Find the latest episode of "The Uncertain Hour" here. Listen

Tess’ trash challenge takes a bow

Kai Ryssdal Sep 28, 2007

Tess’ trash challenge takes a bow

Kai Ryssdal Sep 28, 2007


KAI RYSSDAL: About six weeks from now, we’re going to be launching a special series looking at the American consumer economy — why we keep buying as much stuff as we do, and whether or not it’s sustainable.

We had Tess Vigeland on a couple of weeks ago with a sneak preview of part of her reporting for us. She’s been looking not so much at the consumption of consumer goods, but what comes out the other end, if you will. She’s been hauling around her trash for the past few weeks, and we’ve got her back in for an update… Hey, Tess.


RYSSDAL: We probably ought to start in the interest of full disclosure by saying I haven’t actually seen you and your trash bag in a couple-three-four days. What’s the update?

VIGELAND: Well, Kai, you wouldn’t have seen me with it for the last couple of days. This trash challenge was supposed to last for two weeks and I was going to carry my trash around… But because of my lack of knowledge in the early days of the challenge, I started putting things in there that eventually ended up stinking up the joint. And by the time — What, Tuesday? — rolled around this week, there was no way I was going to be bringing that into the office or carting it around in my car. Because it was intolerable. So, RIP. My bag is in the trash.

RYSSDAL: Seems to me what happens here, Tess, though, is you have to think about the front end before you think about the back end, right? What you’re buying, and then what’s eventually going to end up in the trash stream.

VIGELAND: Right — and how much extra packaging there is on so much of what we buy. One of my trash challenge followers suggested we all take all of our non-compostable, non-recyclable packaging back to the store we bought it from and say “Hey, we’re returning the unneeded part of our purchase.” That would certainly get their attention, but that’s not necessarily going to go anything to get the manufacturers not to place so much extra packaging on everything we buy.

RYSSDAL: OK wait — you have a trash challenge follower thing going?

VIGELAND: I have many, many trash challenge followers. I have several listeners who have decided to join the trash challenge. They face some of the same obstacles I have. But in all, there really are solutions out there — some of them are very expensive, some are very easy. Just watch what you’re buying and make every effort to recycle. But getting off this whole idea of the trash grid? I don’t know if it’s possible, unless I stop buying anything.

RYSSDAL: Which of course, kind of defeats the purpose of a consumer economy to begin with, right.

VIGELAND: That’s right. And the question there, which we are going to be asking in the Consumed series in November, is: How much of that is sustainable? Do we really need all the stuff we buy? And I’ll tell you, from this trash experiment, I probably don’t need all the stuff I buy.

RYSSDAL: Marketplace’s Tess Vigeland hosts our weekend personal finance program — it’s called Marketplace Money. She has also been hauling around her trash for a couple of weeks. You can become one of her trash challenge followers by clicking on our Web site — it’s, the link you’re looking for is Sustainability. Tess, thanks a lot.

VIGELAND: Thank you, Kai.

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.