The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

June 3, 2009

Guest Post – Convenience is a Luxury

The following is a guest post by Linda Anderson, author of the blog, Citizen Green. Linda recently joined the Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge. Here’s her tally. Inspired by Laura Zilverberg’s post, Waste Is A Luxury, Linda explains that convenience is also a luxury.

Thirty years ago I lived in Brazil and experienced the same sort of culture shock that Laura Zilverberg spoke of in her guest post on FPF, May 13. My wake up moment came when our maid was looking for a cleaning rag in the rag bag. Yes we had a maid, it was expected of the affluent. At 25 years old, I did not even know I was affluent. Julia, the maid, found a discarded manʼs shirt in the rag bag. I had put it there to be a rag, but only after I cut the buttons off to save for sewing repairs. I did not cut the threads of the buttons, I cut the fabric so that everywhere there had been a button, there was a little diamond shaped hole. Julia wanted the shirt, with holes, for her father.

She took the shirt home and somehow repaired it into a perfectly good shirt. I was so ashamed at how wasteful I had been. Also, I was surprised at how the poor people used every container that I threw away. Plastic butter tubs or any other container went to waste in the trash. People picked it out and took it home. At the market, there were no plastic bags (there are now). The veggies that you bought were wrapped in newspaper and stuffed in your reusable shopping bag. That year in Brazil taught me a lot about life in the US.

Laura said “Luxury is a waste.” How true! I would like to add that convenience is a luxury which is a waste. As I look for ways to cut back plastic waste and as I write about it in my own blog, I see that most of it is all about convenience. I have decided that convenience and being green do not coexist well.

In the US, we are all about convenience. That is why we have so many disposable products – like razors, lighters, containers, That is why we have so much packaging – like individually packaged servings of snacks. That is why we have so much fast food. Everything must be convenient so it can be fast. To become greener, we must take the time to live without so many conveniences. They are a shortcut to what? More time that we cram more work or activities into? More money so we can buy more conveniences?

Itʼs not worth it when all that waste goes to the landfill or litters our oceans.


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John costigane
13 years ago


Convenient, for whom? My view is the sellers of such material sell it for their own benefit and profit. Their propaganda tell us it is convenient for us as well.

Recurring waste items should be our prime target since Zero Waste will be that bit closer.

I agree with your loose tea comments. After teabags were needlessly wrapped in foil bags, here in the UK, loose became the preferred option.

13 years ago

How cool – getting a comment from Argentina. I checked out your blog which seems great although it is slow reading for me. My Spanish is only passable. I just hate to see these ridiculous convenience foods sneaking into other cultures. You are right, they are not as flavorful or healthy as home-cooked foods.

Lara S.
13 years ago

Hi Linda, I tried to post a comment on your blog in response to your post about bottled tea, but I somehow couldn't ("blogger error" or something); so here it goes:

I live in Argentina and we don't have bottled tea here, which I think is great. We have a smaller variety of convenience foods (frozen, canned, etc) mostly because they're more expensive and money is less available for unnecessary things like that here. This summer, though, I saw at the grocery store that they're selling iced tea in plastic envelopes, as they've always done with juices. I was shocked that anyone could buy that, it sounds ridiculous.

There has been an increment of convenience foods over the years; mostly rice or dry pasta which come together in a bag with condiments and artificial flavors. They have a bigger impact on the environment, I think, because instead of coming in a regular plastic bag, this one is lined with aluminum, so it's a heavier package, it's not recyclable and it's a waste of metal besides a waste of plastic. They're not nearly as bad as canned or frozen food, though.

Most people who regularly eat convenience foods like that actually think they taste great, and while it is a completely personal thing I am sure they'd prefer to eat homemade food instead, if they even remembered what it tastes like.

Flavor enhancers like monosodium glutamate (which are abundant in that kind of foods as well as others) actually lessen your ability to taste!! So a food without any flavor enhancer might taste dull to people who regularly consume them.

Stay away of flavor enhancers!! They're bad for you!!

Plastic-less Amy
13 years ago

The funny thing is, I have to justify green to my dad by saying "it will save money." We aren't poor by any means, but with the way the economy has been going, every little bit of penny pinching helps. Plastic baggies are expensive! So are paper towels, paper plates, etc. And buying from the bulk bin is less expensive! (sometimes)

Yes, convenience is a luxury, and not only can the earth not afford it, but neither can the economy really currently. With the obesity epidemic sweeping across the country, our bodies can't afford the luxury of convenience either.

I've been canning and otherwise making my own stuff lately, I justify by saying it will save money, but it also saves plastic which is my real goal. I also get to make sure there is no excessive sugar, HFCS, or other additives in what I make as well. I made granola bars last week, canned peaches and berries this last weekend, and I'm making Ketchup next weekend!

13 years ago

We use reusable items BECAUSE we are lazy. How so? We are too lazy to remember to buy another roll of paper towels, or another box of baggies, or another thing of saran wrap… so we just use what we have.

As my husband says "It's way less work to put a rag in the washing machine than it is to remember to buy paper towels!"

13 years ago

How interesting! My mom actually lived in Brazil around the same time and your experience sounds much like hers. Between her experiences there and my dad growing up in a small town with a large family and little money (they recycle and reuse everything!), I think that greatly influenced me in how I am today.

