Monday, December 31, 2007

365 Days Of Trash


The idea for this project came about six months ago as I was throwing something away in the garbage. It occurred to me that I was doing nothing more than that. I was making it go away, not dealing with it, not accounting for it, simply removing it from my sight. When you think of it in simple terms like that, it’s really quite insane. I came to the realization that if we were all accountable for our waste, if we couldn’t simply make it disappear, we’d have to deal with some pretty ugly truths about the way we live. And in so doing, it would cause us to start making better decisions about what we buy, where we buy, and what’s left over when we are done with that purchase.

So starting tonight at midnight, I am not going to throw anything away for 365 days in order to see what my impact is. It sounds sort of nuts at first (perhaps for a bit after that as well), and believe me, while I am intrigued by the concept, I’ll admit that there are parts of it that I am dreading. Am I really looking forward to going on vacation and bringing all my trash home in a suitcase? Hardly, but that said, I need to be honest about this or it’s not worth doing in the first place. My hope is that, as the experiment takes shape, I will be able to quickly ascertain what waste I can simply cut out through choices, what waste is necessary but that can be dealt with in a sustainable way, and what waste I just simply can’t do anything about.

As I’ve mentioned this idea to people, it’s amazing how many of them instantly start to come up with ways that will debunk what I am attempting. “Oh so you’re not going to use the toilet for a year” is a common one. For the record, I go into this with full cognizance that I will create waste, and some of that waste will have to go “away” – after all, I’m not trying to endanger the health of my family or my community. That said, I am trying my best to account for what I do add to the pile. So with that in mind, and realizing that things may morph as my waste learning curve begins to take shape, here are

The Rules

1. If something is waste that I have generated, I’ve got to deal with it. If I buy something for myself, the packaging is mine to deal with. Hopefully this will entail figuring out what it is made of, what would happen to it if it were “thrown away” and what I will be doing with it.

2. Any waste that I generate that can be recycled, will also be saved. Recycling is better than “throwing away” but it still takes energy and creates waste so I think accounting for recycling will be an important factor.

3. Any waste, which for health reasons (dog poop, medical waste from doctors visits, etc.) cannot be saved, will at least be noted and examined regarding the impact of its creation and disposal.

4. Food preparation has been something that I have been struggling with as I have a wife and two daughters who are not undertaking this experiment. Since food will be prepared for the family at times, I’ll have to figure out how to account for this and will be as honest as I can be in my accounting as I go along. In order to make up for any possible discrepancy in this area, I have decided that when out with my daughters, I will be responsible for any waste they generate as well.

5. Finally, I know there will be gray areas that I haven’t thought of, and some of this will have to morph as I go along. That said, I think the golden rule is going to be “when in doubt, it’s my responsibility to deal with”.

Where’s It All Going To Go?

For now, I’m going to keep stuff in the basement of our house and I will post pics of it all as it accumulates. I say for now, because I truly don’t have an idea of how much “stuff” I generate (thus this experiment). I’ll have to deal with it accordingly as I go along. Food and anything compostable will go into our trusty worm composter, so while I would consider that stuff waste, it’s sustainable waste, so therefore won’t go into the overall accounting. That said, I’ll be mentioning this stuff as I go along as well (how much went in, how much castings I take out of the system, etc.)

The bottom line is that I am going into this with an honest attempt and a whole mess of questions. Hopefully I’ll be able to answer all of them, and in 365 days, who knows, maybe I’ll be garbage free? Doubtful, but we’ll see.

Stay tuned.



Dominic.Romer said...


I heard your piece on NPR today and really enjoyed it. I'll be reading your blog to see how this experiment goes.

Do you think maybe you could talk more about your worm composting system? Many people still don't know much about vermiculture and it's a system that would work great for people who don't have room for a regular composting system.

Anonymous said...

Just a question.

How big is your worm compost bin? I used to have one for about half a year, maybe 1' x 2.5' rectangle, single layer (I didn't quite make it to the second layer). Maybe I didn't take care of it well enough, but it seemed like it would take forever for the worms to work their way through the stuff I put in (eggshells, food scraps, junk mail, eggshells, and more eggshells).

Anonymous said...

For the sake of space, why don't you simply document the things that you can recycle and then recycle them. Yes, it costs energy, but I seriously doubt that you're going to be able to fit all of your garbage into your basement AND all of the things that you CAN recycle. In fact, I'd wager that you can't get 2 months worth of all your waste into your basement. Just a guess, but I've got a hunch I'm right.

sandboxapproved said...

