365 Days of Trash & Sustainable Dave

Check out the transcript of RFC’s conversation with Sustainable Dave.

Everyday people throw away trash into bins, dumpsters, compactors and from there it is out of our hands. Once it’s no longer in our possession it is easy to assume that all of our trash has gone away. Where exactly is away though? Sure it does not get piled up in our own homes, it has to go somewhere right? Well, that was not the case for Sustainable Dave, who decided to keep all his trash for one whole year. Dave Chameides decided to turn the basement in his tiny Los Angeles home into his own personal landfill for a year starting the 365 Days of Trash initiative.

Sustainable Dave
Crazy? Yeah we thought so too until we had a chance to sit down with Dave for our Recycling for Charity Podcast. Dave is a passionate environmentalist who promotes conservation and living a more sustainable lifestyle. Over a year ago he decided to put together a blog that would document his 365 days of trash, where he did not throw anything away for a whole year. Sustainable Dave has garnished press not only locally or nationally but world wide to showcase his endeavor. We just had to sit down with him and figure out how the idea of 365 Days of Trash came up and why he decided to do this.

The nickname Sustainable Dave is not derived from some great story but just happened to catch on from word of mouth and stuck with him. It all started as Dave was thinking of a name for his website but could not come up with anything. One of his friends had told them that in her household he was known as Sustainable Dave. Turns out that was just the name Dave decided to use for his website. A local radio station picked up on his story and gave him a call asking for an interview and throughout the interview he was known as Sustainable Dave, “And then within ten minutes, I was suddenly this entity that has kind of like grown into its own life.”

The idea of turning a basement into a landfill just does not come to fruition over night.

“I was sitting with a friend, October of 2007. We were having a beer and I went to throw something away, and we started talking about throwing something away, and where was away.. And it was this, it really was kind of like throwing it over your shoulder, because while you’re putting it in your little kitchen bin and you’re taking it out to the black bin outside, it’s disappearing, and you assume it’s being taken care of, but you really have no idea. And more importantly, you have no idea how much you’re making,” stated Dave.

The idea behind it was if your backyard or in Dave’s case the basement was the “away” where all the trash was going, some major changes would have to be made. So Dave decided to do it, and keep all his trash in his small basement for a year to see what exactly would happen. He saved all his trash and also all of his recycling, which left a lot of people asking questions. The truth is recycling is better than throwing something in the trash, but it also requires a lot of energy.

“I started thinking this is going to be out of control. At the end of the year, I’m going to haul it out, and I’m going to look at how bad we are. And after about the first month, I realized that what was happening, as things went down there, I was making changes in my purchasing habits, because I was thinking, well, I don’t have that much room, and my wife’s going to get angry at me if it starts coming up the stairs. So I have to start making changes,” said Dave.

Dave, because of the limited room in his basement, decided to make drastic changes to see how little of an amount of trash he can create but by still being a normal guy, “where if you come over for dinner, other than having a weird conversation, you won’t know that anything’s really that different.” By the end of the year Dave only made 28.5 pounds of trash compared to the average American, which is, 1,600 pounds. The difference between these numbers is obvious. Dave had to develop ways to make sure his amount of trash wasn’t going to exceed his tiny basement.

“When I first thought of this, I was like, ‘What am I going to do with food scraps?’ because that’s obviously a big part of things that go in the garbage, unfortunately. It’s like, why are you going to throw away all of this food that actually has nutrients, and you can turn it into castings to put back into the earth, or sell if you want? When there’s such a good and another opportunity to deal with it,” stated Dave.

He decided to set up worm composters in his basement that would take care of that problem. The compost system consisted of tiered tray system that was approximately two feet by two feet and depending on how many trays you have could be two to three feet tall. The composters used worms to break down all the trash that was put in including paper, cardboard, food scraps, and turn it into compost. This is one of the main reasons Dave was able to have such a low amount of trash after a year.

