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Sustainable Dave

In typical teenager fashion, I used to roll my eyes when my mom washed the tin foil... or re-used sandwich bags... or hung our laundry on the line instead of using the clothes dryer. She isn't American, or at least she wasn't born here. She grew up in World War II-era England. So she conserved because, well, that's what she always did.

How quaint, I thought, how... Old Europe.

Everything old is new again. And now, guilty about being an over-consuming, wasteful American, I've adopted most of her ideas. Even this.

(I drew the line at knitting a sweater out of dog hair.)

Dave Chameides, though, has gone even further than my mom.

He's conducting an experiment: throw nothing away for an entire year.

That means all the waste he generates goes into his basement. Every soda bottle, every tuna fish can, every strand of dental floss. It all gets cataloged here and then sorted into various bins and bags in the basement.

Check out Dave in his basement on this video: (Note: Video is still uploading.)

Here's what surprised me most: he's six months into it, and the basement is not packed to the rafters. In fact, it's not even half -full. Now, granted, Dave doesn't live like most of us. He's a super-conserver. He drives a veggie oil car, he brings his own utensils and cups with him when he goes to a Starbucks or a fast-food place. He never, ever uses a plastic bag at a grocery store. And he says he won't buy things like DVDs that are encased in plastic packaging. Instead, he writes the manufacturer to tell them why he didn't buy it.

Dave says his experiment is like writing down all the food you eat when you want to lose weight: when you see what you consume, you consume less.

So what happens at the end of the year? Where will his basement full of garbage go? Most will be recycled. The rest? Well, maybe he'll put it on eBay and sell it.

How American.



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Dave does not speak clearly enough for us to enjoy his comments. I do not know if his speed or if your microphone needs adjusting. Othwise, what we can understand is very intersting. My wife would not have been very forgiving if she came home and found something in blender!

Sent by Michael | 1:34 PM | 7-9-2008

This trash saving effort opens our eyes to the ridiculous amount of waste we generate mindlessly. A while ago, I found a story of a guy who did the same thing, Ari Derfel. He is a kindred spirit with an easy blog. "When we throw something away, what does 'away' mean?" said Derfel. "There's no such thing as 'away.' "
I re-analyzed my personal waste and immediately cut it to less than a fourth with almost no effort. Simple awareness and a little creative thought is all it took. The biggest impact was targeting food packaging: Loose fruits and veggies instead of pre-packaged; no fast food; eliminate food in wrappers, boxes or cans; no more water bottles or soda; re-usable bags at all stores. My plan to have a zero waste footprint is underway and actually possible.

Sent by Hiro Protaganist | 2:19 PM | 7-9-2008

Wow. Cool piece Madeleine. I darsay that i'm to blame for speaking too quickly and swallowing my words too much. My apologies. Too many years as a camera operator trying NOT to be seen/heard I guess.

I love the fact that Hiro points out he was able to cut his trash to less than a fourth with almost no effort. It just goes to show you that a lot of our waste is due to convenience and a lack of cognizance.

Consume Less, Conserve More!!!!


Sent by Dave | 2:51 PM | 7-9-2008

By the way, I can't tell you how mmuch it cracks me up that you can hear the dog drinking in the background at the beginning of the video. Hysterical.

Sent by Dave | 2:52 PM | 7-9-2008

The Sustainable Dave series is interesting and valuable. However, both Dave and Madeleine persist in using the terms "garbage" and "trash" interchangeably. I have high regard for NPR, not least because it often stands as a guardian of sound and rational English usage. One of the frequent flaws in NPR's generally literate record is the conflating "trash" and garbage." This error represents not merely a violation of some quaint, musty, outdated grammatical footnote (e.g. never split a infinitive), but one more small blunting of our ability to represent the world in language. Might as well throw away your hammer when you find you can manage to bang nails into a board with a hand saw. The two different words have survived because they refer two different phenomena in the real world. Garbage refers to organic waste, such as one might feed into the *garbage* disposal. Completing this note I find that several dictionaries disagree with this definition. Nevertheless, as we begin to feel the hot breath of the Anthropocene Dragon that we have awakened, our ability to distinguish compostable orange peels from petroleum-derived water bottles should be preserved

Sent by Robert J. Hommon | 4:40 PM | 7-9-2008

This is a novel approach to highlighting one of the environmental problems Americans are facing. But come on-70lb? As he said this is less than 1/3 of what the average person tosses. Go deeper please. Get real please.