Okay, super dave, I'll chime in from two doors down. I agree with "anonymous" in that you should document items that can be recycled, then put them out in the blue bin. I think it's totally in line with your experiment and also "morally" kosher. That's what the blue can if for. Sure, it's waste, but recycling is a good thing I don't think there's any harm in participating. So there, free yourself -- document and recyle.

Greengo said...

I love it!!!

This is a great idea, and i can't wait to see what you produce. Do you think you are "normal" in terms of how much waste you produce, or is this going to be teeny compared to the average joe?

katez said...

I made the decision that my New Year's resolution would be to REDUCE, reuse and recycle more than I have been. Then I heard about what you're doing on NPR and have not been able to get it off my mind. I am humbled by your activism. Bravo! I am inspired! I can't wait to check in on you as the year goes by.

Dave said...

Thanks Katez and good luck on your quest. I may be a bit over the top at the moment, but everybody doing what youa re doing would do a heck of a lot more good than me doing what I am doing. Please pass the site along to as many people as possible and check in often.

jason said...

Is it okay for you to re-use something that is in your basement? If so, I DON'T think you should document and recycle the recyclable stuff. You should keep it around in case you find a new use for it.

It looks like you have a lot of potential storage containers in there. You may also find that a good way to reduce trash is to make food or things from scratch using bulk materials, which will then need containers to be stored in.

Dave said...

Hey Jason,
Thnkas for checking in. I do try to repurpose most of the stuff I have but unless I have a specific use, I put it on the list. If I end up using something it'll come off (the reason why the paper isn't in recycling but worm composting as it will eventually end up there). As for food from scratch, I couldn't agree more. My main problem is time, whihc is I think an underlying problem with a lot of this STUFF. That said, little by little I'm working my way there. Any recipes?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for leaving more of the landfill for me and my waste. I'll be able to consume and waste just a little more this year ;)
which is a good thing for the economy. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

I find it excruciatingly short-sighted of people like you and others in general who believe in trying to limit or recycle the waste they produce. Can you not pause to consider the impact your actions will have on the archaeologists of future civilizations? One man's trash is another man's treasure after all. We should all do our part to toss as much waste as possible, the livelihood of a future generation depends on it!

Anonymous said...

I think this is a worthy experiment, more power to you for trying it!!!

I'm currently teaching an afterschool mural program with NYC teenagers- our project is to paint a pro-recycling mural on carting containers for a company that does recycling and hauling for construction sites.

The owner of the carting co. has told me over the about the difficulty in getting properly sorted recyclable materials- so many are tossed out. She's also told us how the NYC area has run out of landfills- so we're paying poorer states to take our garbage (in their poor neighborhoods). Imaging how much garbage NYC produces in a day!!!

Also, our captialist pig Mayor Bloomberg stopped all glass and plastic recycling for YEARS.

I also agree with Dave that recycling in itself is not a final solution- the process is energy consuming and toxic- and usually done in low-income areas negatively affecting local's health. E-waste recycling is it's own nightmare, there's no real safe way to do it.

So kudos, I'll tell my students about your project!!!

justin said...

Heard you on KROQ had to check it out . Im very impressed and it makes me want to do my part.

Dave said...

Right on man and thanks for checking things out. So what's your part going to be?


Neil said...

Hey Dave,
maybe someone has mentioned this already, but you do know that, being a leap-year, 2008 has 366 days? :)
Good luck, and thanks for bringing this novel idea to the rest of us.

Dave said...

Hah, yeah, I didn't realize but more than a few people have pointed that out. Thanks for checking in!

Consume Less, Conserve More!!!!


Lauren said...

Hey Dave! I think your idea is brilliant! I know you probably get this a lot but i am really impressed that someone has brought the thought of conserving into mind and will go through with it! I believe that one you've accomplished your goal,you will have made a difference!

Anonymous said...

I heard your interview on WRIF this morning and decided to check you out. Thanks for enlightening us.

Scott Sanders said...

Hi, I heard your interview in Chicago on WGN radio this afternoon. I have to say it sounds like a great idea and will hopefully persuade more people to watch what they buy in the first place and especially what they get for "free" (product samples, brochures, junk mail, promo items, etc). Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

I just listened to you on XM156. What an amazing impact you are having on our enviroment as well and listeners. I am now much more aware of my familie's consumption, and hopefully will make small changes soon for our world. Thank you for everything!

aimswims said...

