J500 Media and the Environment

Reflections on the semester: The whole enchilada by jmuselmann

Food is at the fiber of our very being. It is passed around piping hot with potholders, it is handed to us, self-contained, through the car door in paper sacks and divvied accordingly. It’s what we eat because our family does, our friends have tried, our mothers can afford. We throw it away, and we raise it high above our heads for to honor a friend or deity as an intentional sacrifice. Boxed up, it is heaved and flown across the world, passing some to bless others.

One way or another, people get their hands on food. And then we all have the decision of what to do with it. Some have the luxury of waiting to eat it, others use it as currency or a positioning of power, while for many others, who have not been able to make the decision in quite some time, it is always this: Put it into the holes in our faces in time to prolong death.

Of course by this point, we know we aren’t just talking about food. But rather, how food passes and intersects with our needs for a healthy environment and body whole. The need for change is dire and yet lingers on. The idea of going green is gaining unprecedented momentum, and yet, in many ways, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. People can easily eat their organic cake and not recycle, and we let them. But even within the green universe, there lies a wad of inconsistencies and tradeoffs to be sifted through and decided upon. It’s a voyage that has caused more than one breakdown in the grocery store, where I’m stunned into inaction, clutching my wallet in front of the onions, biting my lip at the global repercussions. Often I leave almost empty-handed. Pressure too great.

People say, “the choice is up to us” as consumers, but it sure is hard. Without good legislative infrastructure to guide food ways, it shouldn’t be surprising that it veers toward the same reckless trajectory as other things in this country, trailing irreversible damage in the wake of progress and profit.

Take me, for example: At least in some point in my life, I have recycled. I have also littered. Oh, and I have been the one calling into report the tags of those I see throw things out of their cars while driving: approximate time of infringement, rough location, type of violation, what kind of model and the company make. I guess this class has shown me that maybe I don’t need a number in my glove box to bring about change, I need only open my fridge instead.

—Jacob Muselmann


American Consumption Addiction by beccan

Growing up, my mom and dad made sure I knew the difference between needs and wants. We would go shopping and when I picked something up to show my mom she would ask, “Now, do you really need that or do you want it?” and I would hesitantly say, “want it” without any argument as to why I should get it. I just knew that it wasn’t going home with me. 

Photo courtesy of flickr.com

Needs v. Wants


As much as I dreaded that question as a kid, I now realize why my mother drilled that concept of needs and wants into my head. In the United States, we account for 5% of the world’s population yet account for 30% of the world’s resources. If everyone consumed like we do, we would need three to five planets to contain all of the waste.

For some strange reason, the idea that when we throw something away it simply disappears into thin air, has been engraved in our minds and is starting to affect our planet. We buy, buy, buy and do not see the damage that is being done or the consequences to our wastefulness. Our ignorance is killing our home and it is going to take a lifestyle overhaul to change it.

Having the newest phone, car, computer, you-name-it, is so important to us as Americans. The stuff that we have determines our social status and that status is so important in the American culture. Just think, when the U.S. was deep in the recession people freaked out, because they were not going to be able to consume mindlessly anymore. It made people crabby, because they couldn’t have all of the new stuff they wanted.

The internet has also made it easier to consume. We do not even have to get out of our chairs to buy new stuff anymore; it is delivered to our doorsteps. Advertisers tell us that to be “cool” in society we need to have the latest gadgets, styles and trends, which means we throw our barely-used stuff in the landfill to replace it with a new version of the same thing. This lifestyle has started to spin out of control. 

 There has been a consistent increase in the amount that Americans waste each year and the question is: can this be stopped or are we too far into our consumption addiction to turn it around? 

Becca N.

Our Material World by julianat

I got picked up in Mexico City by a driver-certified-body-guard named Nacho. He was a short man who was talkative and was really excited to meet me and my travel friend, Jacob.

The second we get in his little Volkswagon, he starts blasting Madonna’s song Material Girl, singing along and encouraging us to do the same, driving down the road ignoring all traffic rules.

Welcome to Mexico City, or maybe , welcome to the same globalized world.

This bienvenido set the tone for my little trip south of the border and made me question how does consumption and waste rates differ between countries? According to Worldmapper the U.S has a relatively large amount of waste compared to the population, and more so than Mexico.

I’ve always figured that since consumption and expendable income is so high in the US, that most developing countries had less waste, but from what I saw in Mexico, I couldn’t believe that to be entirely true.

Everyone knows to stay away from the drinking water in Mexico, drink bottled water instead. This, was painful for me, in 3 days of being in Mexico, Jacob and I had drank 5 2 liter bottles of water and half a 10 liter jug of water.

