On March 29, 2010, Darshan Karwat, an aerospace engineering doctoral student at the University of Michigan, decided to live a year without producing trash–including recyclables.  The following Winter in a course on Organizations & the Natural Environment, twelve UM undergrads along with Professor Victoria Johnson decided to devote their final project to studying Darshan’s alternative lifestyle and the broader environmental and organizational context of one individual’s decisions.  This website is the result of that semester.

Read more and see clips from our interviews with Darshan by clicking on the subject tabs at the top of the page.

Students from the Organizational Studies (OS) program and Program in the Environment (PitE) with Darshan and Professor Victoria Johnson (center)

Students: Adam Baker, Catherine Baxter, Caroline Canning, Nicholas Cormier, Sonali Devarajan, Josh Corey Kappel, Patrick Leonard, Julia Petty, Neal Sangal, Cristine Santanna, Samantha Schwartz, Juleah Szopo

By Cristine Santanna

 

The world is currently populated with 6,909,950,950 humans (U.S. Census Bureau as of 04/04/2011). If all individuals in the world had the same life standards as North Americans, Earth would not be able to sustain more than 2 billion people (Pimentel, 1999). The reason why it is still possible to sustain such a large population is because most people do not have the same living standards as North Americans (McCluney, 2004), and do not consume the same resources or produce the same amount of waste. To reduce the amount of waste each person produces is the same as reducing the amount of resources each person uses, and would increase earth’s ability to sustain its growing population. Many simple steps that can be taken by each individual to reduce waste can have great impacts when extended to a community or population level. The advantages of reducing waste outweigh the possible disadvantages and can be achieved quite easily. Read the rest of this entry »

By Josh Corey Kappel

1. Acknowledging the Importance of Planning Ahead 

Were you inspired by Darshan’s story, yet remain skeptical of your own ability to follow down Darshan’s path? If so, there is no need to fear. While it may seem as if you must drop everything in your life in order to attain Darshan’s level of waste reduction, the initial changes you set out to make do not have to be overly drastic.

The first step towards confronting this daunting challenge is to plan ahead. In order to understand why, when, how, and how often you produce waste, you must consider a wide range of social, environmental, and psychological factors. Gaining an understanding of how these dynamics affect your waste production will enable you to establish waste reduction goals as well as a course of action for meeting those goals. Read the rest of this entry »

By Nicholas Cormier

The United States has been known to be extremely wasteful for decades.  We produce more waste than any nation in the entire world.  At first, this was a social norm, and no one really cared.  The people who did were labeled “tree huggers” and not taken seriously when they spoke out.  In the 80s and 90s, everyone was spending.  Economic times were at an all time high, and people were virtually worry-free.  It was a prosperous time, but was it prosperous to the point that it became detrimental?  Today, Americans are, on average, twenty pounds heavier; the average American used to save 11% of their disposable income, but that figure has dropped down to 1%; and the average size of an American household has doubled (Anderson, 2009).  How does that affect the country in an environmental sense? Read the rest of this entry »

By Sonali Devarajan

My roommate Sam is not an environmentalist.  If a behavior change seems to require an extra effort on her part, she is not going to give it the time of day–the life of a quasi-obsessive compulsive college student is not to be disturbed.  This attitude reflects her regard for the environment; it is less than an afterthought.

I tell her about Darshan’s journey all the time.  Darshan Karwat is a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan who decided to live for a year producing as little trash as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

By Samantha Schwartz

Discarded computer keyboards (image: Greenpeace)

Our society functions through the use of electronics.  The average individual has easy access to a television, computer, and a telephone.  Today, people communicate primarily through cell phones and the Internet, expecting an immediate response.  Electronics certainly add much convenience to our lives and the uses of them are becoming increasingly popular and considered vital in everyday life.  For example, the sales of personal computers have exploded.  In 1980 there were approximately 300,000 desktop computers sold in the United States.  The following year, sales increased by a shocking 500%.  Computer sales in the U.S. continue to increase approximately 10% each year.  Today, a total of approximately 130 million computers are sold around the world (Costs of Computer Boom 2011).  Although electronics, computers, and cell phones in particular, are becoming more technologically advanced and integrated into society, their detriments to the environment are increasing as well. Read the rest of this entry »

By Adam Baker

 

Environmental degradation is changing the world around us, and humans are a significant cause.  There are many obvious causes to the degradation of the environment, such as air pollution from automobiles and factories.  These are sources of air pollution that you can actually see and smell.  However, many people do not realize the environmental damage they are causing by throwing away a plastic bag or even surfing the web on the computer.   Society is structured to favor convenience, speed, and efficiency, wherever possible.  Bottle water, plastic/paper cups, and plastic, are all common goods used in a day.  These goods are unnecessary, but are used because they provide convenience to their consumer. Read the rest of this entry »

By Caroline Canning

Workers sort through recycling by hand (Image: nola.com)

In contemporary American society, we recycle in hopes of ending the need to use virgin inputs to make new products.  Recycling has moved from an idea and marginal activity to an integral part of the American lifestyle within the past 30 years.  The early vision for recycling included community volunteers and drop-off stations.  Gradually, however, the idea transformed the functions of solid waste management conglomerates.  Currently, cities across America, including Ann Arbor, are switching their recycling collection to a single stream method, allowing even more material to be recycled.  It is important to focus on the history and trends of recycling to better understand today’s current practices and predict tomorrow’s efforts. Read the rest of this entry »

By Neal Sangal

Image: Harvard Campus Services

In 2009, Americans generated an average of 4.34 pounds of waste each day (EPA 2009). If these rates continue, children born today will produce more than 120,000 pounds of waste over their lifetime. Thats a lot of garbage! Some will inevitably be recycled, some of it burned, and some buried in landfills. And while technologies in waste management have changed over time, and will continue to change, our enormous production of waste is a major challenge for society. This paper will discuss an overview of municipal solid waste, including historical trends and regional differences and difficulties. It will then examine the industry that has developed around garbage, the negative consequences associated with landfilling, and what lies ahead in waste management. Read the rest of this entry »

By Catherine Baxter

 

Darshan Karwat is someone who has not let the immensity of environmental problems deter him from attempting to make a difference. He has decided to live a trash-free life and has made it his mission to be more connected to his community. Even though he advocates for individual pro-environmental action, he must constantly interact with others and organizations, and he faces the challenges they present him with confidence and dedication. Read the rest of this entry »