Americans’ consumer habits produce a hell of a lot of trash (4.5 lbs. per person, per day). About half of it ends up on landfills. It’s so much trash that it may be a bit hard for us to visualize it, so photojournalist Peter Menzen and writer Faith D’Aluisio embarked on a project together to show just how big a pile of trash American families produce.
The idea is similar to another photographic project showing what a week of groceries looks like across the world. Hint: it varies according to affluence, so it’s quite big in America. For “Waste in Focus,“ the artists stayed in the U.S., looking at what eight families around the country are recycling, composting and sending to landfill.
“We were most surprised by the amount of prepared food that we found in people’s trash,” says D’Aluisio in this interview. “In some cases it was more than 50 percent of their total food waste. This is in keeping with national statistics but it was a shock to see it in real life. I had our families save their food in separate containers so that I could ascertain edible versus inedible waste to determine the weight values. We were also surprised by the lack of newsprint until we learned from recyclers that while it is coveted material and highly recyclable, in many places few people read newspapers now.”
D’Aluiso says habits vary according to the municipality, levels of education and local rules. She believes rules and guidelines need to be kept simple to motivate people. Besides, grade schools are a good place to initiate children in the habit of recycling. “The phrase we find to have better resonance is ’lessening our waste footprint.’ The idea of lessening one’s waste footprint is an action, and certainly education would be a part of that. One can be made literate on a subject, but still not cause an action,” she adds.
Image credit: Peter Manzel
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