy Profile

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  12. Charles@gettingarichlife.com

    I always eat leftovers but my wife doesn’t. We have a Mac that’s five years old that keeps having problems, she wants a new one but I’m thinking of bringing it to the apple store to see if I can get it fixed. It’s amazing how people want the latest model of something, I hate buying new things

    Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      If it can be fixed for a small cost, it might be worth it, but electronics are weird…sometimes you’re better off getting a new one. I hate buying new things too…I feel like I’ve got plenty of stuff already.

      Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      That’s good that you repurpose it rather than throwing it in the trash…that does seem like the default for most people.

      Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      I know, you guys are pretty good at not wasting food. I need to be better about not wasting food in the fridge…not the leftovers, but other stuff that goes bad or expires…

      Reply
  13. Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

    I don’t like waste either but unfortunately we are not a family that is big on leftovers. I’ve gotten very good at home cooking meals that we eat in its entirety. Restaurants for us are tougher but we still try to minimize food waste the best we can. Electronics drive me nuts because it seems like they are built to only last a few years and/or or cost prohibitive to fix. Often times it is cheaper to replace the phone or TV than fix it. And I definitely do think about the environmental waste/cost of building and destroying all those gadgets.
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted…Build a Healthy Relationship with Your WantsMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      I know it’s true that sometimes it’s cheaper to replace it rather fix it. I have a feeling these companies are making products that don’t last that long on purpose! So what’s wrong with leftovers…is it the taste? Well at least you guys minimize the amount of leftovers.

      Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Yea, me neither! I do waste food too…sometimes we buy things that we forget about and it goes bad. We need to plan better.

      Reply
  14. E.M.

    I always bring food home from restaurants. I’m “lucky” to have a boyfriend who isn’t really picky and will eat leftovers all day. I don’t mind certain leftovers, but some foods don’t taste the same the second time around. That said, my parents are very much like yours. My dad always tried to fix whatever was broken, and often succeeded. They only replaced things when they exhausted all other options. Fort the most part, I’m the same way. It helps when you’re not surrounded by tech people. My ex used to get really excited when new models of anything came out, and it was hard to brush off!
    E.M. recently posted…July Budget ReviewMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      I’m like that too…I don’t think I’m a picky eater, but there seems to be a lot of picky eaters out there. I need to learn to fix things like your dad, I’m not too handy.

      Reply
  15. anna

    Love love this post, as I couldn’t agree more with both wasting food and some people’s obsession with wanting the latest and greatest even though what they currently have is practically new. I usually own things until they’re run to the ground (like my 97 Accord, though I also use B’s 96 car frequently), and even if it’s the tiniest morsel left, I usually ask for foil to take it home. I’m even more excited since my friends have had kids already, so our soon-to-be little one will be set with clothes for the first six months! I’m definitely a big fan of not wasting, so this is a great post!
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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Thanks Anna…and wow, props to you guys for keeping those cars for that long! I had a 97 Altima which I bought used and drove for 10 years, but I got rid of it a few years ago when it became unreliable. It was probably partially my fault since I didn’t maintain it that well. We got a lot of hand me downs from friends too! A lot of the baby clothes were practically new and some were actually new since they grow out of them so fast, you really don’t get a chance to wear them too much.

      Reply
  16. Liz

    Clutter drives me crazy and it does have a tendency to slowly accumulate at my house. Whenever I clean out the clutter most of my stuff goes to the Goodwill. I hate throwing things away. We try to repurpose as much as possible. Instead of buying household rags, we use my husband’s old undershirts that have worn out. We rip them up and then keep them in a bag in our utility closet. So instead of buying rags or towels for housework we just use these instead.
    Liz recently posted…Our Student Loan StoryMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Repurposing is a lot better than just throwing it away. We’ll be working on clearing our clutter soon since we’re moving. We do the same thing for household rags…I’ve got plenty of old undershirts for that purpose.

      Reply
  17. Kipp

    Computers is a difficult one… maybe 3 years ago my motherboard went out in my computer. Well you can purchase just a new motherboard, but chances are the other components are different. So I had to replace my motherboard and RAM at the very least. Plus I purchase fairly cheap video cards usually and the connector for that has been upgraded so I got a new video card. Only thing left to upgrade was the processor… so I figured might as well. However, I have kept my current hard drives for a LONG time. Maybe next time those can be upgraded, but now that I rarely play video games anymore I don’t really need to upgrade my computer.
    I try to not waste other things such as food, but sometimes those items do go bad before they are used up. I probably feel the worst in this area on waste, but I am just not going to go through an entire bunch of cilantro in 2-3 weeks… hasn’t happened yet and probably never will.
    For throwing other things away, I usually contemplate if the item is worth donating first or if it really is just trash. Donating works wells because I can drop off the stuff and then go into goodwill and see if there is anything useful while I am there.
    Kipp recently posted…Income and Expense for July 2014My Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Happens to me too…we really need to plan better and buy only what we know we’ll use. Donating stuff also has another plus if you can get a tax deduction.

      Reply
  18. DivHut

    No doubt we are a “throw away society” but even more importantly we are a “buy it now, buy junk society.” How much crap and nonsense is sitting in our closets, drawers, shelves just collecting dust. The root cause is our excessive consumerism. Reduce the consumption, reduce the “throw away.” Thanks for sharing and highlighting something that needs to be addressed.
    DivHut recently posted…Benefits Of Dividend InvestingMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Very true, I’m guilty of that as well. I have a lot of things that I really didn’t need and that are collecting dust…and I think I have a decent handle on consumerism! We can all do better.

      Reply
  19. KK @ Student Debt Survivor

    I love leftovers because that means I don’t have to cook (or cook again, if they’re homemade leftovers). We as a society through away so many things that are still perfectly useful. Our current toaster (a nice kitchen aid model) was found in our old apartment’s garbage room. It looked brand new so I took it back to the apartment and plugged it in and low and behold it worked fine. I suspect the previous owner re-modeled their kitchen and a red toaster didn’t fit the new decor. Their loss, my gain!
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted…Money bought me happiness…sort ofMy Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Me too…and I purposely cook more with the intention of eating them as leftovers!

      Reply
    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      Your kids playing with your husband’s old toys…That’s cute, isn’t it? I try to bring too many things in either…I’m doing a better job than my wife =)

      Reply
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  21. A Frugal Family's Journey

    I think it our “supersize” or “combo special” society that is creating to our wasteful. :) If only restaurants would stop upselling or upsizing to our consumers, and instead sell meals that are portions a health expert would recommend, we probably wouldn’t be taking food home. Food that my family don’t always re-visit. We always have good intentions when leaving the restaurant but as we have all experience, things don’t always happen as one plans. :)
    A Frugal Family’s Journey recently posted…7 things you simply shouldn’t penny pinch on!My Profile

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    1. livingrichcheaply@gmail.com Post author

      So true…the portions are just too big, which causes other problems like obesity.

      Reply

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