Outline the Ways in Which Rubbish Can Be Said to Have Value in a Consumer Society

Since the latter part of the nineteenth century, contemporary UK society has been steadily changing. Where once we tended to define ourselves by our employment and the status in society that position may have given us, we now define ourselves much more by the goods we buy and choose to surround ourselves with (Hinchcliffe 2009). What we wear, the house we live in, the food we choose to buy and the experiences we create for ourselves all are thought to say more about us personally and as a society and have led to the creation of the term ‘consumer society’(Hinchliffe 2009).
The rise in disposable income and the ability to acquire easy credit has enabled the vast majority of the UK population to buy goods more readily than at any time ever before and to fill our homes with an array of consumables. However this increase in affluence has generated a massive rise in consumer goods being manufactured and purchased and consequently is creating huge amounts of waste in return. Outdated and broken goods, massive amounts of packaging and waste created during manufacture are proving increasingly difficult to dispose of.
The resources being depleted in order to create and transport goods are also having devastating consequences on the earth and the environment and are not sustainable (Brown 2009). This essay will look at some of the ways in which we can revalue this rubbish in our ever changing and evolving society. When we purchase goods today there are many factors that can eventually transform the item into what we would commonly term as ‘rubbish’, something of no value whatsoever to its owner. Goods are made increasingly cheaply and in quantity to allow for low selling prices and are not necessarily built to last.

The cost of repair can be more than replacing the item itself with very few specialist repair services being offered on the high street nowadays. Ever changing fashions and trends altering every season can lead to everything from shoes to furniture being thrown away and replaced in order for one to stay ‘in trend’ in our modern consumer society (Brown 2009). One theory of how rubbish can be redefined and given new value is put forward by Michael Thomson (Brown 2009). His theory suggests that items can move from being valued into the category of rubbish and out again into something of value.
Items can be ‘Transient’, in other words, not built to last and consisting of most of the consumer goods such as mobile phones and clothing we can purchase in our shops today. Their value will decrease with use and they will often be replaced as fashion and trend dictates and newer and more desired items come on to the market. Other items can be called ‘Durables’. These items are often more expensive to buy and gain value over time such as good jewellery, paintings and rarer items people may wish to invest in or collect. His third category is one of ‘Zero value’ such as completely broken items and worn out clothes (Brown 2009).
Economic reasons can be one of the ways in which new value can be placed on an object. The rise in charity shops, car boot sales and online auctions enables some of the ‘Transient’ items to be given new value. One person’s rubbish may be of value to another (Brown 2009). The changing economic climate since the recent credit crunch and more unemployment may mean that people with more time and less money may find uses for the worn out clothes and other ‘Zero value’ items by repairing or recycling in some innovative way(‘Reflections on Material Lives’,2009).
Transient goods can become out-dated over time until they apparently become almost worthless. Some of these goods may then become popular or appealing in some other way. For instance a new trend in retro items such as the current interest in ‘shabby chic’ goods gives the items a fashionable appeal. Old and outdated consumer goods can become of interest to collectors and as interest increases so does the value. If these goods are no longer being produced, demand will outweigh supply and thus increase their price and therefore their value (Brown 2009).
Aesthetic revaluation is another example of how new value can be given to rubbish. Some contemporary artists such as Tracey Emin and Chris Jordan (Brown 2009) have created works containing junk and other waste such as plastic cups, circuit boards, empty bottles and cigarette ends. By making a statement about our wastefulness in our consumer society in their works, they are bringing new value to rubbish by transforming it into valuable objects of art (Brown 2009). Environmental concern is another aspect that is prompting the revaluation of rubbish.
In 2008, the waste generated more quickly than could be disposed of, was said to be 40% greater than the earth’s available yearly resources (Brown 2009). The earth’s resources and its capacity for absorbing the waste we generate has become environmentally unsustainable. Disposing and recycling of rubbish is now huge international business and although there is great economic value in this for the companies involved the need to find ways to sustain the environment is also a major factor in this process (Brown 2009).
Transporting rubbish around the world where it is recycled more cheaply and remanufactured into a usable commodity to be shipped back, highlights the new value of some of our rubbish. Waste plastics, paper, card and glass are now just some of the products collected, recycled and sold for profit. Previously they may have been simply landfilled at not only monetary cost, so of ‘negative value’, but as we are now discovering, great cost to our planet (Brown 2009). Revaluing rubbish can therefore come about in many ways.
In an ever growing consumer society we are beginning to become more fully aware of not only the amount of rubbish we are generating, but the understanding that by revaluing this waste we are helping to sustain the planet. Where once we would have thrown it into the bin without thought, we now know the ‘value’ of our waste. The increasing demands to cease using plastic carriers in favour of supermarket ‘bags for life’; the prevalence of car park bottle bins and clothing banks; the household recycling bins are all constant reminders to us of the value of our rubbish.
Economic value can be added to out dated goods due to new trends and fashions and as items become of interest to collectors. The less there may be of something and the more the demand is for it; the more likely the value will be raised creating further interest and higher prices. Taking junk and turning it into art also revalue’s rubbish. Many artists are seeing the possibilities of pointing out to us our wastefulness and by using rubbish in their art they are turning it into something of artistic merit and often considerable monetary value (Brown 2009).
Moreover, even design students today are being taught to utilise used items and create something new and useful or aesthetically appealing from them. (Reflections on Material Lives’, 2009). Whether selling our old possessions on online auctions for profit or donating to the charity shop, we are giving new value to what we no longer feel has worth. Rubbish is becoming more and more valuable as our consumption as a society grows ; “at a time when we’re both short of materials globally as well as short of energy globally, we’re now looking to waste as a real resource” ( Reflections on Material Lives,2009).

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