Trash On Your Back 5 Day Challenge

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Out of sight, out of mind is a common mantra when dealing with difficult problems.   Somehow, if it is not visible, it does not exist.  When problems seem bigger than ourselves we would rather they just go away than confront the need for change.

During Earth Week, sixteen members of the WM Sustainability Services team took on a common problem that most of us would rather just go away:  Trash. 

The team participated in the Trash On Your Back 5 Day Challenge, founded by Sustainability News & Entertainment’s Diana Dehm and inspired by MIT/Dartmouth College to innovate, motivate, and ask the simple question..."What is my personal trash impact on the planet?" The objective: carry all non-perishable trash personally generated in a specially designated bag wherever you go.  The average person generates approximately 4.4 lbs. of trash per day; our team’s goal was to improve upon that average by producing less than 4 lbs. during the entire week.

Waste Management joined participants aged 3-99, from other organizations throughout the world, with representatives from Africa, Australia, Canada, Jamaica and United States.  Over the course of the week, our team monitored our consuming behaviors and placed all wrappers, cups, paper and even boxes into our bags to carry each day.  At the end of the week, each participant would weigh in and sort materials by type, recyclable versus waste.

Many of us approached the challenge with a very competitive spirit and took a systematic view similar to consultative interactions with our WM customers.  We analyzed our personal “supply chain” and made choices that would produce less waste. Ideas ranged from the use of a reusable water bottle for daily drinks to bringing non-disposable plastic containers to a local fast food restaurant.  Each purchase, snack or daily task suddenly had a deeper meaning.  Similar to the dieter or athlete that monitors calories, we found that choices of recyclable content or compostable could often be easily be integrated into our daily lives.

By the end of the week, each of the team members was glad to have participated but also happy to remove the extra baggage.  The challenge was a fun way to take the issue of waste and create both a personal and educational experience.  Many were surprised at the amount of packaging that they produce on a weekly basis while others were happy to be an avid recycler.  A simple challenge that grew from 41 participants in 2012 to well over 400 in 2013, made a dynamic impact on individuals and the people they encountered.  Rather than simply throwing our trash away, we each took time to understand the value of the materials we produce.  Sustainability challenges such as zero waste are only solved when taking a similar approach.   When we understand that there is no “away”, we also begin to reimagine the concept of waste.

For those curious about outcomes of the participant weigh in follow the link https://www.facebook.com/trashonyourback.  As for my final weight, it included just less than one pound of total waste for the 5-day challenge.  Trash: 1.5 ounce | Recycle: .5 ounce | Organics: 12 ounces

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