Friday, January 8, 2016

Talking trash

Photo by Matt McClain, The Washington Post
A couple of months ago I read an article that has been stuck in my brain, intriguing me, and making me feel guilty ever since. It was so striking that I just did a search for the article to make sure that I remembered the details correctly. Yes, I did. The mere fact that I remembered it and think of it often is a bit startling.
The article appeared in The Washington Post on October 29, 2015. (You can find it here: It was written by a post-doctoral science and technology fellow at the University of Michigan.
This scientist challenged himself to live trash and recycling free for one year, and eventually he extended the experiment after the initial year. He writes that the average American produces four pounds of trash per day, for a total of 1500 pounds of trash per year for each person. He produced little more than seven pounds of trash and recycling in the first year of his experiment.
He composted food waste and did not count the waste he produced in his laboratory work. But he had to get quite radical to reduce his waste so dramatically from the norm. Apparently much waste is from food packaging so he devised ways to avoid that source of waste. For example, he carried a fork, spoon, and plate with him all the time so that if he ate out he did not dispose of any food packaging. He shopped at a co-op grocery where he didn’t have to buy packaged food. He didn’t use toilet paper. (I’m sorry, but that one is beyond my comprehension—he’ll have to explain himself to you—I’m bowing out on that detail.)
It is truly commendable that he treats the Earth with such respect. It makes me feel guilty that I have so much to contribute to our earthly garbage heap. Although I recycle as much as I can, I still have a lot of trash. How much of the meltdown of the polar ice cap is totally attributable to me? Am I making the poor polar bears live on a tiny iceberg? Am I displacing indigenous people all over the Earth? Since I read about his experiment and his measly seven pounds of trash a year, I am struggling with a huge guilt trip every week on trash collection day. And rightfully so.

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