Unless you’re on a No Impact Man-style mission to eliminate your trash, you probably don’t give a lot of thought to exactly how much you’re throwing away each day. Photographer Gregg Segal decided to make things a little more obvious: After inviting friends and neighbors to bring a week’s worth of garbage to a photo shoot, he took portraits of everyone with their personal pile of discarded packaging, food, and other waste.
The piles might look big, but they’re probably fairly average. The typical American throws out nearly 50 pounds of trash in a week. That’s around three times more than the average person in Japan, and almost seven times as much as the average Indian, though our personal piles of garbage are growing almost everywhere. By 2025, the amount of solid waste around the world will nearly double, and by 2100, the World Bank projects that we’ll be producing 11 million tons of trash globally every day.
The photographs in the 7 Days of Garbage series don't even include everything each household threw out. "A lot of people edited out their garbage," Segal says. "I asked people to include stinky garbage if possible, and some didn’t. I mean, it’s hard to lay in garbage, let alone lay their with rotting stuff. But some people were brave and did it."
The photographs also include recyclables. "I want people to see how much we consume," Segal says. "Even if it’s recycled, it’s still stuff that we’re processing, stuff that we’re buying, using, and throwing away. If you’re familiar with the Pacific Garbage Patch—a gyre of slowly churning plastic about twice the size of Texas—you realize that an awful lot of what’s considered recyclable ends up in the ocean."
Segal set up fake but natural-looking settings in his backyard for the shoot—a forest, a beach, and a murky puddle of water. "I wanted to emphasize the fact that garbage is ubiquitous- it’s everywhere, and I wanted to show that it reaches all corners of the Earth," he says. "Every valuable natural environment is affected by us."
He hopes the series will remind people that it's possible to reduce consumption. "I think consumption is one of the biggest problems we face, and one of the things we do the least about because we feel overwhelmed by it," Segal says. "I’m just trying to personalize and put a face on it by photographing people with their trash."