Wow! I was so inpsired by what you are doing after hearing you tonight on the radio. I listened with my 12 year old daughter and we had a great discussion about how we can begin to change our lives...starting with water bottles! Thanks for sharing this experience....I work with kids and I think they should all hear this message.

Dave said...

I can't tell you how happy emails like yours make me feel. Make sure to keep talking to that daughter of yours and more importantly, listen to her. I teach a seminar on sustainability to school kids and she is at that great age where she is questioning things. SHow here the injustices that are out there and she will want nothing more than to challenge them.

Enjoy your bottles!

Consume Less, Conserve More!!!


C. said...


Funny, because I was just thinking to myself a few weeks ago what would happen if the trash trucks stopped coming around to take away everyones garbage; We would be faced to deal with what we consume and throw out. Then I heard your interview on the XM radio earlier today and was so fascinated with what you are doing. Although I consider myself to be very conscious about what I buy and use, I think that the some of the things you pointed out today will help me to take my efforts further.

thanks for your courage in taking on this amazing project!

Kasia said...

I just stumbled on this project through a news article somewhere online.

I find it a very interesting experiment and also commendable.

I certainly hope this exercise raises some much needed awareness as to the amount of waste human beings produce and but also provides some solutions on dealing with our excessive consumption and waste production.

My only concern is the rule regarding your children and their waste. Anything and everything you do essentially leaves it's foot print on the bio-sphere. Wouldn't producing children (who themselves become consumers and produce waste) mean that you are responsible for the effects their existence has on the bio-sphere?

Dave said...

Thanks so much for your comment and for being spot on with your observation. Yes, my children will have a footprint, essentially my responsibility since I have brought them here (well my wife, but you know what I meant). That said, they are 4 and 6 and in school so I can't really be responsible for their waste stream all, or even most of the time. I decided to not include them not for reasons of overall impact, but for reasons of having an accurate study since I can truly say I'm accounting for everything that is mine, and then some. You'll notice that when they are with me, I take their waste, since in essence I am making their purchasing decisions. Would have loved to have them involved, but I just didn't know how honest it would have been in the long run.


Anonymous said...

Hey Sustainable Dave,

Just came across your blog via an article on the Internet and bravo for joining the effort. I've been doing what you have (well, I recycle everything immediately) with a result of having maybe a few gallons of trash a month. Time does seem to be the most constraining factor. Anyway since you're much better connected, here's an idea you can run with. Instead of vermicompsting, switch to a tumbling composter instead, then shred all your paper and use it as a carbon source to balance with the nitrogen rich food. Then build a crusher and ball-mill to reduce all glass to sand and add. You'll probably quadruple your sustainable waste! Next, build an unlicensed incinerator and shred and burn all our plastics at around 1800 F, but capture the cleaned emissions and capture the CO2. Now here is the piece that ties it together: Create a greenhouse, and use the homemade soil and captured CO2 to grow something quick-growing at a high concentration of C02. Your entire output, baring metals will be sustainable, and metals can easily be recycled. That's the vision I'm moving towards away. Good luck with your exploits.

In solidarity,
Fellow trash-obsessed citizen.

Dave said...

All I can say is....WOW. You're either poking fun at me or much smarter than I am (or both) and I applaud you for your efforts. Wild!


Chris said...

Good for you man. People would benefit from this type of experiment -- it brings real perspective to just how much we waste.

The National Wildlife Federation recently finished a send-a-letter-to-the-EPA widget and Facebook application that sends an official message to the Environmental Protection Agency urging them to recognize the impact greenhouse gases are having on our planet. We're trying to drum-up up some support for their cause. If you're so inclined, we'd appreciate a link to either application or simply spread the word! Thanks so much!

Widget: http://www.clearspring.com/widgets/48dd4c8e92491714

Facebook Application: http://apps.new.facebook.com/speakupforwildlife/

Luke said...

It's good to see that someone has taken responsiblity for their own waste. My family and I recycle as much as we can, but still wind up with at least one bag of trash every week. I applaud your efforts and hope to see you succeed.

Anonymous said...

Good job on your project im watching you on cnn right now "Greening the Holidays ecofriendly tips to reduce waste" this is on CNN keep up the good work Dave

JotSingh said...

