Published on November 18th, 2013 | by Sara Stroman
Litterati and the Pursuit of Trash– Document the Litter Around You
My trash awareness came to me a few years ago. I noticed that I was buying too many disposable items which were tossed after a period of use. But I began to question to where these items were being thrown away? Where was ‘tossed away’? I had read articles about New York City shipping trash to landfills in other states, and I read about housing developments built landfills. I began to wonder about toxins and pollution and the limited availability of natural resources to keep creating. Furthermore, I began to worry about the energy that goes into creating disposable items– the shipping, the storage, the selling, the workers.
To learn more, 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. These are small steps, but important. I also began to think about 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.
About a year and a half ago, I decided it was time to make trash more noticeable. While walking around on daily errands I noticed overstuffed garbage cans on corners and trash blowing across sidewalks and streets. Most people would casually walk past, either not seeing or simply ignoring the litter. Out of irritation, on some occasions I would pick up the trash and dispose of it properly. After a handful of these occasions, I decided to be creative and made a tumblr page to document the trials of everyday trash. The Pursuit of Trash title was inspired by the Kid Cudi song, “Pursuit of Happiness.” The Pursuit of Trash is nothing more than finding what trash means to me, to you, to the world and doing something about 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? 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.
I think if more people considered their trash as they threw it in the nearest garbage can, waste might dramatically decrease. After starting my Tumblr page, 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.
On a recent trip to Japan I learned 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. Which left me wondering, “how could we implement the same system home in America?” Then something miraculous happened!
While reading Good a few weeks ago, I came upon an article about an organization called Litterati. Litterati is a social awareness movement focused on bringing attention to our litter. Using the hashtag “#litterati” on Instagram, Litterati gathers data on litter and uses Twitter and Facebook to spread awareness of the cause and the movement. Litterati is allowing conscientious citizens around the world an outlet to document litter with photography, share, and then properly dispose of each piece. Below is an example of a piece of trash I noticed one afternoon while walking. I documented it on Instagram, picked it up, and recycled it.
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 documentation on “The Pursuit of Trash” has been a bit spotty. I moved to New Jersey recently and have been driving instead of walking, which means that my exposure to trash on the street has been limited. The tumblr page is still active and I’m hoping to post my #litterati posts onto tumblr as a way to link these two ideas together. I want to continue to inspire others to notice trash, photograph it, and post it on the site. Litterati is doing a much better job of engaging on the social level– in fact, many of the photos look so artistic they could be framed and sold!
Thus far Litterati has documented 15,966 pieces of litter. The top posting 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– check out a full list of items photographed and disposed of can be found on the statistics page of Litterati’s website. I am humbled that I have connected with Jeff Kirschner and be 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 tweeks. 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.