What Happens If You Throw Nothing Away For Six Months? Imagine what it would be like to stockpile your garbage for an entire year. Dave Chameides is doing just that to understand how he affects the environment. Half-way through his project, we visits him to check in on his trash and his marriage.
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What Happens If You Throw Nothing Away For Six Months?

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What Happens If You Throw Nothing Away For Six Months?

What Happens If You Throw Nothing Away For Six Months?

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This is Day to Day, I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Madeleine Brand. Back in January, we introduced you to a man named Dave Chameides. That was when he began his year-long experiment.

COHEN: In an effort to raise awareness about his carbon footprint, Dave decided not to throw away his trash for a whole year. That's right, he's holding on to all of his garbage, recyclable or not, for one year. Well, we recently checked back with Dave to see how his experiment was going six months in.

Mr. DAVE CHAMEIDES (Trash Experimenter): Let me put it this way. I don't know that I totally thought this through completely, and had I thought it through, I might not have done it. So, I don't know if it went better than expectations, but it's gone very well. I had a lot less than I thought. Right now, I'm at 30 pounds of garbage, of stuff that would go to the landfill. And the average American is 720 pounds of garbage for the same amount of time, so I have significantly less, but even 30 pounds of garbage times, I don't know, 250 million Americans, or 300 million Americans, and that's a tremendous amount. So even when I looked down at the basement and I go well, everything is going to fit in here, hopefully, for a year and whatever, and then I start sort of mentally looking at this bigger picture - this picture getting bigger and bigger.

COHEN: So, let's see your basement, six months in.


COHEN: And see what you have.

Mr. CHAMEIDES: All right, be careful coming down the stairs because of all the bottles.

COHEN: OK. There are a lot of hazards here. OK, wow, this is not a big space.

Mr. CHAMEIDES: No, it's not. It's probably, I estimated at probably 20 by 10 or something like that, and...

COHEN: Well then, that's not really fair, then. I mean, you're sort of handicapping yourself.

Mr. CHAMEIDES: I don't have any other choice. I talked to my wife about keeping it in the bedroom and that just wasn't an option, so here we are in the basement.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: OK, so what do you have here?

Mr. CHAMEIDES: OK, so, well, coming down the stairs, we've got plastic bottles and glass bottles and whatnot. What you won't see, with a couple of minor exceptions, are water bottles, which is probably the preponderance of what most people use because I pretty much refuse to drink plastic water bottles, I carry around a little reusable.

COHEN: OK. What's this?

Mr. CHAMEIDES: So those are bottles. This, um, which is like two Tupperware containers, you'll see as we go though, everything else has a specific place and this is sort of the everything else things. So, there's some to go containers in here for - we went out of town a couple of weeks ago and we had to deal with those, and this is like, a plastic cookie tray.

COHEN: This is a, maybe two foot high container.

Mr. CHAMEIDES: Yeah, yeah.

COHEN: It's not that much.

Mr. CHAMEIDES: There's not a lot of it. It's, again, because of making choices about things and trying to do less.

COHEN: You're counting as part of your trash everything you could have recycled.

Mr. CHAMEIDES: Yes. It's not only trash which I'll show you in a second, but it's recycling as well. And a lot of people have said like, recycling? You're crazy. And again, recycling is a little bit of a crutch, so I think actually not being able to just have that disappear is a bit part of this, because again, I think that's a bigger part of the problem of what's out there, is people buy plastic stuff and don't have to think about it, and it's just - that's dumb.

Anyway, moving on, let's see. Well next, this is the paper box and this is all the paper that I've got. And you'll see on the top there's actually some newspaper. That's only because I received a package and that was the packaging. But the rest of what's in there is, you know, bills and receipts and you name it. I've pretty much eradicated my junk mail, which I'm pretty happy about. On an average day, I would say we get maybe one or two pieces of mail and that's it. But a lot of this goes into the shredder there and goes into the worm composter because the worms actually eat the paper, and so eventually most of that will end up as compost.

COHEN: Dave, what has been the most difficult thing for you in this whole process? The one that you've had the hardest time doing and adhering to?

