Aight… mixin’ in a little commentary here… and I’m skippin’ the small talk!

…we’re pretty wasteful here in the good ol’ US of A.  We are throwing away twice as much as we did 50 years ago… our number is up to 4.5 pounds of waste a day/person.  This translates to 1,600 lbs of garbage a year…. now I’m no math major, but simple multiplication will tell ya that 75 straight years of consistent trashing results in 60 tons of waste per person…. Yowzers!

When we throw stuff away… where does it go?  Where in fact is ‘away’?  About 10 years ago a startling discovery was made in the mighty Pacific Ocean.  In areas referred to as gyres (zones that are trapped inside surrounding currents) a massive amount of garbage was found.  The two primary gyres of the Pacific are now two of the world’s largest landfills.  The ‘Eastern Garbage Patch’ is claimed to be twice the size of Texas while some say it’s as large as the entire lower 48!  It’s composed of 90% plastic and is a soupy mixture that contains as much as 100 million tons of debri.  Goo… doesn’t sound like a cheap or easy cleanup!

Here’s a pic showing how the garbage collects from current patterns.

For a clever way to spread the word about this floating landfill, check out Gyre Sticker…. on this site you can print out or buy a sticker of you guessed it, a gyre, and place them on any map of your desire.  Would definitely be a solid conversation starter!

Takin’ this trash talk up a notch… I showed you that number earlier of the quantity of junk we throw away (4.5 lbs/day).  Many don’t realize that this number is just a tiny piece of the pie.  Alarmingly, for every bag of garbage we put curbside, 70 bags are created upstream to make what was in that one bag!

Below is a chart showing what’s referred to as the Municipal Solid Waste… basically, everything we consciously throw away.

This chart here represents the Gross National Trash… all encompassing, everything included, production, mining, etc.  Note that the entire chart above represents 1% of this one!

*RCRA is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act… Special Waste = mining, processing, drilling wastes, etc.

Let’s multiply 60 (tons that we consciously throw away in our lifetimes) x 70 (ratio of waste that we don’t see)… Dear God… my calculator almost exploded!  We’re talking 8.4 million pounds of waste per person!  I’m laughing out loud right now… You know that sinister, muhaha laugh?  Yep, that one!

Alright, I imagine I’m depressing you all pretty good right now… I’m gonna go ahead and kick the horse while it’s down!

“If we recycle more, we won’t have to worry about all this garbage, right?”… “Wrong” I say!  As much as recycling is applauded as a solution, it is merely a postponement of the problem.  Take this, only 1 to 3% of plastic bags end up actually get recycled!  Why? Because it costs $4,000 to process and recycle 1 ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32!  Recycling can’t compete on the open market…. There’s a reason recycle comes last in the mantra, ‘reduce, reuse, recycle.’

This leads us to our solutions… Reduce and Reuse.  Take pressure off of the waste stream.  Get reusable shopping bags (Here or Here) and a sweet Sigg for your hydration needs (Here).  Cut down on packaging waste whenever you can… rock the bulk food in the grocery store, befriend Craigslist and other pre-loved sources, and completely cut out your organic waste by composting.  When you buy new, get something that will last…  Basically, do your best to become conscious of your own impact.  I’ve been paying much closer attention to what I throw away and have astonishingly found that I produce only a single bags worth of waste once every two months!  Recycling and composting can cut out the vast majority of what ends up in most people’s rubbish bins.

Another thing that I’ve been much more conscious of doing is picking up waste when I’m walking around in the city.  I’ve heard that people are much less likely to litter when roads and sidewalks are clean…. after all, if you see a whole pile of crap on the site of the street, what’s one more Big Mac wrapper gonna do?  I’ve trained myself to no longer ignore this garbage, and maybe, just maybe my actions might inspire one more person to pick up this habit as well.


About Joshua Foss

Joshua is a leading voice for transformational change. He is the editor of Metro Hippie, co-founder and director of development of the Ecala Group, and adjunct faculty at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He is also an ambassador for the Living Building Challenge and is a frequent speaker at national conferences, trade shows and summits.