Carry That Waste

Carry That Waste

On my way from Arizona to Brooklyn, I’m spending a week in my hometown of Denver, giving me a chance to practice low-impact living in a medium city before taking it on in the swarming mass of consumption that is New York. I’ve started taking “navy showers”, turning off the water when I lather up. I’m also resisting the chiding comments of my family and friends and avoiding driving and riding in cars whenever possible, instead relying on my bike, longboard and public transit to get around.

The most interesting experiment, though, has been carrying around my trash. Rather than simply tossing stuff into the nearest trashcan/recycling bin, I’ve been stuffing all my waste into a big plastic bag that I try to take wherever I go… though I forget more often than I’d like to admit. The idea is that by making myself directly responsible for the waste I create, I’ll be less likely to create it in the first place.

After four days, it’s been working even better than I could’ve hoped. I’m constantly aware of how much I’ve accumulated – so far, a few yogurt cups, a bunch of newspaper clippings on sustainability (courtesy of my well-meaning parents), a broken clothes hanger, random napkins, envelopes, and junk mail, an aluminum can, a plastic fork, and some banana peels.

Even better, all the little thoughtful things I could never seem to remember before just come naturally. I used to be an awful reuseable-cup-user, but now the idea of having to haul around a bunch of paper cups for a week makes me think twice before I leave for the coffee house. Instead of grabbing a new sheet of paper to write a to-do list, I just reach in the bag and tear off a clean scrap of paper. And because I don’t want to know what week-old salmon smells like, I find myself finishing the all food on my plate (if there was compost around, I’d be okay dumping food scraps, but there’s not).

So far it’s officially a one-week experiment, though it’s been so successful, I’ve been toying with the idea of doing it more regularly. Not only would it be good for my own footprint, but it would send a powerful message wherever I go – I could even come up with a catchy phrase to scrawl on the bag (any ideas?). There’s some definite issues I’d have to work out: separating garbage and recyclables, dealing with inevitable odors, and finding/making a more permanent bag that I can easily carry around and wash out. But as they say, every designer loves a good challenge, and if it brings me that much closer to one-planet living, I just might be up for it.


6 thoughts on “Carry That Waste

  1. nelophone says:

    Great post man, and an interesting and admirable effort you’re undertaking. You may call me an eco-softie (or a member of the eco-tocracy), but the one issue I have with such radical lifestyle changes is that, contrary to your assertion, I don’t believe you are responsible for all the waste you create. Rather, you are responsible for everything that you consume. The fact that your coffee cup is not biodegradable, or that your shoes, cell phone or whatever will contaminate the groundwater when it is thrown away…these things are not necessarily your fault. You did not design the systems that bring the products that you choose to use to your doorstep, and we know you would have done it better, and will.

    Still, this logic could easily be used as a convenient excuse for inaction so long as current systems remain in place, so once again, good work.

  2. Brock says:

    Good point, Nelson – I shouldn’t feel any shame for the cradle-to-grave systems that I had no role in creating. But part of my experiment is to show that I don’t have to support those systems while I wait for better ones to be put into place. By watching my waste, and voluntarily making myself responsible for it, I’m trying to reduce my dependence on the landfill as much as I personally can.

  3. Rob Archangel says:

    Hey dude,

    I agree with Nelson, and do also see that it can be a convenient excuse for inaction.

    I like the point that Derrick Jensen makes, which is: how can we leverage the most power to create the changes we want. Where is the destructive system vulnerable, and where can you have the greatest impact. So he notes, for example, that people have told him he shouldn’t fly around the country. Ok, he says, so he did the math. All his flights annually come to about one ten-millionth of a % (or thereabouts) of American Airlines revenue, so when he refuses to fly, he’s flexing a very small lever. Likewise with voting. Sure, they’re something, but what’s the most far-reaching thing you can do?

    He responds to people who say, “Well, if everyone refused to fly American Airlines, that cumulative impact would be huge.” he counters, “Sure, but now we’re talking about fantasies, and if you’re imaginign everyone coming on board to boycott AA, why not imaging everyone coming on board to do far more radical things.”

    Anyway, I really do like the waste carrying, and think that it has a huge pyschological effect. I think sometimes about why we’re so apt to just discard things, and I think it has at least partly to do with the fact that for most of humanity’s time on Gaia, we didn’t typically produce anything that couldn’t just be left on the ground without really causing trouble. Food scraps, basic organic fabrics, earth-based shelters, all of it could be walked away from to be completely ecosystemically re-assimilated. But now, so much isn’t biodegradable, is toxic or foreign and is a danger. Even our produce is often from completely different regions with different nutrient profiles, so that it’s hard-pressed to be reabsorbed easily. So for example, to throw an apple into apple-growing soil isn’t so bad, but to throw a mango or banana or pineapple may be.

    So in some ways, I think it’s going against our nature, our evolved habits, to have to worry about waste.



  4. Roy says:

    Love the carry the waste idea.

    Worthy if only to make visible the waste we contribute to, and reminds us (and those you interact with) to make the little effort to remember to bring along your cup, remember to take small portions so you don’t waste food you won’t eat, make the effort to buy the large yogurt container rather than multiple small ones, etc.

    My only question is about the orange and banana peels or apple core. Those feel to me like proper waste. Though just carrying them around until find a composting bin, then I’m sold.

    Will put my mind to a good logo, and think it might be quite fun to take on a one week challenge. Of course with a brand new baby we are truly bad eco citizens with these disposable diapers. Hmm. Not sure I’m ready to consider the alternative, but why not look into it.


  5. Rob Archangel says:


    May I humbly suggest Elimination Communication? Here’s my favorite site about it: and here’s a great general portal to internet EC info:

    The basic principle is, you become attuned to your child’s need to eliminate waste, just as you become attuned to his or her need for food, and then you facilitate their eliminating waste in an appropriate setting (over a toilet or sink, in a bush, whatever), typically utilizing a keyword or sound. It’s far more sanity for the child, involves far less waste, and many parents report that it helps build a stronger bond.

    Check it out.

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