Like many others, I saw you on CNN this morning. To date, I do little to recycle. If nothing else, you have made me more aware of what to buy and what to properly dispose of. Your site is now in my 'favorites' and will be read often. Thank you for your efforts.

Dave said...

Thanks so much for the nice note. That's the whole point of all of this, to get people to start thinking different.


jp said...

I saw you on CNN...you make it cool to recycle, subscribing

Brainy Blonde said...

Great site! Saw your special on CNN. I too am a green (hybrid driving thermos drinking trash recycling fiend ;) So happy to see someone else getting the word out there!



Roland said...

Hello from Strasbourg in France !
(and sorry for my not so good english)

I just discovered your very interesting website.
Comming from a man from the U.S.A. is a very positive thing, because the U.S.A. are the polluter number one on earth (follewed by China, but let's not forget China is the "production plant" of the industrial nations of this planet)
I am astonished what you achieved in waste reducing and I wish what you said in one of your latest comments becomes reality :
"get people to start thinking different"

I wish you a blessed christmas for you and your family.

Best regards, Roland

Anonymous said...

Dave, Amazing job with one glaring exception. Your families consumption of meat, including fish, is one of the worst contributors to destroying the environment. Even worse than car emissions. Have you considered going vegan, or at least vegetarian?

Dave said...

Thanks for the comment. I am actually a fish eating veggie and make pretty specific choices about the fish i eat. The project is mine not my families and while my wife is inclined to let go of meat, she's not there yet. All things in time and you can't force someone to do something they aren't ready to do.


Carol said...

Dave- Do you know about freecycle.org? It's also dedicated to keeping stuff out of the landfill.

Dave said...

I've written about them quite a bit.


Dave said...

I've written about them quite a bit.


Anonymous said...

I am very excited to hear that you have done this project, even though it's nearly over. I was actually looking for some advice. I'm almost 17 and am looking for ways to get environmentally active. We recycle as much as we can at my house, and compost too (mostly because of my constant urging to do so), but I want a way to reach out to other people in my community, especially others my age. I have joined the sustainability group at my school, but this group seems to talk more than take action. I am not sure what I can do, especially because my family and friends aren't very enthusiastic about my "green-ness". Do you have any advice?

Dave said...

Where do you live?


Anonymous said...

I live in Central Vermont.

website design nyc said...

nice post

Anonymous said...

I am Malaysian and my English is so poor.So,please dont laugh at me if my English got any mistake.Dave,you now are so famous even my country's newspaper-Sin Chew Daily News got an article for you.It is so good that got a lot of people very enthusiastic about our enviroment.But do you think what you have done are useful if the goverment still didnt have any action to protect our Earth?

Dave said...

Your English is quite good and thanks for stopping by. I completely agree that government has to be part of the solution but that said, as citizens, we should still do everything we can and pressure government to act as well.

It's like I tell people. Will me not drinking plastic water bottles fix the problem? No. But the problem can't be fixed until I stop.

Timisha said...

HI. I just found out about this today and I love how wonderfully you expressed everything in this first blog. I love the idea, I love that you completed it and I can't wait to see how it went.

Dave said...

Thank you so much for the kind words. I hope you find the journey educational and amusing!



Dylan said...

Hey Dave,
Good idea on this. I know that unless I had storage that I couldn't do this so mad props on doing this and completing it. It's crazy to know how much we waste and that we should do something about this at a faster rate.

Dave said...


Push Button Cash Site said...

Great work , thanks.

Used Cell Phones said...

I think it's a good idea.. i agree that recycling is better than throwing away. =)good point there.

Gabby Rosencrants said...

Dear Dave, I am in Mr. Dillan's AP Earth and Environmetal class. He told us about your project and I would just like say that I think it's really cool how you have shown people how they may impact the environment. Also, I admire your good deed in educating people about ways to reduce their impact. You went about it in a way no other person has ever thought of- pretty unique and interesting- and you continue to do so. More power to you! Just one question though; how exactly would one go about being garbage free? If you want, you can go to Mr. Dillman's blog to say something or answer questions. Thank you, for taking the time to read this, and for being so green!http://dillmanapenvironmental.blogspot.com/
- Gabby

Dave said...

Thanks Gabby,
I just posted something up there.

Reusable Bags said...

Idea is really good. Nice Article Posted. and i can't wait to see what you produce.