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Last updated at 17:34 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

'Throwaway society'

Rubbish

Money in a rubbish bin

Ali Banabdi from Saudi Arabia asks:
Could you explain the meaning of 'a throwaway society'?

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Gareth Rees answers

Click to listen to Gareth's answer:

Hello Ali. Thank you for your question concerning the phrase 'a throwaway society', which is a term that we frequently hear these days, particularly in newspapers.

To throw something away means to get rid of something, to dispose of something that you do not want or need. It means that you do not keep something. Every day we throw things away, things such as sweet wrappers after we have eaten the sweet, or paper cups after we have drunk our coffee. Or, we might throw something away which is broken and which cannot be repaired.

So, what does 'a throwaway society' mean? Well, it doesn't mean that we throw the society away, as if it were waste paper. Instead, it describes a society in which people do not keep things for very long, even if those things still work or are still useful. This is a type of behaviour that is present in many modern consumer societies in developed countries. For example, someone might buy a new shirt and wear it only a few times before throwing it away and buying a new one, even though the old one was still in good condition. Or, if someone's television breaks, they throw it away and buy a new one, rather than getting the old one repaired.

The strange thing about many products that are produced these days is that they are not made to last for a long time, and this only encourages the throwaway society to keep throwing things away.

Importantly, the term 'throwaway society' has a slightly negative connotation, or meaning. When you describe a society as a throwaway society, you are probably criticising that behaviour, or showing your disapproval.

Nowadays, when people should be trying to waste less in order to save the environment and its resources, a throwaway society is certainly not a useful thing, which makes me think that we should indeed throw such behaviour away. What do you think, Ali?

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About Gareth Rees

Gareth Rees has a BA (hons) in History and Philosophy of Science, CTEFLA, and DELTA. He has taught EFL, EAP and Business English in China, Spain and England, and he is the co-author of the Language Leader Elementary and Pre-Intermediate English language course books (Pearson Longman). He currently teaches English in the Language Centre at the University of the Arts, London.

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