Dear Umbra,

I hope I am not the only person who is disgusted with and frustrated by the current “throw it away” philosophy that so many large companies are pushing. Everything from window cleaner to facial wipes is being sold in single-use packages. Why? Don’t these companies and consumers realize that, for one thing, landfill capacity is becoming an endangered species? Then there is the toilet brush with the flushable head. Why in the world are they harping on how germy one’s bowl brush is? What do they think we use the brush for besides cleaning the bowl — brushing our teeth? Such unbelievable shortsightedness.

San Diego, Calif.

Dearest Mirriam,

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I’m sure others will chime in to agree. Your news of a flushable bowl brush takes the cake. It’s not only the overflowing landfill we should worry about; it’s the overflowing sewage-treatment plant.

As for whence this trend comes, what do you think of the “nation on the go” theory? All this rushing around we do creates a market for prepackaged, pre-made goods such as single-serving yogurt tubes, Lunchables, and moist towelettes. Companies pick up on this trend and encourage it because it enables them to create new packaging for existing products. If the advertising is done right, unsuspecting consumers will believe the new packaging encloses an exciting new product.

The danger lies in the eventual dulling of our ability to resist. Tea bags, it may surprise some readers to learn, are a prime example. Tea companies began making tea bags so that you wouldn’t have to go to all the trouble of putting loose tea in a pot. Then they decided that individually wrapped tea bags connote a certain freshness, and pretty soon you’ve got double-bagged and -boxed tea.

Weirdly, the “dashboard dining” and “disposable culture” trend has emerged alongside an obsession with all things big, leading to both the dominance of over-packaging and the success of giant discount stores selling bulk goods. Could it be the same people buying huge vats of chicken nuggets and individual towelettes? If that’s the case, these people participate in both low-packaging and high-packaging purchasing. How can they live with the tension inherent in this duality? And is resistance to the “nation on the go” trend futile? I think not. In this regard, Martha Stewart’s rise to power was heartening (and we needn’t read too much into her fall from grace).

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I must admit I sometimes find the “throw it away” trend amusing, particularly the planned obsolescence of the toothbrush (vaguely related to your revelation of flushable toilet brushes). I just get the biggest kick picturing the folks at the toothbrush factory brainstorming the next “innovation.” Keep watching the disposable toilet brush. Pretty soon, it’ll have some color-coded way to tell you how dirty your bowl is. If the brush turns green, it’s time to buy the special toilet-bowl cleaning booster.


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