7 Days of Garbage

Ever since I was a kid I’ve wondered why we produce so much garbage.
Part of the problem is that the products we buy aren’t made to last the way they once were. The technology exists to make a refrigerator that will keep your beer cold for 400 years, but Sears would go broke if they sold such a refrigerator. Companies need to sell you new refrigerators and microwaves and cars and smart phones every few years in order to be profitable and to grow. Economic growth is synonymous with waste. But is it only our economic model that is to blame? Are we merely victims? Is it our fault that we come home from the grocery store with a load of plastic and packaging that goes straight into the trash (or recycling bin, to ease our guilt)? It’s easy to be lazy and passive and indulge our desire for stuff while blaming corporate greed. But it isn’t responsible, not if we want to leave the world a better place for those who follow us. I asked family, friends, neighbors and other acquaintances to save their trash and recyclables for a week and then lie down and be photographed in it. We’ve made our beds and now we’re lying in them. Me included.
I photographed my family because I wanted my son to understand that we’re contributing to the problem, too. I created the settings for the pictures in my backyard in Altadena, California: water, forest, beach, snow; no natural environment is safe from trash. Some question why I’ve counted recyclables as garbage. Sadly, much of what we think is recyclable doesn’t get recycled. Every year, 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans. Many cities have done away with their recycling programs because they’re too costly and inefficient. But the main reason I included recyclables in these portraits is because that’s what defines us. The common thread is the waste generated by the food industry. Most of us don’t grow or prepare our own food. We’ve grown dependent on the industries of eating and cooking and the result has been a massive increase in waste. It’s one thing to get a handful of people you photograph to consider their consumption habits more deeply — but can you get a whole lot of people to change — or at least think more deeply about what they use and throw away on a daily basis?
By personalizing the problem of waste — by starting with myself and those I know, and then reaching a broader audience with this collection of pictures, I’ve found that people all over the world are taking small steps to mitigate the crisis. Reflecting on the pictures I’ve made, I see 7 Days of Garbage as instant archeology, a record not only of our waste, but of our values — values that may be evolving.


About Gregg Segal
Gregg Segal studied photography and film at California Institute of the Arts (BFA) dramatic writing at New York University (MFA) and education at The University of Southern California (MA). Segal’s photography has been recognized by American Photography, Communication Arts, PDN, Investigative Reporters and Editors, The New York Press Club, the Society of Publication Designers and the Magnum Photography Awards. He is the recipient of the 2018 Food Sustainability Media Award sponsored by Thomson Reuters and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation. Segal’s portraiture and photo essays have been featured in Time, GEO, Smithsonian, The Independent, Le Monde, Fortune, National Geographic Adventure and Wired, among others. His first monograph Daily Bread was published by Powerhouse Books in 2019.
Website: greggsegal.com




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