Junk in the Trunk

Seattle design analyst Linda Carlin wanted to determine her exact contribution to the landfill. To do this, she agreed to haul all of the trash she produced, but not to the city dump. Rather, wherever Carlin went, her trash, literally, was sure to follow.

For two weeks, Carlin, who works for Frog Design Inc., an international design consulting firm, committed to carry all of the trash that she generated in a nylon bag. That meant lugging it everywhere, including the office, restaurants, shops, home and staff meetings. Her trash was to be no more than five feet away at all times. “My goal was to learn what I could and modify behaviors that I think I may — in the long term — be able to modify, but not change things I knew I wouldn't,” Carlin explains. “So, I wanted to see what would be sustainable for me.”

The project, a creation of design analyst Ashley Menger of Frog Design's Austin, Texas office, was the result of “green” initiatives that company executives were recommending for clients. Carlin says that Menger wanted to live the practices that the company was promoting to their Fortune 500 clients. Project participants could recycle, compost, incinerate or donate unwanted items. However, nothing could be thrown in garbage cans. Carlin detailed the experience in her blog, “Trash Talk,” which can be found at www.frogdesign.com/frogblog. There she notes that the reality of the project first hit home when she stumbled upon an old thermostat during a weekend a cleanup and realized she would have to carry it with her for two weeks.

To generate less garbage, Carlin abandoned foods packaged in non-recyclable materials and carried plastic containers for leftover food, silverware (which one restaurant mistakenly collected while clearing the table), and napkins made from old towels. Carlin sought every opportunity to eliminate her trash, going so far as asking her dentist if biodegradable dental floss existed (it doesn't). Even pet waste was subject to the rules of the project, and Carlin kept this in a plastic container at her home for the two-week duration.

By the end of her slated time frame, Carlin had generated one pound of trash. Her small bag held items such as Q-Tips, bottle caps, plastic food packaging, a sample cup from Starbucks and a Styrofoam egg carton. Her efforts garnered the attention of her fellow employees, many of whom are reusing items that they once would toss in the trash. “I've been trying not to be the ‘green’ police at work, but I notice a little change in co-workers,” Carlin says, adding that consumers across the country have written to say they've adopted similar trash reduction practices after reading her blog.

Since completing the project, Carlin has yet to dispose of her trash. And, despite earlier “moments of unconscious action” — such as accidentally using a paper towel — and the realization that behavior changes require a significant amount of time, she ably summarizes the project's impact in her blog: “[I]deally, it'll mean a few hundred less pounds of garbage in our landfills — a small step, but, a measurable one.”

TAGS: Generators