In America, we have a generous choice to drink either bottle or tap, but for people in developing countries or rural areas, many have no other choice, and have to spend the little money they have on privatized, bottled water. How come clean water can’t be a natural right and resource available for everyone?

Now, what do other countries do with the ridiculous amount of waste thrown out? In Kathmandu Nepal, they burn all of their trash on the streets, and in Mexico, as I saw, they throw their garbage off cliffs into valleys.

With environmentalism, it seems as though there is a big emphasis on America, and it’s consumption, it’s energy use, it’s waste and degradation to the environment. Maybe it seems this way because I am immersed only in the American life. But what about developing countries and the way their social, political and cultural structures have them stuck in a position that they can’t even start to worry about their relationship and degradations to the environment?

Is environmentalism only for the wealthy? Can environmentalism actually become global?

Upon looking One Week’s Worth of Food Around Our Planet, I was reminded of a book I used to look at called Material World: A Global Family Portrait, which shows the material possessions of family’s across the world. Both show pictures that are powerful and show the differences between economic opportunities and material possessions across the world.

It seems as though environmentalism can be linked to consumption , reduce your consumption, and reduce your impact on earth. But how do we bring up all the people in the world to have a positive relationship with their environment that isn’t costly?

Mexican Water Bottle
A photo I took of a water bottle in Mexico, to what I think roughly translates to something like ” It is necessary to drink 2 liters of clean water every day for good health.

I can’t help but think, are these companies actually thinking about YOUR health, or is this greenwashing or marketing strategies to have you continue buying and wasting?

What about the ones who can’t ?

-Juliana Tran

Newspapers and Weight Watchers – My Trash by vincemeserko
February 26, 2008, 2:18 pm
Filed under: Waste + Recycling | Tags: , , , ,

My current trash situation isn’t really indicative of the norm. My third roommate just moved out to pursue what I think will be a successful career. During his short tenure with us he set astounding records for waste (terrible terrible stench too – I became interested in incense soon after his arrival). Before he left he threw away half his stuff and gave some of it to me. We are running out of room in our garage for all the trash he left behind. He threw away numerous cardboard boxes, an entire sack of fine expensive clothing, and some inspirational weightlifting posters. His computer is still sitting in our living room waiting for a large man to come and pick it up. I’m considering recycling it or selling it on Ebay. It’s astounding the things rich people throw away. Our previous roommate (yeah, we’ve cycled through quite a few – apparently my current roommate and I are not super fun to be around or something). Well, this guy, besides doing silly things like accidentally enrolling in classes at the Edwards campus, used to eat at Taco John’s 3-4 times a week. He ate every single meal at a fast food establishment and somehow maintained his weight of approximately 115 pounds. This produced an unbelievable amount of trash! Now there’s only two of us left and we do a pretty good job of keeping things under control. We produce about 20-25 pounds of trash between us a week which isn’t bad. He eats a lot of sandwiches and I eat a lot of Honey Bunches of Oats. I also inadvertently bought those Smart Ones Weight Watchers meals awhile ago. Now I eat them all the time. For dinner typically I eat chicken nuggets and possibly a canned vegetable. If I’m feeling adventurous I try a cheap box of “Thai” food, that Simply Asia stuff. (I’m still waiting for Simply Turkmenistan or Simply United Arab Emirates). Anyway, neither of us are wasteful or voracious consumers of anything. As echoed in much of the reading for this week, the real problem is our (U.S. population)’s insatiable need for things and the tremendously wasteful production processes that make help us fulfill that need. Neither one of us need a lot of things.

My trash is mostly cardboard and waste leftover from my Friday morning McDonald’s routine. As alluded to in an earlier post, every Friday for the past eight years I gobble down a plate of pipin’ hot McDonald’s flapjacks and 2-3 cups of pipin’ hot McDonald’s coffee. I get McDonald’s coffee 3-4 days a week. There isn’t much virtue in my vice, but the new McDonald’s coffee is great … and ultra-caffeinated. I can’t help but wonder though why McDonald’s needs to use so much styrofoam packaging. They agreed in 1987 to phase out styrofoam, but they still use a tremendous amount of it. It provides the “plate” and “lid” for my flapjacks. They do deserve some credit, however, for listening to consumer disapproval and at least trying to uphold bits of their corporate social responsibility statement.

While my roommate and I aren’t beacons of a zero-waste lifestyle, we do, however, have an almost militant adherence to recycling … and for good reason. Between the two of us we drink 4-5 12 oz. cans of Coke and Pepsi a day. I also have a very obsessive-compulsive relationship with newspapers. I read 6-7 every morning and stack them in the corner. I make sure the stack is perfectly even. When my roommate throws his UDK on the stack (making it uneven) I become furious. By the end of the week my newspaper stack is about a foot and a half tall and it all gets recycled. Sometimes I stare at the stack with a marveling gaze. We’re not perfect but we aim to try.

