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What is the worst product ever marketed?

What is the worst product ever marketed? thumbnail


The worst product ever marketed: the disposable propane lighter. Wasteful, expensive, non-recyclable, using non-renewable materials, having benign alternatives (matches). In short, evil. And yet, it was hugely successful. Image from Wikipedia 


Greens often exaggerate in inviting people to save energy and be happier by staying in the dark and eating insects. However, it is also true that sometimes wastefulness goes a few notches higher and becomes truly a scandal. It is the case of the ordinary disposable lighter. Bic alone produces almost a billion lighters per year and has produced some 20 billions of them in the past 30 years. The whole world production is probably of a few billion per year. A good example of a successful product, but is it a good product?

The disposable lighter is surely practical but also, if you think about it, a very bad deal. It contains some 5 cc of butane, that you pay, typically, more than $1. That means around $200 per liter, or $800/gallon. You wouldn’t be happy to pay that kind of money when you refill the tank of your car. And, being powered by a fossil fuel, butane, every time you light up one you add some CO2 to the atmosphere, some of which will stay there for tens of thousands of years.

Then, the disposable lighter doesn’t contain just non-renewable fuel but plastics manufactured from fossil fuels and also polluting. Then, it contains metals such as cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, praeseodymium and more. These metals are classified as “rare earths;” they are not so rare as the name seems to imply, but they are not so common, either. And the lighter is thrown away after use and it will never be recycled. The rare earths it contains will be lost forever. I can hardly think of anything so wasteful, especially considering that there are many other ways, much less wasteful, to set something on fire, no matter whether you are a professional arsonist or simply an ordinary smoker.

After all, what was so wrong with using the old matches? Matches contain only recyclable materials: wood, paper, phosphorous, sulfur. I can’t see anything that can be done with a lighter that cannot be done with a match, except that a lighter can burn steadily for a longer time. But if your purpose is to light up a cigarette or a kitchen burner, it makes no difference. And, by all means, there is no way that a lighter would cost less than a match, at least if manufactured on a comparable scale.

So, disposable lighters are all an example of how a combination of financial factors and government regulations can push a bad product to dominate the market. It is, after all, what has happened with fossil fuels, still gathering large government subsidies, despite the damage they are doing to all of us.

In the case of lighter vs. matches, the playing field has been made unfavorable to matches from the beginning, because they have been traditionally taxed by governments (also lighters, in some cases, but not always). Add to that the rapid expansion of the cigarette market during the past decades, with some six billion cigarettes sold worldwide every year, and you see how some large companies saw their chance. They cornered large resources for the large scale manufacturing of lighters and they crushed the match manufacturers, mainly small companies that couldn’t match (indeed!) the financial power of large corporations. The advertising power, too,  played a big role, with the appeal of colored and fashionable items that could also be collected. And it was world domination for the disposable lighter.

Could we reverse this demonic trend? Maybe there are signs of an inversion of the tendency and, not long ago, I saw again courtesy matchboxes appearing in an Italian Hotel. Maybe it was because finally (in 2015) the Italian government decided to abolish the tax on matches, a good idea that, unfortunately, arrived at least 50 years too late (the French Government did that in 1999). Whatever the case, it is high time that someone realizes that some ideas, such as disposable lighters, are evil to the bone. And that the mythical “free market” cannot turn evil into good.

But maybe you think that the old matches are passé? In this case, we have technologies for getting rid of the obsolete propane lighters without having to get back to the somewhat primitive matches. For instance, we have spark lighters that use only electricity and are a solid state alternative to propane lighters similar to photovoltaic energy being a solid state alternative to fossil energy. In the picture, you see one of these super hi-tech lighters in the hands of my daughter, Donata.

So, eventually, we learn what’s the good way to do things. Too bad that it is almost always too late.

Cassandra’s legacy by Ugo Bardi

19 Comments on "What is the worst product ever marketed?"

  1. Go Speed Racer on Sun, 30th Jul 2017 3:41 pm 

    Seems like the flint is made of magnesium.
    Everything else is brass or steel.

    Don’t think those rare earths are in there deliberately.

    They might just ride-along in trace amounts,
    with the magnesium.

    Don’t think the disposable lighter is the
    reason the Earth is being destroyed.

  2. Bob on Sun, 30th Jul 2017 4:28 pm 

    The worst product ever? Surely you jest. How about the car? It had paved over the planet with roads, poisoned our air and water, created urban jungles where humans go mad, is destroying Nature’s creatures, creates road kill, including humans. Only a nuclear war could do worse.

  3. Outcast_Searcher on Sun, 30th Jul 2017 7:06 pm 

    At least these tend to last a long time. For the occasional light of a grill, many years.

    In the modern era the amount of one use throw-away stuff is just obscene.

    How about the disposable plastic k-cup one-cup of coffee per use pods nonsense? Expensive. Very wasteful.

    As if matches or large cheap bins of something like Folgers in a variety of flavors didn’t exist. As if spoons didn’t exist or were hard to use.

    In 2015, Green Mountain (just the one brand) sold over 9 BILLION of those things.

    Moving to recyclable still means all that plastic, which still can’t be re-used.

  4. Makati1 on Sun, 30th Jul 2017 7:09 pm 

    Bob, I have to side with you. The car has been the means for many other wastes of energy, to include the “suburban sprawl” lifestyle of the US. The mall culture, etc.

