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How to dispose of disposables?

It’s a fact of modern life that we live in a throwaway society, so much of what we buy is designed to be disposed of immediately after use. From the moment they’re born many babies are put into disposable nappies, and according to the book The Human Footprint before they’re toilet trained each child on average gets through 4,000 of them.

There are multiple everyday items for which you could seek a better non-disposable solution, the one that’s sparked this blog is disposable lighters.

Being married to a pipe smoker who has dementia, it’s fallen to me to source and supply everything for the household, which includes a way to light the pipe. Refillable lighters have been used in the past, but they don’t seem to last long and often get lost, matches are clearly out because of the fire hazard. It’s those brightly coloured flip top plastic lighters sold everywhere from corner shops to supermarkets that my husband is most comfortable with.

I’d been buying them a few at a time, but at a usage rate of two or three a week I discovered I could purchase them online for the ridiculously cheap price of £11.99 for 50 – how can something with so many components, metal, plastic, packaged, shipped worldwide and delivered to your door be manufactured and sold for such a low price? Does that help make it so easy to buy and throw away? Probably, but that’s a part economic debate for another day.

As it’s been bothering me I did some online research and investigated other options. This American based website Good Good Good ran a feature last year looking at electric lighters, including the detail that in the US alone 600 million lighters are sold to consumers every year, 95% of which are disposable single use and not recyclable.

That’s a lot of lighters going to landfill, or ironically waste to energy incineration.

I sought the advice of a local tobacconist, explaining my concern, to discover they don’t sell electric lighters and they’re not suitable for pipes.

“I wouldn’t worry about buying disposable lighters. In the big scheme of things it’s nothing,” came the reply. “Think of all the other pollutants and items being thrown away. If your husband has dementia, it’s best for him to stick to what he’s used to. Oh, and no extra charge for the therapy.”

That’s not the answer I was expecting, but it’s difficult to argue with the basic point that ending the use of disposable lighters would much reduce our human impact on the planet through what we throw away.

On this global translation website EVS when the “word of the day” was disposable it noted that: “In New York City alone the rise in product waste rose from an average of 92 pounds per person per year in 1905 to a staggering 1,242 pounds per person per year in 2005.”

More encouraging is this UK data from the website Statista that: “The volume of waste from households collected by local authorities in England amounted to 399 kilograms per person in 2020. Since 2010, the volume of waste collected per person has fallen by roughly six percent.” 

As a word “disposable” hit peak use in the early 2000s, but is now on the decline itself… it would be good if we could dispose of using it completely.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to try and reduce our household’s individual sparks, whilst pondering how we collectively tackle the fire.