Trash Trip

Exploring waste, from coast to coast.

My Own Words

I was asked to contribute to the blog for Here is my original version, for some fun comparison:

The world is a pretty small place, especially when you open yourself to discovering it. It’s also covered with a lot of water and a whole lot of people.

People make waste, no matter how ecologically forward-thinking they may be; it is a fact of life – not unlike eating, breathing, and drinking. What kinds of waste we make, how much of it we generate, and what we do with it is the debate. Like others, I am in search of ideas and possible solutions. To quote one of my high-school, shop-class teachers, “There are as many opinions out there as there are belly buttons.” Mr. Ebemeier may have taught me welding, metal working, and auto repairs then but he also shined a light on the world around us all.

In the past, I have done a lot of interesting and uninteresting work; met a lot of interesting and uninteresting people; and learned a lot of interesting and uninteresting things. This year, I am traveling from Alaska to Argentina, “exploring waste, from coast to coast.” Having been born in Alaska, forty years ago, I felt it an appropriate place to start. After having traveled around the world as a skydiver, traveling through a variety of cultures was my chosen platform for this trip; I wanted to find out how people from different places view and handle their waste. So, I decided to do what has already been done before – by many people before me but with my own twist – to travel, from the top to the bottom of the Americas, asking questions along the way.

Even though I’m not even halfway through my trip, I have already experienced many serendipitous moments; moments that one could not have planned. Instead of doing heavy research before arriving at each stop along the route, I let things unfold naturally. By meeting people, listening to their stories, and opening myself to their ideas – instead of making it my prerogative to show others what I know – I was lead to the next person, place, and idea. This tactic, if one could even consider it one, has lead me from riding in a garbage truck in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to crewing on a square-rigged brigantine in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Did I mention that my trip has only just begun? There is much more yet to come.

On board the Kaisei, I am volunteering as part of a 25-member crew, in search of “the place where forgotten things go.” Things that people forgot to tie down, to put away, to secure in place – on deck or on land – ending up in the wind and the waterways, which flow to the ocean. There is no curbside service, to gather up the debris brought out to the oceans’ gyres around the globe. The efforts of those on board are to study what the effect of our forgotten goods has on the marine environment, as well as possible methods of removing it.

By the time we make it back on land, it will have been four weeks. This is the first time I’ve been out to sea and on a square-rigged ship. I signed up as crew, less than 24 hours before the boat passed under the Golden Gate bridge, and didn’t know anyone more than a few minutes before we pulled anchor; I didn’t even know what bunk I had to sleep in that first night. I wouldn’t consider myself a seasoned sailor; I have the basic training and boating experience one gets while living in the bay area. On deck, it became a small goal of mine to make it to the topgallant yard; it’s not the highest point on the ship, but it’s the second highest – and you’re hanging out at the end of a metal beam to boot. I did it, once, and I’m happy to say that it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it to be. Like skydiving, it’s the imagination that’s always the scariest part. Riding out swells and bow surges, while peering down onto the deck below – while trying to heave up the sail and lock it in – was more tiring than anything; I would have preferred my first time aloft to have been in a harbor, truth be told. I will leave the Kaisei with a newly-found respect for those who make the seas their home and their office. Meanwhile, however, I will be continuing my travels south, mainly by land.

Armed with my passport, a microphone, a camera, and a smile, I feel ready to take on the world once more. Having a few extra languages under my belt, French and Spanish, I feel I am about as well-trained as one could hope to be for a trip of this sort; my background in engineering, plus a variety of other handy skills, helps too. All together, I have over three dozen interviews collected so far; with plans to gather more as I go. Eventually, I will edit these interviews into a podcast. The outlet for that which I have and have yet to acquire – in interviews and images – is through my website,

What happens when I’m finished is the second-most popular question I’m asked; I’ll let you ponder the first one (hint: I have it posted on my FAQ page). There are many possibilities; ideas for which I am gathering and developing along the way. Ben Franklin had it right – small acts by many people out-weigh great efforts by few people. My goal is to get as many people to make small changes, in order to make a greater difference in our shared world. What those changes may be are many. How many people get involved, well, one can only wait and see. But, the world is a small place and you’ve got to start somewhere, sometime, with something in mind – even if it is only to open yourself to the possibilities.

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