How much trash is in your waste stream?

I hope the cold snap is not making the reality of global warming too painfully real for everyone. It’s been cold before and now you have fools like Matt Drudge claiming that we are suffering “global chilling” as if that simplistic notion dismisses the reality that global weather patterns are at historical extremes… it’s snowing in Las Vegas and New Orleans for jeebus sakes!

Dave Chameides

Dave Chameides

 

Naturally the weather is going to have extreme band swings, it’s not like global warming is going to go up as smoothly as a thermostat… no, no, nooooo… we are experiencing just the nice end of what will happen as the ice cover disappears to a point it can’t recover.

 

Well, it will recover scientists say, but what they don’t say is that that process takes thousands of years.

Remember that the last ice age was just 12,000 years ago, and as anyone who’s seen Al Gore’s movie knows, the warming extreme of this band is unmatched in the past.

What we need is not more discussion about the and/or/ifs of global warming, we need action. A lot of people might not want to see the silver lining of this unprecedented economic times, but I do. I live on an outlying island in Hong Kong, infamously known for poor air quality because of the non-stop billowing of pollution from the manufacturing heart of China’s economic machinery.

Nowadays, the air is crystal clear. 

I can see mountains behind mountains I never knew were there. The golden sunlight of the winter equinox is warm and bright, a pleasant 17 degrees celsius. Plants are flowering now that normally bloom in spring, and botanists are alarmed that this could be a bad thing, especially with the number of caterpillars I see out so late in the year.

When I say we need action, I say this seriously. As seriously as Dave Chameides. Also known to his friends as Sustainable Dave (http://www.sustainabledave.org), he has spent the better part of the past year in a zen garbage experiment of micromanaging his family’s waste stream, even powering his home with solar panels and his car with used cooking oil.

He believes sustainable living can be accomplished without limiting our quality of life, and to this end has kept and reduced or reused his family’s entire year of garbage, in hopes he can inspire others to do the same.

I remember as a boy the Pundt’s family house in the town I grew up in, a property of great curiosity to teenage boys because the Pundt’s were mentally ill and lived in their house until it was filled to the roof with their trash, and then moved into their cars until they too were full of garbage, finally settling into living under the weeping willow in their front yard. Eventually they moved on, and the spooky house was a great place to look for clues into this son and his widow mom’s mindset. Eventually the county cleared it all out as a fire hazard.

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Dave however is not mentally ill, and his house in Los Angeles, even though he’s kept everything from wrappers to boxes to bottles, has only accumulated 14.5 kilos worth of trash over the past year.

He, his wife and two daughters have done this by dramatically reducing their consumption habits; shopping locally, buying bulk with their own containers (the old fashion way) and eschewing plastics. He recycles his organic garbage (worms compost the paper and food wastes) or stores dry trash in his basement as part of campaign chronicled on his website 365 Days of Trash (http://365daysoftrash.blogspot.com). Besides the project, it also offers great tips for reducing your own waste stream.

The average American family produces about 725 kg of trash each year and this film-maker aims to chronicle this impactfully. “If I were the average American, this entire basement would be filled with plastic water bottles by now,” Chameides told the AP. Instead, they’ve opted for more ecologically sound solutions, like a simple water filter for the faucets and buying produce at farmer’s markets to support local growers, both great ways to escape the proliferation of plastic trash used in grocery store produce departments.

It’s this plastic in the human waste stream which is having the worst impact on the environment, from the Pacific Garbage Patch (more on that later, the Flotopia Project). Plastics breaking down mimic hormones, and trash chokes seabirds, turtles and African wildlife.

Consumer goods are the worst offenders, shiny packages to get you to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth for the overpriced goods inside, their prices inflated by the plastic packaging itself. But plastic is not completely avoidable, as they found out on a holiday abroad, in a country with less than stellar water standards. 

His solution? Bring them home and deal with them, compacted and stored. This is one family that recognizes that there is no “away” in throwing away. But this is no ordinary trash… this is trash that’s going places, and in January 2009, the remaining refuse will find a home at an exhibition at the Trash Museum of Connecticut, which I’m sure must be a very popular place these days.