February 7, 2008 1:26 PM PST

Ecobloggers bring the landfill home

Ecobloggers bring the landfill home

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

Ari Derfel likes living with his garbage. He hasn't thrown anything away in more than a year, but he insists he doesn't suffer from any compulsive hoarding disorders.

Rather, Derfel views the bins of bottles, boxes, leaflets, cartons, and wrappers he's stacked in his Berkeley, Calif., home as fruits of a continued meditation about sustainability.

"Something inside me doesn't feel right every time I throw things away," said Derfel, who runs an organic catering company. "When I look around at the piles, it's like, 'Hey, man, here's your life. Here's what you spend your money on and put in your body.' It has a profound impact."

Derfel, 35, is joined by a handful of bloggers who are going to extremes to keep their trash out of the landfill. Motivated by global warming, they say they are fed up with promiscuously packaged, toxic products and other evils of conspicuous consumption they say are trashing the planet.

These pack rats are stashing their trash at home and then writing about, photographing, and even weighing it. They belong to a growing cadre of "green" lifestyle bloggers who provide a personal angle to broader issues covered by big-name ecoblogs such as Treehugger.com.

Although blogging about green topics is not new, there does appear to be a shift in the tone of some of that discussion. About 43 percent of the bloggers tracked by market research firm Umbria describe sustainability as the responsibility of individuals before corporations. Derfel agrees. And these personalized takes on green blogging that he and other green lifestyle bloggers offer up are a growing part of that larger online discussion surrounding environmental issues.

Photos: Green bloggers stash trash

"The days of people who want to make change criticizing everybody are kind of over," Derfel said. "I wasn't going to go yell at companies that they're not doing a good job. I was going to see what I, myself, can do."

To avoid packaging, Derfel and other trash bloggers tote reusable bags to the grocery store, carry reusable water canteens, and buy in bulk. They even count their nail clippings, rip off the paper tablecloths from chic restaurants, and fly home with waste from Hawaii vacations. Composting food scraps for garden fertilizer keeps them from dwelling with a vermin-infested stench. "Not In My Backyard" environmentalism it's not.

In the process, they say they are saving money and discovering meaningful side benefits, like spending more time on hobbies, exercising more, cooking meals, and hanging out with family instead of shopping.

Similarly, Dave Chameides, 38, calls "Refuse, reuse, recycle" his mantra. The Los Angeles man, who operates a Steadicam for popular TV shows for a living, started storing his garbage in the basement this year.

January's heap includes two bags of recyclable paper and cardboard, a plastic box of potentially reusable items including a strawberry basket and egg carton, a bag of plastic bags and wrappers, 30 plastic and glass bottles, and a worm compost bin.

Because his wife and children aren't participating, Chameides must make extra efforts, like marking containers from which he eats. The household already aims to thin its trash, banning juice packs for the kids in favor of refillable sippy cups.

Both Derfel and Chameides are confounded by hard-to-recycle items, such as juice boxes that mix plastic, paper, and aluminum. However, they cite consumer electronics as the worst source of waste, thanks to excessive plastic and foam packaging.

Chameides proudly keeps a modest tray of e-waste. Using rechargeable batteries helps, but he still had to toss in a dead cell phone battery alongside five light bulbs.

Chameides' and Derfel's trash piles may be modest compared to national averages, but they reflect patterns in what Americans throw away overall. Each person in the United States produces 4.6 pounds of garbage each day, up from 2.7 pounds in 1960, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And with recycling and composting taken into account, net waste amounts to about 2.5 pounds per day.

Up to 65 percent of the nation's 251 million tons of annual waste comes from households as opposed to businesses and institutions, according to the EPA.

And although the majority of U.S. consumer waste is recyclable, just under one-third of it actually gets recycled. The EPA ranks paper products as making up more than two-thirds of U.S. waste, with yard trimmings next, followed by food scraps and plastics, which each make up about 12 percent of national totals.

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1 comment

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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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