Going Trash-Free for One Year
Some words are
like plastic: They linger long after they’ve been tossed out.
get comments like, ‘Any time I throw something away, I think of you,’”
said Adam Korst, photojournalist with the Polk County Itemizer-Observer.
sounds like an insult,” he said, “but they mean it in the best way
This is actually the reaction they’re looking for,
according to wife Amy Korst, a freelance writer. Both she and her
husband want people to think about their garbage habits.
time you reach for the trash,” she said, “if you make that motion a
conscious thing, [you realize that you] reach for the trash so many
times a day. I really was kind of amazed.”
With little over two
months left to go, both Adam, 26, and Amy, 25, are nearing the end of
their yearlong mission. Since July of 2009, they have been on a quest to
find the answer to a simple question: Is it possible for a couple to
live for an entire year without placing trash in a landfill, in the
country that produces more waste each year than any other country in the
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the
average American produces roughly 4.6 pounds of garbage daily. Three
pounds of it goes directly to a landfill.
So far, most of the
trash the Korsts have been completely unable to recycle, reuse, compost
or in some way reallocate fits inside one shoebox, which Amy keeps at
the ready to show all visitors. By July, they will have kept one ton of
garbage out of local landfills.
“We’re not 100 percent
garbage-free, but we’re awfully close,” Amy said.
Trying to be
environmentally conscious can be difficult, especially when there are
sometimes no clear answers, and choices boil down to picking the lesser
of two evils.
For example, do you choose paper or plastic at the
grocery store? The environmental answer used to be paper, but now it’s
cloth, as in bringing your own bags. A passionate environmental
advocate, Amy recalls one instance at a Starbucks coffee shop where she
felt obliged to purchase a bottle of water. She chose the glass bottle
over plastic, but then realized the glass bottle had been shipped all
the way from Italy, and had incurred a lot of “carbon miles,” she
It’s ultimately what moved Amy to take the drastic new
step in her efforts to be environmentally conscious.
taking all the steps that are recommended for somebody who wants to save
the environment, buying organic, buying local, recycling, and paying
our bills online,” she said. “We decided it really didn’t have much
measurable impact for us to see how we’re helping the planet,” she said.
“every month we were still filling up [the garbage can] and we we're
still buying these horribly overpackaged products.”
So in a quest
for tangible results, Amy, an English teacher at Willamina High School,
decided to use her summer break to prepare the couple’s Dallas, Oregon
home as they embarked on a yearlong vacation from garbage. Their goal,
simply put: to generate no more than a single bag of garbage in a year’s
Their initiative, dubbed the Green Garbage Project, has
garnered attention worldwide, primarily through their Web site and blog,
online at www.greengarbageproject.com. The site generates roughly 500
to 1,000 hits weekly, she said. Adam and Amy have also appeared on KGW
and KOIN locally, as well as CNN; they have shared their story with both
the Statesman-Journal as well as The Guardian in London.
share their daily lives online through their Web site, but they are
looking for more than just attention. Both Amy and Adam spend a lot of
time researching garbage and recycling information.
“If it was a
stunt, I wouldn’t be doing as much research,” Amy said.
disposal, they have committed to reduce, reuse and recycle at all
costs. But they have also made several changes to their behaviors and
consumer choices in order to keep garbage-free.
They don't buy
anything in packaging that cannot be recycled, and they use reusable
bags at the grocery store. They patronize second-hand stores as well as
stores that offer natural products or those made or grown locally.
They've started a compost bin as well as a garden, and they have learned
to make their own products such as soap, cheese, butter, granola and
One of the biggest challenges to living garbage-free has
been in the bathroom, Amy said, especially with medications, which
generally come in plastic bottles with plastic tamper-proof seals, or in
single-use packaging. Few legitimate pharmacies offer medications in
bulk; this is one area in which they’ve had to cede ground.
have also been difficult. Both Amy and Adam try to avoid paper napkins,
food wrappers, straws and the like, but it is so prevalent in the food
service industry that sometimes their only option is to take the
offending refuse home to sort out later.
In contrast, one of the
easiest changes to make has been food, especially rejecting freezer
goods in their non-recyclable wax-coated cardboard packaging.
love to cook, and I love to eat,” Adam said. “I was afraid I’d have to
give up all sorts of products, but we really haven’t.”
their project, the Korsts have also discovered something else
first-hand: how changes in communication have greatly improved their
ability to make a difference. Through the rise of the internet, blogs
and social media like Twitter and Facebook, average people can reach
more people worldwide than ever before.
And activists don’t need a
lot of resources or equipment to make a bold statement. From filmmaker
Morgan Spurlock eating McDonald’s food to blogger Julie Powell cooking
Julia Child recipes and author Barbara Kingsolver living a year eating
only locally produced food, people like the Korsts who are willing to
spend a period of time immersing themselves in a social issue have found
a receptive mass audience in both bookstores and theaters.
Korsts are currently working on their own book proposal, Amy said.
can’t impact larger issues like manufacturing waste or global warming
by themselves, she said. However, they can encourage others to create
less garbage by their own example.
Friends and family have been
mostly enthusiastic and supportive, she said, but they hope their
influence spreads farther.
“I’m hoping we’re maybe helping some
people around the country - around the world - think about their
garbage,” she said.
A worrier by nature, striving to live
trash-free has made her even more anxious about how she may be impacting
the environment, Amy said. However, she has also had to learn to let
It’s a typical misconception that in order to be an
environmentalist, you have to give up everything that you love, she
“I want people to feel like they can do something for the
environment and not lose their creature comforts, and live a completely
Living trashless can be a completely normal
existence, Adam said.
“I know that not everybody believes us, but
it’s not a hard change for us to make.”
The project ends July 6.
But in one distinct way, according to Adam, it will go on long
“We’re never ever going to produce the amount of
garbage we used to.”a