Here’s my garage:


The (in)famous newspaper stack – notice how uneven it is


Me being buried by trash


Me buried in trash and holding up engine coolant


-Vince Meserko

I’ll have a number 6, Designer’s Delight please. Hold the Styrofoam. by acbowman
February 26, 2008, 9:46 am
Filed under: Waste + Recycling | Tags: , , , , ,

Form Follows Function.

This is the mantra of the designer.

Imagine it, it is 15007 B.C., a Homosapien sits at the mouth of his cave with a hot bowl of Mastodon soup. This is what I suspect this particular prehistoric designer thought: I need to get this bowl of soup into my mouth, without looking like a Neanderthal. I need a tool. A tool that is like a mini-bowl with a handle that I can scoop soup into my mouth with. I shall call it a spoon!

The inventor of the spoon probably didn’t have to think about what was going to happen to the spoon after he ate his soup. If it worked, he kept it till he got another one and then threw it out into the clan trash pit.

Discussion of our trash over coffee

As I discuss my daily offering to my own trash pit with my dog Malcolm, it is easy to figure out what went through the designers minds in creating the packaging or rubbish I now see before me. The coffee filter, now full of coffee grounds, needed to be a membrane that kept coffee in and let water pass through. Success. The Styrofoam container needed to be able to transport sticky, slimy, often greasy leftovers back to my dogs, (my dogs by the way is one reason I don’t have to much left over food trash). Again, success. Eggshells were designed to keep my tasty eggs protected until I cracked them over a hot pan. Perfect in it’s simplicity. Dog hair, well, this one I am not sure what the designer’s intent was and Malcolm isn’t sure either.

Like the prehistoric designer, the designer of these products weren’t thinking much about where their beautifully functional designs went after their use.

Neither were the consumers of these products for that matter. (Well I was, but my dogs weren’t) After factoring in composting and recycling, Americans are throwing away 2.5 pounds of garbage a day. I came in well under at about three quarters of a pound. I suspect that was only because the dog hair in the pile was soaking wet. (It should also be noted here that I ate out a fair amount yesterday, and have no way of accounting for the trash that went into preparing those meals.)

There is a design flaw in our garbage. Our garbage was designed to be garbage. There is little or no re-usability in Styrofoam take out containers or coffee filters. There is definitely no re-usability for the eggshells.

Today, as everything from the energy to create the spoon to the energy to dispose of the spoon is in question. Energy conservation has become part of the function of the products form. This should excite designers everywhere as designing spoons has gotten pretty stale since about 15008 B.C. when they pretty much perfected them.

Today, I suspect the designers mind is thinking this: I need a way to get this hot beef stew into my mouth from this totally bio-degradable paper bowl without looking like a college student. And I forgot my own spoon at home. What I need is an organic made plastic spoon. I will call it bio-degradable corn starch cutlery.

-thoughts over morning coffee by Adam

Yabba-Dabba-Don’t Think So by Lauren Keith

Photo by Lupin le Vorace, flickr.com

People who recall the four Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle, remember this phrase for the rest of eternity) might be a little curious about how we can reduce our impact on the planet by consuming more to make ourselves feel sexier.

When I think of making something sexier, it usually involves pushing products, especially in the fashion industry. We’ve got to get everyone buying organic, buying sustainably, wait…buying?

Unfortunately, I don’t think Earth is going to recover from global warming by indulging in a little retail therapy.

But what could be sexier than creating and buying sexy things that we already made in the past?

Like this lovely necklace from 10,000 BC:

Don’t be fooled by the rocks that she’s got, she’s still Wilma from the Bedrock block.

Or how about these lovely, organically produced dresses made from recycled plastic bags and bottles:

Available in all your favorite colors, as long as those colors are blue or white.

Forget dependence on foreign oil. Tone your Middle East with this alternative energy:

Is not compatible with E-85.

And with that mentality, why don’t we just throw out everything that requires electricity? Why don’t we stop breathing so that carbon dioxide emissions will decrease? Why don’t we just tear down our apartments and build houses out of sod again?

I must have forgotten the last R: get Real.

Global warming can’t be solved from sex-ifying a green lifestyle by encouraging consumption, especially of goods that aren’t locally produced. Instead, maybe we should look at reusing old, unsexy things to create new, eco-friendly items. Then we are sticking to at least three Rs and feeling sexy.

I might be up with cavemen, but everyone else is down with living like the Jetsons. Unfortunately, I think they got lucky enough to escape to another planet that isn’t on the path to destruction.


—Lauren Keith

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