Across The Country, Thousands Are Taking The Yerdle Unshopping Challenge.
Say the word “Austin,” and a lot of things come to mind: slackers philosophizing by the river; tourist techies with virtual reality glasses; crazy-ass Texas politicians; rockin’-ass musicians; damn good BBQ.
But one thing you won’t find most Austinites talking about is trash.
Yep, while the city’s unofficial motto might be “Keep Austin Weird,” it might also be worth adding “because we’re already built on top of a bunch of garbage.”
Beneath those fields of green - tons and tons of garbage.
The truth is that Austin is just about drowning in garbage. Austinites generate, per capita, 1.18 tons of trash per person per year. That’s about 5.11 pounds of garbage per person every single day, much more than the national average.
What’s surprising is that Austin has a pretty legitimate claim on being one of the greenest cities in Texas, and in the country. It gets about half its electricity from renewables, and has pretty good infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians. So, why all the trash? And more importantly, what can we do about it?
While Austin might still be pretty weird in a cultural sense, it does have one thing in common with most of the rest of America: People have more stuff than they need. And they don’t know what to do with it. And so a lot of it ends up in a landfill somewhere - which, in Austin’s case, means it ends up under parks and housing and creek beds. No bueno.
What’s, um, “weird” about Austin’s waste issue is what it implies: That people are going to work in Austin to earn money to buy stuff they end up not needing that then ends up in a landfill that ends up under the park where their kids play. Are people in Austin really that into work in the first place?
Again, on this front, Austin is far from weird. Americans continue to work, on average, 47 hours per week, while spending a meagre 2.0 hours per week on sports, exercise, and recreation. This is less than the 2.5 hours per week we spend shopping for new things.
Americans spend more than $1 trillion on consumer goods each year, even though the average item gets used less than once per month. Unused consumer goods make up 19.2% of the waste the enters municipal landfills each year. Meanwhile, the average US house size continues to grow to almost 2600 square feet, and the self-storage industry has grown 1000% since the 1960s.
“Human society sustains itself
by transforming nature into garbage.”
- Mason Cooley
The result is a metric crap-ton of garbage going into the landfill.
But let’s be fair - it’s not entirely our fault. The great vessel of consumer society was constructed over centuries. We all know it’s taking on water, but it’s going to take a little while to right the ship, and make the necessary repairs.
The good news: there is a lot that Austin can do to help!
Just last year the City of Austin passed an ordinance that aspires to make Austin zero waste by 2040. You should definitely support this.
And did you know that every month at the Austin Public Library there are “upcycle” meetups where you can bring cool used goods and learn to fix them, and upgrade them to amazing retro awesome newish items?
But if you really want to get serious about reducing your waste, you have to change your relationship with consumerism altogether - and that means changing your relationship to stuff.
How do you get started? One way is to take the Yerdle 30-Day Unshopping Challenge.
Unshopping, v.: 1. The act of letting go of things you don’t really need anymore; the opposite of hoarding. 2. The act of acquiring the things you need from someone else, without going to a store or spending any money. 3. A behavior change that shifts consumerism away from waste, and toward a more sustainable, less expensive lifestyle.
Yerdle is a store where you post a pic of your unused stuff, and get the things you need. The Yerdle app connects your unused items with someone who will put them to use - and gives you peace of mind that it’s ending up in a good home, not a landfill somewhere. It also reduces demand for new goods, since everybody has stuff they’re not using, and everybody needs stuff they don’t have.
Efforts like the Unshopping Challenge and companies like Yerdle are good reminders that there are a lot of ways to reduce waste, save money, and break the iron chains of our consumerism. That’s something everyone in Austin should be willing to get behind.
Austin blogger Lauren Modery from Hipstercrite is taking the unshopping challenge. Follow along to read about it here.