August 4, 2010

Overflowing trash cans

Copyright 2010 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

 The Environmental Protection Agency reported that in 2006, “… U.S. residents, businesses, and institutions produced more than 251 million tons of municipal solid waste, which is approximately 4.6 pounds of waste per person per day.”  (  

In other words, each person in the U.S. created, on average, 1,679 pounds of trash that year.  

Trash in Harbour water

Copyright 2010 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by the year 2050, the  population of the United States will be more than 439 million people-up from 310, 233,000 as of July 2009. (  

Pretzels in trash can

Copyright 2010 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The amount of trash produced by the year 2050 remains to be seen-and it is important to remember that these numbers apply to just the United States.  

Backwater River Trash

Copyright 2010 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Trash is just the end product of a much more complicated equation.  In 1955, Victor Lebow described a culture driven by consumption (“The Story of Stuff” provides more information.)  Such a lifestyle appears to be a major issue for many, but certainly not all, people around the world.  Indeed, the United States and other industrialized/industrializing nations seem to have developed a “throw-away” culture in which it is convenient to dump old, used, unfinished, and/or unwanted products in the trash (or on the ground, in the water, etc.) without thinking (or caring?) about the consequences.    

(More about plastics that end up in the sea can be found in this article from Scientific American.) 

Broken bottles in street

Copyright 2010 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The problems of consumption and trash do not, of course, apply to everyone as the “reduce, reuse, recyle” message has become a way of life for many.  If you already do your part, forgo reading the rest of this entry.  For others, please read on. 

As the world becomes more populous and natural resources are reduced, the need for larger-scale changes in consumption becomes more evident.  Change is not an easy process.  However, thinking about one’s behaviour is a place to start.  Dr. James O. Prochaska and others have developed a “Transtheoretical Model” which identifies the process, stages, and issues related to change.  It is interesting to apply this model to consumption. 


Copyright 2010 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

At the most basic level, change begins with increasing one’s awareness of  an issue.  Complete the following exercise (this is the audience participation portion of the blog):

1.  Start with gathering some data.  Take a week and keep a list of everything thrown away as it is being thrown away (remember, items are often pitched without thinking about them and this is a consciousness-raising exercise.)   Better yet, take a photograph or a short video of the trash with a cell-phone camera (after all, this is a photography blog.)

2.  At the end of the week,  determine which of those items could have been reused or recycled.  More importantly, think about which of those items you really did not need to begin with.  A need is different than a want.

3.  Next is the difficult part-think about what you think about that list.   If you decide you care, even a little bit, think about how you might reduce or reuse the items on the list-the internet has many sites devoted to reducing, reusing, and recycling.  This might also mean not puchasing certain items in the first place. 

Students with whom I have worked on such an exercise are almost uniformly impressed with how much trash a single person can generate in a week.  Some decide they care and then go on to take the necessary steps to change their behaviour.   Others decide that they care, but that it is too inconvenient to be bothered.  A few decide that they do not care at this point in their lives.   And some ask “What difference does one person make?” 

What would have happened if Paul Rusesabagina and/or Oscar Schindler had adopted the “just one person” line of thinking?

Take care.


One Response to “Trash”

  1. Laurel Says:

    Fascinating stuff! I especially like the question you ask the readers to pose to themselves – do you care? How MUCH do you care? It would be neat to see where each of these pictures was taken and the context they were taken in – maybe in the caption?

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