The Throwaway Society: a Look in the Back Mirror

Abstract

Whilst public criticisms of an increasingly wasteful consumer society emerged already in late nineteenth Century, the specific concept of a “Throwaway Society” was first used in the early 1960s. This short communication sketches the passionate debate around planned obsolescence and oversaturated consumers and offers a short historical glimpse at a persistent, existential problem that still awaits effective solutions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Consumption historian Trentmann (2016, pp. 622–675) completed his comprehensive world report on the history of consumption and “the empire of things” with a separate chapter on the throwaway society where he looked into historical and regional circumstances of its genesis.

  2. 2.

    Of course, there existed earlier studies about profusion and waste (see Chase 1925; Herrick 1924). However, at that time, societal references and the harsh criticism of consumption were lacking.

  3. 3.

    Lipset (1961, p. 81) commented in his review that the “examples [Packard] used to document [planned obsolescence] are often grossly exaggerated; like most polemicists, he is willing to accept any statement which supports his argument and to ignore those which do not.”

  4. 4.

    See also the quite pessimistic epilogue in (Trentmann 2016, pp. 676–690).

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Correspondence to Kai-Uwe Hellmann.

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Hellmann, KU., Luedicke, M.K. The Throwaway Society: a Look in the Back Mirror. J Consum Policy 41, 83–87 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10603-018-9371-6

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Keywords

  • Affluence
  • Planned obsolescence
  • Throwaway culture
  • Throwaway society
  • Waste
  • Consumer culture