About a year and a half ago, I decided it was time to make trash more noticeable. See, I noticed while walking around on errands in my every day life, that while I would notice overstuffed garbage cans on corners and trash on sidewalks and streets, others would (and do!) casually walk past either not seeing, or simply ignoring. Out of irritation, on some occasions I would pick up the trash and dispose of it properly.
After a handful of these occasions, I sat down and created this tumblr page, “The Pursuit of Trash.” Inspired by the Kid Cudi song, “Pursuit of Happiness”, I liked the ring of the title and went with it. How often do we find ourselves in pursuit of something? How many times is the pursuit instrumental to our soul and evolution? How many times is the pursuit nothing more than temporary? The Pursuit of Trash is nothing more than finding what trash means to me, to you, to the world and doing something about it. As with every social media campaign, I had high hopes of it growing and starting a movement of conscious garbage creators and disposers. My goal was to open the eyes of people all over the World to see the high and unhealthy levels of trash that we dispose of without any thought.
My trash awareness came to me a few years ago. I noticed that I was buying disposable clothing and food in plastic. Both things that are the norm for many, but when the clothes get holes and the food is eaten these items get tossed. My question became, “tossed where? I had read articles about NYC shipping trash to other states to sit in landfills. I read about housing developments on landfills and started wondering about toxins and pollution and the other side of that, our limited natural resources – the energy that goes into creating one disposable piece of clothing and then shipping it to some store that uses more energy to be open so I can shop. I started thinking about the workers in the factors making these disposable items.
I started thinking about my footprint. I watched films about artists using waste to create art, and landfill pickers in countries like Brazil. I started composting my food scraps and buying food from farmers, where I can put lettuce and other items in cloth reusable bags to carry home. I’m not so idealistic to believe that every piece of trash I pick up gets recycled; I’ve often wondered just how these recycling centers work. My solution was to stop buying things I couldn’t recycle. If I can’t figure out how to use the entire item, I won’t buy it.
Now, I don’t expect everyone to take this attitude, but I think if more people considered their trash as they threw it in the nearest garbage can, waste might dramatically decrease. I walked around carrying trash and thinking that I was crazy. It didn’t help that many other people told me I was crazy for being so obsessed with trash. Yet, it didn’t stop me. In one case, I co-hosted a party with a friend whose apartment building didn’t recycle. I told her, I would carry all the recycling to my apartment in Astoria. She thought I was nuts and yet, I walked several blocks from her apartment to the N train with 3 shopping bags full of beer cans and wine bottles and then carried them the additional seven blocks to my apartment to recycle them. At that point she decided she would start recycling and I forged ahead with my attempt to document the over-abundance of trash on the streets of cities I visited until last fall.
Last fall, I went to Japan to study Washi, Japanese paper and paper making. That’s a longish story for another time, but while out in Japan, I discovered that while they are a country that consumes, they are also a country that recycles. They are not perfect by any means, but every day involved me having to figure out where to put my trash. I’ll never forget the day I ordered a coffee and had it placed in a bag with a holder in the bag. It was all paper, so it was easy to recycle, but as I drank my beverage on the street, I was left carrying a bag and had no way to dispose of it. I ended up carrying the bag and cup back home to throw it away properly according to Tokyo recycling rules.
All of this left me wondering, “how could we implement the same system home in America?” Then something miraculous happened!
While reading Good.is a few weeks ago, I came upon an article about an organization called “Litterati.” Litterati is a social awareness movement. Using the hashtag “#litterati” on the photo social site Instagram, Litterati gathers data on litter and then, uses the other two social media behemoths, Twitter and Facebook to spread awareness of the cause and the movement. Litterati is allowing other conscientious citizens around the world an outlet to document litter with photography, share, and then properly dispose of each piece.
While reading the article, I gasped! I was utterly amazed that there was someone else in the world doing something similar to me. In excitement, I posted an encouraging comment to the writer of that article, whom also happened to be the creater of Litterati, Jeff Kirschner. Jeff immediately responded back and he and I have had several conversations about our mutual ideas and how to possibly make this movement bigger and stronger.
My own movement on “The Pursuit of Trash” has been a bit spotty. I moved to New Jersey recently and have been driving, meaning that my exposure to trash on the street has been limited, but I haven’t removed the tumblr page. In fact, I’m hoping to post my #litterati posts onto tumblr as a way to link these two ideas together.
When I originally started the tumblr account, I opened it to the public. I wanted others to notice trash, photograph it, and post it on the site. My thoughts, after posting photos on Instagram using #litterati, are that “Litterati” is doing a much better job of engaging on the social level. In fact, many of the poster’s photos look so artistic they could be framed and sold!
Just to give you an idea, the “Litterati” impact has thus far documented 15,966 pieces of litter. The top countries are: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden, and Germany. The top States within the US are: California, Minnesota, Oregon, Florida, and North Carolina. Cigarettes are the most commonly documented trash, with 1,019 documented butts. A full list of items photographed and disposed of can be found on the statistics page of LItterati’s website.
Please know that this is not a competition. I am humbled that I have connected with Jeff Kirschner and am part of the Litterati community. Even more I am humbled to know that there are other people in this World that want to make a difference and take responsibility for their actions.
“The Pursuit of Trash” will remain with a few tweaks. In the next few weeks, I hope to integrate my posts on Instagram onto tumblr, but I encourage everyone looking to bring awareness to litter on the streets, or the enormity of the trash issue to become part of the Litterati community. They are a great group of people, like you and I, who are connecting and moving in a positive direction, one that the entire world can benefit from with enough action and engagement.
For more information on Litterati, visit the following:
For more information about me, Sara Stroman, and all of my passions visit: