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Why does disposable equal wealth?

One sign of a wealthy society is an abundance of disposable products.  From single use plastic shopping bags to cheap toys, our society is riddled with “discount” items with short life spans, whether from quality, interest, or intent.  In countries of lesser wealth, things are repaired rather than discarded and bought anew. Take for example the life of a flip flop.

I love flip flops.  I live in flip flops during warm weather. My son has inherited this trait.   Sure, you can buy flip flops for $0.99, but  I don’t.  In fact, I have spent a small fortune on OluKai flip flops, and they were well worth it. If they break, I will get them repaired.

Once when backpacking with a friend, her flip flop broke at camp. She said, “If we were in India, I could these fixed.”  I am imagined the streets lined with cobblers just waiting to fix flip flops.  Apparently, things are changing in India too.  Gyaan Yantra explains:

It all started with a pair of flip flops I had. The acupressure ones, blue coloured, good quality, branded, comfortable, durable, firm, a bit pricey but with all the qualities that would complement the cost and any upper middle class girl would choose from the other variety. After several months of use, one of its straps started to wear. Ultimately it broke off. One was intact, the other broken. I carefully removed the broken strap and kept the flip flops in a bag ready for it to be mend. It was supposed to be simple story..

I just had to take the flip flop’s base to the local cobbler. About 5 years back this meant a man who could mend anything one wears under ones feet, the chapped soles, broken belts, nailing chappals, anything and everything. I took the flip flop’s base to him.

He seemed to have risen economically in his business. He had all the new variety of plastic colourful, fancy shoes and other footwear displayed on a worn bed sheet. In comparison, t his box of cobbler equipments seemed to have shrunk. With the initial exchange of greetings, I complimented him saying “Now you also are a footwear seller!” He gave me a smile and said, “Times have changed and so I had to”.

He asked me further what he could do for me; I showed him the flip flops and asked him to fix a new blue coloured strap to replace my old one.  He laughed and asked me, “Which world are you living in? Throw them away, they aren’t of any use now and buy a new pair instead, Of course I don’t have the brand that you use but you can get it in any mall or a big shop.”

I reassured him that the base of the flip flops was still good and that if the straps were fixed I could easily use them for another year or two.. He changed his argument and said that the belts don’t come separately these days and so they won’t be available as manufacturing has stopped and that I was left with no option but to buy a new pair.

It’s not just India that’s changing.  Flip Flotsam explores the flip flop industry of Africa.

No one I know in the US gets their flip flops repaired and even cobblers are a rarity.  We just buy new shoes just like we buy new toasters, irons, cell phones, tvs, etc.

Why is disposability a sign of wealth?  Why is being able to afford something new instead of repairing it an aspiration?  It’s bad for the environment; it’s bad for the local economy.  People lose jobs; cottage industries fail as we move towards disposability.

Another friend’s mantra is “the more you spend, the more money you need to make”.  Wealth is not achieved through spending.  It is not a sign of a strong economy, despite what the government tells us.

We must go back to a time when we valued our products to the point that we repaired them.  If we pay more for something, like my fancy flip flops, we are more inclined to repair them.  That is a greater sign of wealth than owning 12 pairs of 99 cent flip flops.

Remember this holiday season as you feel obligated to buy gifts for loved ones and friends to think of the disposability of the gifts. Give something that will last, if you must give a material possession. Give something that the receiver will want to have repaired.  Give true wealth!

Image:  Flip-flops on Bigstock



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