Watching the movie Wasteland, several months ago inspired me to set up a contemporary issues course module on waste in the design industry.
Over the years, sustainability has become a major focus of interior design, but often it seems that this focus is on using low toxicity materials, indoor air quality, and renewable resources. In the world of reduce, reuse, recycle. It seems that Interior design is happily jumping on board the recycle boat. We have always had folks who are all about reuse – who doesn’t love good vintage furnishings and decor. But when it comes to reduce, the industry overall (in addition to the rest of the world) is failing pretty miserably.
Wasteland follows artist Vik Muniz, as he journeys from Brooklyn to Jardim Gramacho, the largest landfill in the world, which is on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In this shocking documentary we meet the catadores, and begin to get glimpses into their lives as “collectors”, the men and women who sift through vast amounts of trash in order to sell huge burlap sacks of recyclable materials (which take two to three men to lift onto a truck) to manufacturers and reselllers.
Muniz talks with several of the catadores, photographs them in poses representative of the great works of the masters. And if these images themselves are not moving enough, Muniz along with the help of some of the catadores creates larger-than life ‘paintings’ of the photos all from materials found at Jardim Gramacho.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (2009), the average American produces about 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of garbage a day, a total of 29 pounds (13 kg) per week. That means that in a month, the average American has thrown away enough trash to match my body weight. Coming to somewhere around 1,600 pounds (726 kg) a year. This only counts the average household member and doesn’t include industrial waste or commercial trash. When we throw together all the waste US homes, businesses and industry create it added up to 243 million tons in 2009. (In case you’re having a hard time imaging just how big that really is – a city bus weighs anywhere between 5 – 15 tons. Can you imagine having to dig enough holes to bury 24 million city buses?)
So how much is the field of interior design contributing to the size of our landfills? It seems that this is a great research project waiting to happen. There are estimates about waste in construction, especially gyp and framing materials, but little is written on how much waste furniture, fixtures, and finishes are contributing, not to mention samples and binders and all those products that don’t sell. The students found some really interesting stats out there on waste in different arenas related to interior design – but I won’t give away all the details, I’ll let them tell you about it themselves.