Talkin’ trash

Los Angeles cameraman Dave Chameides reduces his environmental footprint by keeping his garbage for a year

WALKIN’ THE TALK<br>Dave Chameides, aka Sustainable Dave, amuses a Chico State audience during his lecture titled “Chasing Sustainability.”

Dave Chameides, aka Sustainable Dave, amuses a Chico State audience during his lecture titled “Chasing Sustainability.”

Photo By laura brown

Everyday tips:
Dave Chameides has learned many ways to cut down on waste. To check out his tips, visit Chameides visited Chico State last spring, and Chico State’s Institute for Sustainable Development brought the entertaining environmentalist back for this lecture and for visits with nearly the entire freshman class.

Dave Chameides swears he’s not insane, but he’s not surprised some people think otherwise.

For the past nine months (since Jan. 1), the lanky Hollywood cameraman has been filling his basement with every single thing he would ordinarily recycle or toss into the trash.

For his scientific/social experiment Chameides keeps a running tally of his waste and documents it for all the world to see courtesy of his blog ( On July 26, for example, his waste stream included one toilet paper tube, two plastic food containers, one plastic vitamin-water bottle and two paper sugar packets. (Of those items, everything would be placed neatly into a pile of recyclables, except for the sugar packets, which went into his worm composting bin.)

Yes, for one whole year, Chameides’ basement will hold everything: stacks of newspapers, magazines, dozens of plastic and glass bottles and containers, and, of course, trash—31 pounds thus far. Curiosity is one obvious reason for conducting the experiment, but the main reason boils down to his concern for the Earth.

“I realized I wasn’t being responsible,” said Chameides, an Emmy-winning TV cameraman who spoke at Chico State University last week.

He recalled a conversation with a friend in which the two concluded how easy it was to throw things away, since away is out of sight. Both wondered how their habits would change if they were confronted by those items each day. Chameides followed through on the idea. And since he considers recycling a crutch (because it requires energy and other resources), he decided to store his recyclables, too.

Chameides, an effusive speaker who had taken his shoes off, is quick to note that he hasn’t inflicted the experiment upon his wife or two young daughters. With the exception of when he’s out solo with his children, the accumulating waste is his own. (His haul is going to end up at the landfill or recycling facility at the end of the year.)

During his speech at the university, the bespectacled, salt-and-pepper-haired environmentalist talked about how difficult it is for people to know the consequences of their actions. Consumers are far removed from complex disposal processes, he said.

“I want to know what I’m doing to the planet every time I make a purchase,” he said.

Chameides mixed a lot of humor into an informative, yet admittedly unscientific portion of his presentation in which he talked about a number of “depressing” topics, mostly centered around Americans’ energy consumption and depleting fossil fuels.

Interestingly, he glossed over global warming. Saying the topic is politicized and scary, he told his audience he would provide them with helpful tips that make sense no matter where they fall on the polarizing issue.

Make no mistake, though, 39-year-old Chameides is an environmentalist, and his trash blog isn’t his only forum for spreading a message of conservation. He writes a column called Walking the Talk with Sustainable Dave for Care2, an environmental social-networking Web site, and he covers alternative fuels and alternative-fuel vehicles for automotive Web site

Moving on to everyday solutions, he said a radical shift in thinking is needed to affect change. Chameides then started pulling items out of a backpack he totes around with him. A toothbrush holder carrying eating utensils, along with a coffee mug, reusable water bottle, and a collapsible bowl ensure he doesn’t use disposable products.

The steps he takes to conserve are practical measures that save money, he noted. Coffee shops often give him a discount for using his own cup, for instance, and never buying bottled water saves him an estimated $600 a year. Another thing he’s eliminated from his waste stream is single-use plastic bags, which are clogging landfills and contaminating the ocean and its marine life.

“It just makes sense,” he said. “I’ve been talking for 45 minutes. Do you know how many plastic bags have entered the landfill [in that time]? Forty-five million.”

In addition to his trash-filled basement and backpack full of supplies, Chameides has walked the talk by outfitting his Los Angeles home with a solar array and converting his Volkswagen car to run on used vegetable oil. And the 31 pounds of trash in his basement is pretty impressive, considering the average American generates about 1,600 pounds a year.

Chameides stressed the importance of getting informed and said there’s a moral responsibility to take action thereupon.

“If you know something and choose to ignore it, then that’s a choice.”