Is taking a cross-country road trip on your bucket list? How about a trip that stops at more than 100 landfills, recycling centers and other waste related places around the United States? That’s exactly the kind of trip that Philip Corrigan and Margaret Morales took this past summer to investigate what happens to our trash after we throw it away, and they chronicled their trip over at their website, The Trash Blog.
After Morales worked on a documentary about an artist who employed reused materials in her work, the pair began pondering where exactly “away” is when we throw things away. Many times our trash will travel significant distances before reaching a landfill – Corrigan discovered that in Washington where he grew up his was often driven all the way to Oregon for disposal – and this seemed troubling to the couple. Corrigan also did some work with the homeless community, which made him reconsider what he thought of as waste.
“I was doing some work in social work, particularly with homeless individuals, and something I noticed among the people I worked with is that they always knew what to do with garbage. It was not garbage to them. They had a use for almost everything,” Corrigan said.
The idea of a road trip had always appealed to the pair, and after ruminating on their experiences with waste, the couple decided to make their road trip about exploring where waste goes. They planned a trip that would visit artists, activists, governments, businesses, researchers and anyone else who might have an interesting connection to our trash. Then, over three and a half months, they drove 15,000 miles through 26 states to ask questions and gather information about the way we deal with waste.
Tracing Your Trash
For most of the places Corrigan and Morales visited, they wrote at least one post for their blog about their experience and observations. They categorize their visits by both method of disposal and material, and a handy map shows each of the stops they made. Their travels suggest just how many different places waste ends up and make readers question what exactly is “waste” in the first place.
While the pair did visit landfills and other places that deal with things that can’t easily be reused, their trip also took them to many places that help keep waste out of landfills.
One such place was a recycling center in Seattle, which Corrigan said stood out to them because of the partnership the facility had with a drug and alcohol treatment center. The facility employed people enrolled in the program, which helped those people earn money.
Reuse was also a theme of many visits. “Scrap stores” that sell reused materials to artists and other community members were an interesting example of the secondhand economy, Morales explained. Other reuse ideas were even more interesting:
“One thing that I got really interested in when it comes to reuse is actually deconstruction work,” Morales said. “People who know that a house is going to be demolished, they go in there and try to salvage whatever they can: cabinets, windows, doorknobs. There was a guy in Connecticut who made a store that was kind of like a scrap store but with all this stuff he had salvaged from buildings…There is just so much of this waste. There’s already so much energy that’s gone into these building materials. Turning them away is such a waste.”
Plenty of unconventional uses for waste pop up in The Trash Blog, too. Corrigan and Morales also visited a number of artists and art projects that make use of our waste including a woman in Oregon who builds large sculptures of sea creatures from litter that washes up on beaches and an artist-in-residency program in the Bay Area where participants actually recover all their materials from the city’s waste stream.