You're Wasting Too Much

A couple goes garbage-less for a year and lives to make a movie about it.

You order a coffee at your go-to shop. You ask for it to go and it arrives in a paper cup with a plastic lid and two straws. You drink the coffee. Suddenly, you’re left with four pieces of waste, which, given that you’re walking down the street, you toss in the garbage.

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Even if you pride yourself on being ecominded, you’re still likely to, without much thought, send these items into the landfill. It’s not your fault, you justify — you just wanted a coffee, and that’s how a to-go coffee is served in our society.

You’re not the only one. Americans use an estimated 60 million plastic straws each day, almost all of which end up in landfills after a single use.

But what if you tried not to toss anything away like this ... for an entire year?

That’s what Vancouver, B.C., residents Grant Baldwin and Jen Rustemeyer did, and the couple documented their efforts along the way.

The result is The Clean Bin Project, an award-winning documentary that not only shows the couple’s struggle to avoid contributing to landfills, but also looks at our society’s love of single-use packaging.

Baldwin and Rustemeyer had a few rules: They wouldn’t buy any material goods, they had to personally take responsibility for recycling anything they could and, above all, they couldn’t produce any non-recyclable garbage.

The film is informative, for sure, but the preachiness typically found in eco-minded documentaries was weirdly absent. And intentionally so.

“No one wants to be told what to do,” says Rustemeyer, checking in from Oregon, where the couple is touring the film, which they’ve been doing for more than a year now. “It’s like smoking.

No matter how much your friends and family nag you, you can’t quit until you’re ready.”

“We’re more preachy in person than we are in the film, but we really try to lead by example. If it’s onerous or inconvenient to reduce garbage, people don’t want to do it,” she says.

According to the EPA, Americans generate more than 240 million tons of garbage each year, which boils down to about 4.3 pounds of trash per person, per day. The Clean Bin team, however, generated about that daily amount in an entire year (at least in non-recyclable, non-compostable waste). In fact, neither Rustemeyer nor Baldwin even filled the small trash cans they’d restricted themselves to for the project.

Although the experiment is officially over, they continue to subscribe, as best they can, to their rules. It wasn’t always easy, and it still isn’t. And they don’t expect everyone to follow their lead overnight, but there are a few things Rustemeyer says people can easily do.

“Food waste makes up 30 to 50 percent of our garbage, so if you’re composting, you basically cut your garbage in half. The other thing is to avoid single-use disposable items like plastic bags and take-out containers and coffee cups — things you use for five minutes and then throw away,” she says.

She’s not trying to make you feel guilty about that cup of coffee this morning. She just doesn’t want to see it end up in a landfill.

To view a preview of The Clean Bin Project, buy a copy, or organize a screening, visit

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About The Author

Mike Bookey

Mike Bookey was the culture editor for The Inlander from 2012-2016. He previously held the same position at The Source Weekly in Bend, Ore.