No Trash

Rule:  No Trash

Rule in practice:

  • Food: Avoid buying bottled drinks, packaged snacks, and anything else that comes wrapped up in stuff that will never biodegrade.
  • Durables: Think twice about every purchase.  Do without, if doable.  Find alternate uses for existing possessions (i.e. helmet = stool, rolled up jacket = pillow).  Repair repeatedly before replacing.  Buy secondhand when it’s a viable option.  Reclaim and reuse others’ discarded items.  Use rechargeable batteries.  Buy Frisbee made from recycled plastic.
  • Clothes and toiletries: Own and use less.  Opt for sustainable, biodegradable materials and ingredients.
  • Toilet Paper: Email me if you really want to know.

Local Motivation:  I’ve seen truckloads of trash collected from Chinese cities being dumped directly into rivers.  I’ve seen similar piles of plastic in every country I’ve passed through so far.  The times when they’ve been burning, I’ve smelled them, tasted them, and felt  the smoke scratching my eyes and throat.  Other times, cows and dogs are eating it, guaranteeing themselves gastrodistress and perhaps an early death.  I’ve also spent time on farms, where the issue of not having any “away” to throw your trash into makes the issue feel personal.

Global Motivation:  Similar to above.  Trash being dumped into rivers and oceans worldwide.  The Pacific Garbage Patch the size of some small countries.  Runoff from landfills polluting groundwater.  Miscellaneous trash ugli-fying landscapes just about everywhere.  Total lack of trash processing and disposal facilities in the countries I’m traveling.

Key Tools:  Camping pot, tupperware, Nalgene-style bottles, UV sterilizer pen, personal collapsible chopsticks, cloth shopping bag.

Key Ideas:

  • Food: Pleasure is fleeting, its consequences aren’t.  A little depressing at first, but it’s true.  They joy I would get from a bottle of Coke would last me for about thirty seconds, but the bottle itself would probably last centuries, if not longer.  Not a good deal from the point of view of humanity as a whole.
  • Durables: The things you own end up owning you.  In other words, possessions become burdens.  I feel this way philosophically when I consider how many hours my life I would have to spend at work in order to buy, say, a car or a new TV.  I feel it physically when I try to find space for a new acquisition in one of my already-bursting bags, or when I try to pedal-push my self and my stuff up a mountain.


Bonuses: Fewer preservatives, colors, and other artificial additives in my food; my food dollars go more to local farmers and less to international agribusiness; I have an excuse to wander around into the deep recesses of local markets looking for wholesale peanuts; easy opportunities to make local vendors laugh by gesticulating about how I don’t want the plastic bag because I’ve got my own camping pot just in this bag on the left, hold on, hold on, hey, I said no plastic!; similar opportunities to bring a little absurdity into the life of cobblers by asking them to fix my tire, or to cycle shops by asking them to fix my sleeping mat; lots of money saved by drinking water rather than soft drinks; fewer trips to the dentist.

Exceptions:  Medicines.  Photographs for host families.  Gifts/souvenirs for friends and relatives.  Business cards that I distribute for advertisement purposes.  Beer (no justification possible.)

Unavoidables:  Bicycle parts. The plastic and cardboard used to transport and store whatever it is I buy in bulk.  Unknown/unknowable production processes.


  • Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte.  One reporter follows the trails of various American trash streams.  Where does something go when it goes away?
  • The Story of Stuff.  Short but powerful animation about the production, use, and disposal of all those objects that pass through our lives. The companion videos about bottled water,  electronics, and hygiene products all pack a similar punch.
  • Waste Land Vic Muniz turns the lives of Brazilian landfill-pickers in works of art.

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