  5. Anonymouse on Sun, 30th Jul 2017 7:13 pm 

    My vote would go to the oil-powered car, but that is me. But his larger point is valid, whether you want to quibble over whether product X is worse than Y. There are plenty of other equally damaging products are as damaging. He could spend a good long time doing nothing but articles like the above and have little time to talk about much else.

  6. Go Speed Racer on Sun, 30th Jul 2017 9:19 pm 

    Probly the single worst product on Earth
    is religion.

    It tells people they don’t have to
    think intelligently, it tells people if they
    don’t have the same background as you that
    you can run over them or bomb them,

    It tells people to overbreed so that the
    crooked preacher at the pulpit has more
    people to put money into his plate,

    and it tells people they shouldn’t make
    anything better or think critically or
    make any difference on a problem, because
    “its all Gods will”.

    So i think the single worst product is the
    religion. The car isn’t so bad, who wouldnt
    wanna drive thru the Canadian Rockies
    going 75 mph, in a 1978 Lincoln Continental,
    with a John Denver 8-track shifting track
    to track, while the Freon Air Conditioner
    blows snowflakes at you.

    No problem with cars, that was a good invention..

    HEY what about the BEST product for the Earth?
    Oh, the vinyl record stereo LP. And its
    companion the 45 RPM single. Most definitely.
    Notice as soon as they got rid of that product
    the entire country began to go straight the
    phuck to hell and that’s the reason the
    country fell apart was stopped trusting in
    vinyl records.

  7. Apneaman on Sun, 30th Jul 2017 9:21 pm 

    I have a 30 year old Zippo I use, but I also buy Bic’s because I’m a Cancer and I know it…..CLAP! CLAP!

    I don’t know about worst, but I first knew the humans were retarded when I was 9 or 10 and there was a ‘pet rock’ craze. Dumb consumer sheeple were buying them by the millions…a fucking rock! The Jones have one, so I gots to get me one too. If I had the advertising budget, I could sell pet lumps of shit to consumer zombie humans – Pet Turd! Get yours today! 3 models to choose from: 1) Triple coiler with a Dairy Queen tip. 2) Peanut & Corn Loaf. 3) Hershey Squirt.

    Get Yours today! It’s fun fer da hole family!!

  8. Sissyfuss on Sun, 30th Jul 2017 9:22 pm 

    For me it’s a toss up between the bug zapper and Roundup. Both kill indiscriminately.

  9. Sissyfuss on Sun, 30th Jul 2017 9:24 pm 

    And the lighter also makes smoking easier, another complete waste of resources and lungs.

  10. Go Speed Racer on Sun, 30th Jul 2017 9:31 pm 

    Hi Sleep Apnea… LOL funny true.

    I was about 10 when Pet Rock came out.
    Held out for awhile… didnt wanna buy.
    But eventually gave in, and bought one.

    Ooops. It had a funny owner’s manual.
    One thing sure, the crooks got away with it!

  11. Makati1 on Sun, 30th Jul 2017 9:43 pm 

    Go, I missed that thought. Of course religion is the worse product of humanity. Followed by Capitalism, another form of religion for many. I guess I should have had another cup of coffee before I commented earlier. lol

  12. Apneaman on Sun, 30th Jul 2017 10:29 pm 

    GSR, my other favorite is those stupid singing fish on a plaque. The consumer sheeple will buy anything if it gives them a dopamine hit or two. My retard buddy bought one. It was good for a few laughs then into the land fill a few months later….and on to the next hit. – some ridiculous bobble head or some shit. There is always another consumer dopamine hit in the capitalist paradise.

    Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me A Dopamine hit

  13. Go Speed Racer on Sun, 30th Jul 2017 11:16 pm 

    Ya all kinds of Chinese junk for sale now.
    At Costco.
    Solar Powered fake frogs.
    It’s the modern equivalent of the pet rock.
    Exact same effect.

  14. MASTERMIND on Mon, 31st Jul 2017 7:36 am 

    You could never convince a monkey to give you his banana by promising him unlimited bandanna’s after he dies.

  15. MASTERMIND on Mon, 31st Jul 2017 7:45 am 

    Saudi Aramco CEO believes oil shortage coming despite U.S. shale boom

    Better sell that I-Toy and buy some preps! Once the shortages come gas stations only have a few days supplies. And that will be gone in a few hours with Preppers fueling up bug out trucks and bankers fueling up their private jets!

  16. bobinget on Mon, 31st Jul 2017 9:36 am 

    I’m voting w/speed racer. Partly because of his great screen name.

    Cars, EV’s, are becoming totally recyclable.

    As for flicking my bic, maybe matches are better.
    Once app-on-a-time, match-books were a great advertising medium. Every time a person turned around, some one handed you a fist-full of match-books. Remember? I can’t recall ever buying paper matches, do you? Twenty five cents a pack, free lights. America Was Great.

  17. dave thompson on Mon, 31st Jul 2017 2:00 pm 

    The most destructive inventions that anthropologists claim are language,fire and agriculture.

  18. onlooker on Mon, 31st Jul 2017 2:07 pm 

    The most destructive inventions that anthropologists claim are language,fire and agriculture.–So ironic as by many they are considered among our greatest advancements

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