Mr. CHAMEIDES: Well, the first week or so, it was a mental game because you don't realize until you have to stop it, how much you just throw something away without thinking about it, it's such a part of your nature to just, you know, in your pocket or whatever, and throw it. And sometimes I'd get to the garbage and put something in the first couple of weeks and then I'd go, oh, and then I'd have to take it out. So, that has been the toughest part, is just keeping it cognizance of it, if you will. So, it's really gone, yeah, it's gone pretty well. I mean, I've had a couple of missteps, definitely. I destroyed my wife's blender.

COHEN: She told us about that.

Mr. CHAMEIDES: It wasn't the best moment.

Ms. CHAMEIDES: Well, there was that day I came home from work and he wasn't expecting me quite yet, and I went into the kitchen to start looking for some dinner and I noticed that he had blended garbage in my blender. And why was he doing this, you ask, right? It's the worms, the worm composting bin, it requires him to chop up all the old fruits, vegetables, papers, egg shells and things like that, need to be cut really small before he puts it in the worm composting bin, and to save himself the effort, he threw it in my blender. And it's kind of stinky.

Mr. CHAMEIDES: Then there was - there was a scream. And there was a little bit of talking to and my wife basically was not happy with the fact that I was using her blender. But I will say this and I should just put this out there, my wife is a saint for letting me do this.

Mrs. CHAMEIDES: I'm proud of what he's doing, and though I wouldn't personally have taken this on myself, having two small children, I think that it's had a great impact on the family and that's really the payoff, so I'm happy that I married him.

Mr. CHAMEIDES: Oh, that's really nice. That warms the cockles of my heart.

COHEN: What are you going to do with all this stuff?

Mr. CHAMEIDES: That's a big question. Well, the recycling stuff, unless something else comes up, the recycling stuff will go to the recycling center and I'll take it there personally to make sure it gets there and whatever. The garbage, which is actually in these two boxes right here, and I'm at about 30 pounds for the six months, I'm trying to figure it out. We've talked about putting it on eBay.

COHEN: Really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHAMEIDES: I mean, if you look on eBay, there's crazy stuff on eBay and I don't see why no one would bid on this, so I don't know.

COHEN: Yeah but, I mean, you're just off loading your garbage to someone else.

Mr. CHAMEIDES: I mean, you know what? Let's put it this way. If I put it on eBay, it will be sort of a performance art piece, if you will. But I don't know, that's the big answer we're going over.

COHEN: What is this represent to you, this garbage?

Mr. CHAMEIDES: It represents, I mean it represents my footprint. It represents what I'm going to leave behind. Because this garbage, if I had put it into the garbage and thrown it away, quote, unquote, it would have gone to the landfill and eventually the landfill will be closed, and it would basically be there for eternity. And I don't want to leave my garbage as my testament for eternity, not that anybody's going to know it's mine, you know what I'm saying? So, yeah, I mean, it's going to sound very strange but in a weird way, I have an attachment to this. And if there are any therapists out there, maybe I should talk to one. But, you know, there's a lot of work that's gone into it, and I, I'm definitely proud when I look at these two small boxes and go that's all of my garbage for six months.

COHEN: That's Dave Chameides, you can see video of Dave showing his trash collection on our blog, Daydreaming, that's at npr.org/daytoday, and you can also leave a comment there for us, or for Dave.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Coming up in the show, it's the priestess of punk, Xene Cervenka, formerly of the band X. She's moved out of Los Angeles to the Midwest and she has a new art show.

Ms. EXENE CERVENKA (Punk Musician): I do a lot of - I'm going back and forth to the barn to do art out there, and then I write and play music inside the house and write songs. And then of course, I'm like Suzie Homemaker type, so I clean my house.

COHEN: On a personal note, X is one of my favorite bands.

BRAND: I know, maybe we're dating ourselves a little bit.

COHEN: A little bit.

BRAND: A little bit. It's one of mine, too. Blue Spark, Johnny Hit and Run Pauline...

COHEN: Of course, this song, Los Angeles we're listening to now, we'll hear more about the Exene of 2008, that's coming up later on in the show when Day to Day continues.

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