COLUMN: Garbage is the great equalizer, let's face it head on

I make garbage videos. They’re literally trash, absolute rubbish. 

And by that, I mean that I create educational videos for Facilities Management about what happens to our waste. 

Through this series, I hope to communicate that waste reduction is important and show exactly how we can reduce our waste. However, I’ve also come to perceive garbage differently.

We have a pretty trashy attitude toward our own waste - one that follows an out-of-sight, out-of-mind rule. We don’t like seeing, touching or smelling garbage, even if it’s our own. We have lids that cover our bins, and a truck comes at the crack of dawn to take it to some unknown destination. 

After we haul out our trash, we don’t really give it much thought. It’s not actually gone, but it’s one of the exceptions to the object permanence we supposedly develop as infants.

Despite our collective disdain for garbage, we make a lot of it. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American creates approximately five pounds of waste every day. This amounted to 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2018, with only 32% of that waste being composted or recycled.

Unfortunately, most of what we toss into the trash doesn’t need to end up in a landfill. According to Jay Kahn, Director of Facilities Operations, nearly half the trash leaving campus to go to the landfill could have been recycled or composted instead. 

CMU on-campus students recycle and compost approximately 33% of their total waste. Kahn said this number could easily be increased with more educational outreach and engagement. 

As CMU wraps up its annual participation in the Campus Race to Zero Waste, it's important to remind everyone that our trash doesn’t disappear. It just piles up somewhere else - a half-hour away in Harrison, MI actually.

To solve this issue and reduce our waste, we're going to have to look at our own garbage and consider what we absent-mindedly throw in the bin. That's how we can understand what really needs to be there and what didn't have to get thrown away. 

Facing your own personal garbage can help you become more aware of the source of your waste and how much waste you produce. Other tips include:

  • Learn about what can and can't be recycled at CMU and in your hometowns
  • Avoid single-use plastics such as plastic cutlery, straws, cups and bags
  • Reuse and repurpose products as much as possible
  • Find alternative products that are made up of biodegradable materials, use less packaging or have longer lifespans
  • Consider donating to charities or resale shops
  • Incorporate reusable products into your life such as reusable water bottles

Maybe it’s because I’m always trying to film garbage from the best angle or best light, but I’ve come to find trash very humanizing. Garbage is the great equalizer, and it’s time we face our own collective ugliness. 

We all create it, we all hate it - so why don’t we make less of it?

To learn more about waste reduction at CMU, visit Central Sustainability's Campus Race to Zero Waste page. To check out this video series, visit the Central Sustainability YouTube channel.

In addition to being a beat reporter for Central Michigan Life, Teresa Homsi works for Facilities Management and the Office for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on sustainability initiatives and projects. For more information about specific projects, visit Central Sustainability on CentralLink