Imagine if you had to carry around every scrap of garbage you generated for one full month. What does life look like when waste that cannot be recycled, composted or reused within a few days goes into a bag and must be carried on your person everywhere you go — out for a dinner date, to the movies, to a job interview, on a business trip. Everywhere.
words :: Brian Finestone illustration :: Dave Barnes
It started with coffee cups. Opening any bear-proof bins in Whistler reveals dozens, maybe hundreds, of paper coffee cups. Each cup has a paper jacket and plastic lid, both of which could have been recycled. Upon seeing recyclables in the trash, even at my home and work, I became increasingly alarmed at the volume of garbage being generated around me and the seed for the 30-Day Garbage Challenge was planted. I wondered if people would care more, or take the few extra steps needed to recycle, if they had to carry around their own garbage for the world to see. And so, after a Christmas break where the garbage room in my complex became an overflowing pile of plastic packaging and waste, I took out the trash … everywhere.
I took my trash snowboarding, to meetings, and on a trip to Colorado. You catch some strange looks when you’re sending a clear plastic bag of garbage through airport security X-ray machines, or sitting it on the table at fancy restaurants in Beaver Creek and Vail.
“Despite repeated washing and rinsing, the pads started to smell like a cadaver after a couple of days so I was forced to toss them out. Everything else went into the bag and came along for the month.”
But I learned very quickly. Most of the waste items we generate are the result of front loaded convenience – paper coffee cups “to go” versus sitting down to a cup of coffee in a ceramic mug or bringing your own reusable travel cup. The challenge forced me to be proactive when eating out, particularly while travelling, in order to avoid plastic straws and single use plastic food wrapping wherever possible. I am now much more creative when it comes to planning and packing food for lunches, always looking to alternatives that can be reused or composted after multiple uses.
At home, I shop with an increased scrutiny of what packaging companies use to bring their products to market. The one item I tried to wash and carry, but had to abandon, was absorbent meat pads saturated with blood. Despite repeated washing and rinsing, the pads started to smell like a cadaver after a couple of days so I was forced to toss them out. Everything else went into the bag and came along for the month.
I encourage others to take up the challenge, tell people what they are doing, and nominate more people to try it for themselves. Share the effort on social media platforms and use the hashtag #30DayGarbageChallenge. Bad habits die pretty quickly when you have to lug them around with you all the time.