“I think the story was picked up because of the novelty. I mean, most of the headlines were, “Man Keeps Trash in Basement for a Year.” I know a lot of people who tuned in were expecting what you would think to expect off that headline,” stated Dave.

Dave picked up press nationally from ABC News, New York Times, and other national recognized media outlets. Probably just for the rarity of something like this being done. The headlines definitely gave the reader initiative to find out more about this perhaps crazy man. As things went on and Dave gained more attention the press would actually come to his house and conduct interviews. Initially reporters would think he was some whacky guy, but once they could see for themselves they started to understand that there really was an idea behind what he was doing. The press wasn’t the only people who thought Dave was a little bit out there. He also had to deal with his family and peers.

“My wife is a saint, and she deserves a lot of praise for putting up with this. As I’ve told people, if I’m willing to do this, it’s obviously not the first wacky idea I’ve come to her with, so she’s sort of used to left field things coming at her,” stated Dave.

Obviously, it is not easy to just come home and tell your family that their basement is going to be transformed into a landfill for all their trash. There has to be some understanding there. That is one thing Dave stressed the fact that his wife was pretty cool with it. She may have never made it downstairs, but she helped with ideas.

It’s difficult to say whether Dave’s young kids completely comprehended the idea, but it definitely influenced them in some ways. “I don’t know how completely they understood it, but they for a while were bringing things home from school, like wasn’t even theirs, going, “Here, Daddy. This is for the basement.” That’s really wonderful that you want to be part of this, but I’ve got enough going down there as it is.” Dave addressed that 100 percent of this was for his kids to teach them and train them by example.

When it comes to Dave’s friends the perceptions varied. Some of them could not understand why he was doing this, while others found it fascinating and even participated. At first everyone Dave talked to automatically assumed they would go down in his basement and just walk into a smelly rat infested room. However, once they saw the neatness, the worms, and they way Dave was conducting things they came around and realized there was more to it than just piling trash up in a basement. In order to keep this initiative stable Dave had to develop a new lifestyle in order to make sure his basement did not become exactly what everyone initially perceived when they heard of the experiment.

“The first week or two was really tough, mainly because it was me going through the garbage, because I’d throw something out instinctively, and then go, ‘Oh, man.’ I’m digging through to find out whatever it was.”

As time went on though Dave started to change his lifestyle and not throwing things away became second nature to him. After a month into it he would reach into his pockets and find wrappers and used packets that he didn’t even realize he put in there. He learned to train himself to not do something as little as throwing something in the garbage, imagine how easy it could be to not drink out of plastic water bottles or use plastic shopping bags.

To further educate the public about sustainability and conservation, Dave has designed a seminar called, “Chasing Sustainability”. Dave travels to different locations explaining 365 Days of Trash and teaching the public that they are capable of helping. They may not want to pile trash in their basement, but there are little things that everyone can do to help our environment.

The first half of the seminar is designed to be quite frankly, depressing. He goes over all the problems that are occurring in the environment on our behalf as society. He explains what exactly is going on when it comes to environmental issues. The second half is then the pick up when Dave decides to show them that there is hope. He offers them ideas and ways they can start to make a change and improvement in our environment.

The fascination with kids is that they feel they are helpless and can not do anything about it. Dave shows them that is not the case and gives ideas to children to further promote his and their ideas. “I’ve had kids coming up and asking me for my autograph, asking me how to start places in their schools. I had one girl write me a letter, telling me she for 14 years hadn’t slept with the light off, and for the first time she slept with the light off, because she realized that her fears were not as important as what she was doing to the planet.” That is the truth that Dave is trying to deliver to the world, people do not need to make drastic changes in order to help preserve the environment. Something is better than nothing and that something can go a long way.

When it comes to thinking about changing the world, starting a personal landfill in your basement probably is not the first idea that pops into mind. However for Sustainable Dave, it was exactly what he was going for. Although, he may not be captain planet his initiative has come a long way and really shows what one man can do to help the environment.

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