How To Throw Your Money Away – Almost Literally

Open your wallet and take out three dollars. Now, go to a public trashcan (where you won’t be tempted to dig it out). Look into the trashcan; inhale the sweet scent of rotting food, receipts, and stale beer. Stare at the trash – doesn’t it look so pretty? Now hold your fist with the three dollars in it over the trashcan, and let go. Can you do it? I bet you can’t (or if you can, you don’t want to).

Interestingly, many of us do just this without realizing it.

When you purchase one-time use, disposable products, you are literally throwing your money into the trashcan (and generating a lot more waste in the process). In terms of energy and waste, it might even be better for the environment to just throw your money directly into the trashcan than to purchase plastic knives, which will remain a plastic fork albeit buried in dirt for hundreds or even thousands of years. To put this into perspective, it means that we could dig up plastic forks from the Civil War (if they had used them bask then) today. Is that the kind of legacy we want to leave?

To illustrate just how much money we are throwing into that dirty, smelly public trashcan, I went to Target to get some sample prices on disposable items. Here is what one dinner party for 8 would cost you:

  • $1.99 for a set of plastic forks and spoons for 8 people
  • $1.59 for “cute” paper plates for 8 people (16 total, 1 for the main meal and 1 for dessert)
  • $0.38 for 8 plastic cups
  • $1.79 for a disposable tablecloth

Total Amount of Money Thrown Away = $3.96

Now, if you happen to make a special trip to the store to purchase said disposable goods, you will need to add an additional $5.10 into your trashcan:

6.8 miles – Average distance from your home to the grocery store round-trip x $0.75 per mile (average cost to drive a car per mile)

Tack on another $1.79 for a disposable tablecloth and you’re looking at $10.85 you just threw into the trash. And we didn’t even include sales tax.

Now, if you decided to use real plates and utensils, you could load an entire dishwasher with them, use 4-6 gallons of water (on average) to wash them at $0.02 per gallon, 1.8 kw of electricity (average energy use for one load) at an US average of $0.13 an hour. You could even use a fancy dishwasher detergent pod ($0.19) and you end up spending 50 to 53 CENTS to provide utensils and plates for your dinner party. Of course you will need to factor in the cost of items like plates and a dishwasher (over time), but if you already own these (as most of us do), then why opt to waste money and resources and buy disposable when you can put that money to more enjoyable uses, like getting better food for the party or saving for a Hawaiian vacation (we can dream big here)?

So next time you reach for that disposable plate, ask your self, “Self, do we want to throw this money into the trash or do we want to sip Mai Tais by the beach?” I think you’ll know the answer.


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