For one year, Los Angeles resident Dave Chameides conducted an experiment to see just how much he could conserve and how little he could throw away.
"I am efficient with my waste," said Chameides, who goes by the name Sustainable Dave on his Web site. "I made a decision that, for one year I would not throw anything away or recycle anything and, instead, I would keep everything in the basement."
After one year, Chameides had stashed about 30 pounds of trash — not counting recyclables — in his basement. He was able to limit his waste for a whole year to roughly the amount the average American produces in six days, he said.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American disposes of five pounds of trash daily, which adds up to nearly 1,700 pounds of garbage annually.
But Chameides' garbage dump was so small he was able to tuck it away in only 10 square feet of space in his basement.
Soon after he began his experiment, Chameides said, he realized how easy it was to cut back on how much waste he produced.
"If you're ever thinking of keeping your trash in the basement, you have to be very well organized. The trail down the stairs are all bottles," Chameides said. "I tell people if I drank bottled water like most people do, which I don't, the whole basement would be full of it by now."
In addition to the garbage he would have thrown out, Chameides accumulated 64 plastic bottles, 153 glass bottles and two aluminum cans to be recycled. He also has 19 pounds of cardboard boxes, 12 pounds of e-waste and a 50-pound box of paper for recycling.
With the help of a secret weapon, Chameides was able to get rid of much of his organic waste.
"It's an in-home worm composting bin. All of my food scraps and paper and things like that go in here and the worms eat them up," he said.
The worms do the trick by eating a couple of pounds of paper a month, in addition to all of Chameides' leftovers.
What he doesn't have are plastic shopping bags, because, he says, they are an eco-enemy.
"I won't use plastic shopping bags," he said.
Most Americans do use plastic shopping bags — the EPA estimates the average person in the United States will use more than 18,000 in their lifetime. They end up tossed in a landfill where, scientists say, they will linger for centuries.
Now, Chameides is taking the lessons he learned during his experiment and applying them to his post-garbage man life. He plans to continue to conserve.
"What I try to tell people is, if they just think along the lines of 'consume less, conserve more,' you've kind of hit it on the head," he said. "When you're going to buy something, look at it and think, 'Where did this come from? What am I going to do with it? And where is it going to go?'"