Consumers are only the tip of the problem.

Yes, consumers make choices that can effect change but that is only one facet of how to solve the problem. Should corporations be responsible for the life cycle of products they create? Recycling helps but can we recycle our way out of it? Why can't/won't LA or other cities ban plastic bags (excessive packing)? What role do off-gassing landfills play in global warming? Not to mentioned the air quality effects of driving all this trash around.

Story of Stuff (I'm sure you've seen it)
Trashed documentary

Real issues deserve real coverage.

Sent by Mary beth | 5:28 PM | 7-9-2008

Thanks for your comment, Mary beth. Some good ideas there to pursue for future stories.

Still, I think Dave's story is valuable. How many people, after all, are really trying to reduce their footprint for the good of the planet? Every little bit helps, no?

Sent by Madeleine | 7:04 PM | 7-9-2008

We have lived in suburban Seattle for 23 years and never signed up for garbage service. We grow some fruits and vegetables, shop at farmers' markets and purchase unwrapped and low impact goods as much as we can. Haven't used plastic bags for years. No garbage disposal but a great have a compost bin and four garbage containers, one each for Glass, Plastic, Aluminum, and Things We Can't Reuse or Recycle. Once in a while, we take stuff to the recycling center or the trash collection site. Paper is reused or composed. Used magazines and books go to the library for resale or are exchanged with friends and family. Our home is passive solar design so we purchase less energy than many. We collect water from the roof for plants and we dry clothes on a line. It's simple and easy; not perfect but getting better.

Sent by Jeanne Large | 7:47 PM | 7-9-2008

Mary Beth,
I totally agree with you and in fact, have put it out there many times that I think LA/Ca should take some future date, say 2012, and let companies know that non-sustainable packaging will no longer be sold in los Angeles. Put it to them to make the change. I've written several reps about this and receive the usual replies. Perhaps if there were a greater groundswell.

Sent by Dave | 10:40 PM | 7-9-2008

Great story. NPR should follow this one up with a similar quest by another guy named Dave. David Bruno is currently blogging about his desire to fight consumerism by eliminating most of the unnecessary "stuff" in his life. He calls it the 100 Thing Challenge. Check out his blog page...

Sent by gail lehman | 9:49 AM | 7-10-2008

I just wanted to let you know that while we were listening to the program about Dave and how much he cares for the environment and having a small footprint, I looked over at my 30 year old daughter, mother of three, and she was crying because she was so moved about Dave caring so much to make a difference. Dave, do you have a brother? she needs a good man like you! Much LOVE Brigitte

Sent by brigitte | 2:16 PM | 7-11-2008

Wow, Brigette, I can't tell you how much that means to hear. Your daughters children are lucky to have a mom who is so caring herself. I can't tell you how much that made my day!

Sent by Dave | 1:25 AM | 7-12-2008

I loved this story. I often get tired of people who don't care about recycling/reducing waste. I am always the one fishing something reusable or recyclable out of the trash and reprimanding others for "wanting my grandchildren to live in a landfill" (My favorite phrase; Wall-E comes to mind.) It's a hard uphill battle to get people motivated to action. I have a "Piece of Flair" on my Facebook that reads, "Dude, it's just not that hard" with a recycling symbol in the backdrop. I wish more people would "Do a Dave" and help reduce waste. I am in awe of your efforts!

Sent by Kimberly Huizinga | 4:02 PM | 7-16-2008