February 7, 2008 1:26 PM PST

Ecobloggers bring the landfill home

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A photograph of an albatross carcass brimming with swallowed bottle caps inspired Beth Terry, an accountant in Oakland, Calif., to collect all of her plastic garbage and blog about it.

"It hit me like a knife and I was thinking, 'I can't contribute to this anymore,'" she said.

Terry weighs her plastic trash, which averages about 20 items totaling less than an ounce, each week. To avoid plastic containers, she makes her own yogurt, uses bar shampoo, and whips up toothpaste from baking soda, vodka, and cinnamon. She keeps bamboo utensils on hand for lunch, and places fruits and vegetables naked in the shopping cart, sans baggies.

Terry had her water tested to make sure it was safe without a filter, which contains plastic. Her handy father helped her fix a defunct blow dryer so she didn't have to purchase a new one.

Despite their best intentions, however, Terry, Derfel, and Chameides are failing to produce zero waste. There are some things they can't avoid, like the uninvited, plastic-wrapped yellow pages that show up on the doorstep, and doubled-up bags proffered by well-meaning store clerks. Cheese is the biggest challenge for Terry.

"You can go to the deli at Safeway and get cheese wrapped in paper, but I don't want to eat that cheese," she said. "It's not organic."

A Vancouver, B.C., investment banker going by the blog pen name of EnviroWoman may be even more stringent as she enters her second year of attempting to live without new plastic. She refuses to buy energy-efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs, for example, because they contain a base partly made of plastic.

"It's bigger than just trash," said New Yorker Leila Darabi. "The whole green blog world is growing exponentially."

Her blog, Everyday Trash, follows the trend she calls "garblogging," which encompasses those who track their trash, wonky policy analysts, and a quirky subgenre of writers who run "trashion" sites about clothing made from waste.

Reducing waste, growing a network
An informal international network of "compactors," who pledge to buy nothing new, has mushroomed online from a cluster of San Francisco friends. And the trash trackers and compactors are less extreme than high-profile zero-impact blogger Colin Beavan of New York City, known as No Impact Man, whose family lived by candlelight and without toilet paper for a year.

There also have been collective Web-based challenges along similar lines. Crunchy Chicken, a blog by 37-year-old Seattle mom Deanna Duke attracts 26,000 readers monthly, and got 200 people to join her challenge to eliminate food waste, according to Duke.

"I think it will catch on," Darabi said of those who chronicle attempts to reduce their waste. "It's an activism tool that's being honed and used and is easy to replicate."

Ari Derfel plans to launch a challenge on Earth Day, daring 100 people to track their trash as he's done. Later this year, several of his yoga teacher friends will be touring Europe with their own trash in tow, showing it off as they hop across borders.

And Derfel aspires to create a documentary about the experience, a sort of Super Size Me about garbage. Chameides, meanwhile, has already been filming his own project, hoping to bring a very personal effort further into the public mindset.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of plastic trash Beth Terry accumulates and weighs, and the frequency with which she does so. Terry weighs her plastic trash, which averages about 20 items totaling less than an ounce, each week.

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Thank you.... I think?
Thank you for limiting your trash output. But I seriously wonder about the point of the article. It starts with someone just keeping all his trash in his house to photograph and weight it (just gross) and ends with people who make their own alcohol based toothpaste or don't use lights or toilet paper but can blog (by candlelight right)?

Thank you for bringing awareness to the situation but is going to such extremes that helpful? It's nice that you're making examples for the people that are actually reading your blogs but how are you reaching people not reading them? For the most part - you're only reaching a market that's already aware of your cause. Furthermore - not buying fluorescent light bulbs because they contain plastic - but then to use regular ones? Does anyone else see the stupidity here? Save on energy - the plastic is a once in 5-7 year investment.

I agree that something has to be done but I don't think it's going to be accomplished by going to extremes. Maybe there needs to be better recycling availability and more mandatory recycling. Maybe we need to make manufacturers start packaging items in more eco-friendly packaging instead of that tight plastic that nobody can open and then you can't re-use. Maybe people need to learn to use 2nd hand shops and donate to them too!

It's just a matter of how easy it is. I live in a rural state. We don't have mandatory recycling. We barely even have recycling centers. I think my town has one but I don't even know what all they accept. I've only seen a recycling bin for phone books and grass clippings.

Maybe change should start on a more basic level.
Posted by jacx (1 comment )
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