Beth Terry
13 years ago

@Beany, I was cracking up imagining your husband with his cup of Bud and then I remembered that that's EXACTLY what you are supposed to drink during physical exercise. It's in all the running manuals. I don't know how I could have forgotten this.

Oh, and my time was actually 6 hours and 10 minutes, which I can confess after hearing what your time was.

Oh, and I also forgot to mention that while the second half of the marathon was nearly all walking, spontaneous bouts of running would occur every time there was a photo op. Can't imagine why.


My sisters were with me and put me in a bathtub full of ice immediately afterwards. It sucked, but really, really helped. And so did the bottle of champagne I had in there with me. My sister also massaged my legs. These techniques worked so well, that I danced all night at the celebration party later that evening.

Okay, these comments have nothing whatsoever to do with Linda's awesome post. Perhaps we should continue this conversation via email, lest other readers become annoyed.

13 years ago

Beth/FPF: My goal was to finish the marathon. I just didn't want to be carted off in the slow poke wagon when they decided to open up the roads. I ran the first half and walked the second half (it is my first marathon). Don't laugh, but I took 7 hours and 23 minutes to finish. I was so sore immediately afterward and the day after. But on Tuesday I was back on my bike commuting to work.

I thought of carrying my stainless steel drinking bottle for the run, but thought it would be weird or something. Now I know better. I carried my first cup and just had it refilled the entire time (the volunteers had jugs of water to refill a glass or bottle). I had my husband do the same as well. He eventually got a plastic cup of Bud from one of the unofficial volunteers so he carried that for the rest of the run.

Beth Terry
13 years ago

@Beany! How was your marathon? I laughed at your comment. You're absolutely right. We are so brainwashed to drink, drink, drink, and yet most of us go so slowly we don't really need that much liquid unless it's super hot out. I don't remember how much I drank during my marathon (which I completed in 6 freakin' hours because it was so hot!) because I hadn't started noticing my plastic consumption then. I do know that I drank from a plastic sports bottle back then. But I completed the next half marathon with my stainless steel Klean Kanteen, and I don't believe I needed to refill it during the race. And by "race," I of course mean happy walk with occasional bouts of skipping. Okay, there was running too. But not a lot after the first 4 miles.

Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama
13 years ago

Great post Linda. Convenience is definitely a luxury that we can NOT afford. We don't understand the cost.

And I hate that I have to sell being green by saying how easy it is, how it doesn't take much time. Because saving the planet should be important. But I know that is what we have to do . . .

13 years ago

Great Post. I was just thinking the other day, it seems in order to convince someone to recycle or reduce/reuse it seems emphasis is placed on how little extra effort one would have to expend. Also, 'tree huggers' are made fun of for the way they go out of their way (make things not convenient) to save the earth.
Is convenience really more important to people than safe food, air, water, soil? I definitely think many marketing campaigns were based solely upon changing our thinking that we shouldn't accept anything less than the convenience that their product provides.
I have decided that I can and should spend more time preparing my food, I can and should spend more time directing the objects that I am finished using (recycling, freecycling, reusing…)
I am happy to be inconvenienced so that I may enjoy safe food, water, air, land… really, so that my kids will too.
Cheers, Em

13 years ago

Convenience is definitely a luxury. It's something that we have because we can afford it.

As you point out, the sad thing is that it comes at a very high cost. Much higher even than the premium we pay. I am working to shift my own consciousness, and I hope it isn't too late.

13 years ago

That last paragraph is something I've been thinking over recently. People always say they "don't have time", but I'm sorry, watching TV or whatever else you're doing isn't as important as, um, saving the world. And that's not hyperbole, as I'm sure everyone on here knows. It's not about not having time: it's about having priorities.

About the plastic butter tubs, I had a weird revelation about that, too: about 10 years ago I heard that in Russia or whatever, poor people actually saved the plastic tubs to store stuff in, and to me, at the time, that was an incredible indication of how poor they were. Now that I know better, it just seems smart. It's a free freakin container: why not? Why throw it out and then buy tupperware that's basically identical?

13 years ago

Very true.

An observation from this past weekend: when I was finishing the marathon, I thought that the only people who ought to be tossing the disposable drinking cups were the first five or so runners. Or maybe the first 100 to be generous. The rest of us slowpokes could have carried our first drinking cup the entire 26.2 miles. I mean people were carrying cell phones and fanny packs filled with god knows what…carrying one little cup is no extra burden. Yet people who were walking were tossing out cups…as though walking to the trash bin two feet away would have somehow cut into their 7 hour time that they took to finish the marathon.

13 years ago

Nice post, Linda. It made me think of the work of an artist friend of mine who, years ago, created a large poster showing all of the people and places that had been involved in the creation of a simple place setting at a table.

There were guys on ships at sea, the people who designed the floral pattern on the plates, miners of aluminum for the "silverware" all collected in dozens of pictures on this poster with the place setting at the top.

Too bad we can't see everything that is involved in what we use daily. I've often thought that the world will not come to an end with a bang but with some additional convenience that is the straw that breaks the camel's back.

There is something about getting new stuff that makes us feel good and there is also something about throwing things away that does so as well. Is it a sense of renewal when we buy and a sense of survival (I am throwing this thing away but I am still here) when we discard things. It sounds primitive but we are primitive beings in an ever novel world. Who knows?