Is a disposable product ever cheaper than reusable?

I was having a good chuckle with another radical freak parent recently over a claim by the manufacture of a disposable product (in this case it’s diapers) that using their product was cheaper than using the equivalent reusable product. I won’t bore you with the details, but poking holes in their argument was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. You’d think they could have checked the true retail price of their own product, for one thing :rolleyes:

It got me to wondering, though. I can distinctly remember a quote from a consumer magazine’s report on rechargeable batteries from about a year ago: “For once, the more ecologically responsible choice is also cheaper.” I know what the writer was thinking about; environmentally friendly substitutes are often more expensive than the product they’re meant to replace. But in the case of disposable versus reusable products, is the disposable version ever cheaper in the long run? Let me specify that I’m curious about realistic usage; the guy who buys a camera and only ever shoots one roll of film with it would obviously have been better off buying a disposable camera, but most people use a camera for years. I also don’t want to get in to the environmental arguments in this thread, just the economic side.

Hmm, a reusable hand grenade might be fairly expensive to manufacture.

How about disposable pens? A bic is pretty darn cheap, and lasts forever. The reusable version isn’t anywhere near as cheap.

Or maybe moving boxes. To make something that would be reliably reusable, they’d have to be made of wood or metal or something. And the average number of uses by a given person makes that complete overkill – and much more expensive.

My parents get these disposable tupperware things, you know, that ‘Glad’ ones, for like 50 cents a piece. It’s like yeah, there cheap and you can throw them away, but you can just by the better built ones for 1 dollar and reuse them 50 times over. Know what I mean. But then again my folks use the disposable ones 50 times over anyway.

for my money, disposible razors are the way to go.

there’s an interesting trend in the computer industry lately where printers cost less than the refill ink cartridges they use. you save ~$15 if you just throw your old printer in the trash and buy a new one, because they come with ink cartridges.


Disposable lighter versus Zippo lighter. I suppose that if you kept your Zippo a long long time you’d come out ahead. Maybe not, considering that you can get matches for free all over the place.

Contact Lenses…cause they are the same.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but gas-permeable (hard) contact lenses will last up to 5 years if you take care of them.

The cost is in favor of the gas-perms if you manage to keep your contacts for about a year and a half.

Also, some of those printers don’t come with full ink cartridges. Don’t throw them out yet.

Probably not the kind of product you had in mind, but the cost of the Space Shuttle program comes out to about $500 million a shot, IIRC. This is more expensive than using expendable (disposable) rockets. Of couse there are many jobs only the Shuttle can do, but for launching standard satellites expendable rockets are good enough, and much cheaper.

Hmm. Looking over the list, I can see some definite candidates for disposable as more economical than reusable:

Pens: the only reusable ones on the market are expensive. And since a pen is the sort of thing people often lose, chances are you’d lose the pen long before you had a chance of seeing a return on your investment. For that matter, replacement ink is pricey, too; even if you nailed it to your hand and never lost it, it might never pay off. (On the other hand, my Bics never last anything near “forever”. Help! What am I doing wrong, other than having a six-year-old budding artist in the house?)

Moving boxes: Well, at least if you consider the cardboard ones disposable. I’d say they’re semi-disposable… sturdy enough to be reused almost indefinitely, as long as they stay dry and don’t get abused. But storage space can be a problem, so many people get rid of them after a move.

The Space Shuttle wasn’t what I had in mind, but it’s interesting anyway. I suspect the justification for the expense is that NASA wants to have some sort of manned space program. It’s harder to keep people interested (and therefore keep the funding coming) without humans involved.

Matches/lighters: Hadn’t thought of that, since I’ve been here for ten years now and Norwegian businesses rarely give out matchbooks. But of course you’re right, if you have a steady supply of freebies it makes no economic sense to buy a product that does the same job.

On the contact lens thing, fella bilong missus flodnak had a pair of gas-permeables for even longer than five years. 'Course, he got scolded when he finally went to the eye doc for a new prescription :rolleyes:

And on the printer/ink cartridge issue: Interesting, I didn’t realize the situation was so screwed up.

Thanks, all! And by all means, keep 'em coming…

I don’t want to re-use your Q-tips, tongue depressors, toothpicks… and theyt would be more expensive to clean than throw away.

For a while Tide laundry detergent was sold in plastic baglike containers meant to refill the big orange hard plastic jug. Never once did I see the per ounce price of the detergent cheaper in the refill container.

Well, to address the OP, it depends on who’s wielding the calculator, what axe he has to grind, and whether he’s going to factor in such things as labor cost and depreciation on the washing machine in the case of diapers, or the nuisance value of having to keep track of that little bottle of lighter fluid, in the case of lighters.

In general economic terms, I believe that if you factor in the long term use of the non-disposable object in question (Tupperware, diapers, etc.), the disposable is generally going to be more expensive, because you are paying for the convenience of being able to throw it away. I can buy a Tupperware container for $6.00 and use it once a week for 25 years. That’s 52 times 25 = 1300 uses, right? And $6.00 divided by 1300 is 0.004615384615385 cents per use. Right? Or is it 4 cents per use? [It was my understanding there would be no math in this thread…] Either way, that’s pretty cheap.

But if all I want is something to store the leftover food from RV camping meals, and I don’t want to have to wash the container in the teensy little trailer sink, then the disposable food containers are a good deal, even at 50 cents a pop, because I’m willing to pay for the convenience of throwing away a cheap plastic container. I could never throw away a really nice Tupperware container.

Same thing for diapers. If you don’t count the labor cost of sozzling poopie diapers in the potty, toting them down to the basement, running them through the washer and dryer and toting them back upstairs again, and if you don’t factor in the depreciation on the washing machine (washing cloth diapers is very hard on washing machines, because they’re so heavy), then disposables are going to be way more expensive than cloth diapers.

Also, there’s the question of cash outlay. You have to keep buying disposable things when you run out. It’s less cash outlay to buy 8 dozen cloth diapers once at Sears, than to keep having to spend 20 bucks every week on Pampers.

So how does a ten dollar disposable phone fit into all this? Moreover, they’re working on a twenty dollar web access laptop. That would definitely beat the reusable kind for price…

“ten dollar disposable phone” I recall a couple years back that a lady was inventing something like that, but cheaper, one that you could get with a Happy Meal & would give you 20 minutes airtime. Have no idea what became of it.

Toilet paper is cheaper if you buy the disposable type rather than reusesable :slight_smile:

This idea wasn’t to reduce costs so much as it was designed to reduce the amount of trash going to a landfill. One of the plastic bags takes up significantly less materials and landfill space than one of the plastic jugs.

I’d have to say that tissues have got to be cheaper than
hankies. At least during a recent bout of flu, it would have taken a full-time staff washing, drying, and folding hankies fast enough for me to use them all. And that’s just labor and danger pay – doesn’t even include the cost of the hankies themselves.