Friday, December 15, 2023

On being ... a wastrel (not)

By Ingrid Sapona 

I’m a bit embarrassed to start this by talking about shaving my legs. Yes, seems like TMI (too much information), but I’ll explain… 

Back in February I picked up a can of shaving cream. The day I was shopping for it the store brand was about 60 cheaper than my usual brand. The two looked identical: same size can, same colour scheme on the logo and cap, same scent, etc. So, I went with the store brand. 

I keep the shaving cream on the rim of my tub alongside the shampoo, conditioner, and other bath products. But, because the shaving cream comes in a can, I make sure it sits on a piece of plastic. (The plastic lid of a Pringles container is the perfect size!) I do this because sometimes the rim of the can leaves a bit of rust on the tub, despite the manufacturer’s claim the cans have a rust-proof aluminum bottom. 

Two or so weeks after I bought the shaving cream, I noticed a trace of rust on the plastic. (Sure glad I’ve got that Pringles lid, I thought.) After a few more weeks the ring of rust was dark and thick. I picked up the can for a closer look and I noticed that it didn’t mention a rust-proof bottom. So, the 60 discount wasn’t the only difference; next time I’ll look for a brand with a rust-proof bottom, I promised myself. 

Simple enough promise to keep, you’d think, right? But, turns out there’s something else about this can that’s unusual: it seems to be refilling itself. After 10 months of regular use, the can still feels more than half full! (Actually, for the past couple months I’ve been spritzing out a more generous amount each time in hopes of using it up, but no such luck.) There is so much rust, you’d think the bottom of the can would detach!  

And yet, I can’t bring myself to toss it because it seems such a waste. It’s not just the false economy of the initial 60 savings. It’s about my concerns that we live in a wasteful society and tossing something that is (irritatingly) still usable seems wrong on many levels. I realize that when the can is eventually empty, I’ll toss it and it will end up in some landfill. So what’s the big deal if it ends up there in 2023 or 2024, right? Well, I think it matters because disposing of it while still half full artificially increases demand for the product, which drives increased manufacturing, with all its negative environmental effect. I also think that the ecological impact of a half-full can of chemicals degrading in a landfill has to be worse than an empty can.  

Food waste is another thing I’ve focused on more over the past couple of years. Growing up people used to say “finish your peas” (or whatever) because there are children starving in (fill in the name of a third world country). Well, we don’t say that kind of thing any more because it’s rather racist or in poor taste. But every time I have to toss something that’s gotten fuzzy or moldy or otherwise rotten, I get mad with myself for the waste. With increased famines, floods, heatwaves, and wars making food processing and distribution so difficult, how dare I let food get bad.  

And then there all the “things” that I have (some bought, some given) that I have no use for and that I end up getting rid of. Stuff like costume jewellery or a purse (or tie) that you wore once, or a kitchen or garden tool that someone gave you but that you have no use for. After a bit of a grace period (as I like to think of it, particularly with items I was gifted), I end up “donating” them to places like Goodwill, where they have a reasonable chance of finding a second home. 

Yes, there’s a satisfaction to “donating” such things, but it’s not really all that altruistic. When you think about it, such places are doing us the favour of taking unwanted items off our hands. Sure, the stuff is going to someone who needs/wants it and they’re keeping items out of landfills. That’s all fine, but I think it would be even better if we didn’t have so much stuff that we didn’t need goodwill-type charities in the first place. Indeed, I suspect that more often than not, the main motivation behind such donations is to make space for new things. 

I realize that guilt and worry about waste may not be top of mind as we head into the holiday season. But, a statistic I read the other day made me think that reflecting on wastefulness is perhaps most important at this time of year: of the more than $15 billion of unwanted gifts purchased (just think of that for a minute) by Americans for the 2019 holiday season, 4% went directly to landfill! Unreal on many levels, don’t you think? 

I wish you and yours a holiday filled joy and love and other things that will never rust, go out of style, or end up in landfills. 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona