Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Clean Bin Project

     Starting on Canada Day (July 1st), 2008, Jen Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin started the Clean Bin Project. Their goal was to create as close to zero waste as possible, which included only buying things that were absolutely necessary like food, toilet paper, and materials for Grant's job. They each kept an individual bin for garbage as well as several communal bins for different types of recycling and compost. Throughout their project, Jen and Grant went so far as to bring home their leftover food from eating out in order to compost it and bring their own containers to the grocery store in order to bring home meat and cheese without the packaging. There were some setbacks, including when Grant was injured and ended up with extra, unavoidable waste. Overall, the project was successful, with Jen generating only 4 liters and Grant only generating 6 liters throughout the entire year. Compared with the average person's waste generation in a year (over 1000 lbs), their project was clearly very effective.

     The creativity that they displayed in creating this solution to an environmental problem is more difficult to measure than the creativity that is displayed when a person creates a product. As R. Keith Sawyer explains, creative processes that require improvisation in order to solve a problem or achieve a particular end are must more difficult to understand and study than the type of processes that simply end in a product. However, Jen and Grant have clearly come up with innovative ways to reduce their waste and consumption in response to a major environmental problem. This indicates that they were mostly extrinsically motivated, as Mary Ann Collins and Teresa M. Amabile explain, to find a solution to their problem. Though there is certainly the possibility that there was some intrinsic motivation in play, the fact that both Jen and Grant found that they often did not enjoy the project indicates that it was mostly done for the end of environmental protection rather than for a love of the process itself.

The Clean Bin Project (2010) Poster
     As a result of their year-long project, many people throughout the world have attempted their own versions of the project, and a greater focused has been placed not only on recycling and waste reduction but also on composting and limiting consumption. In 2010, The Clean Bin Project was released and declared one of the best documentaries of the year. The movie follows them throughout their year, detailing not only their successes but also their struggles with finding innovative ways to limit waste and with how much difference they can make if no one around them changes their practices. Despite their frustrations with what the people around them are doing, it is clear that their story has inspired many others to at least change their practices to some extent, if not to try to completely eliminate waste.

     If you are interested in more information on their project or how they solved some of the problems they came across, check out the movie. The trailer can be found here.



  1. This was a fascinating project and exciting to read about. I think this project is a clear example of Kaufman and Beghetto's little-c "creativity," since it reflects the efforts of non-experts toward solving a less visible, everyday problem. In my Ecology and the Human Footprint class, we are discussing how one of the largest contributing factors to the garbage crisis is the relative ignorance of the subject enjoyed by the public. By choosing to pay attention to the incremental accumulation of garbage, and by limiting their own household waste, Rustemeyer and Baldwin have displayed true creativity, and inspired others to do the same.

  2. Conservation and reducing your own waste is an admirable aim. However, I worry that Kaufman and Beghetto are not being as creative as they claim, because they don't look at the wider picture. When they went to restaurants for example, while they brought the food home in their own containers, they never looked to see what waste was generated by the restaurant in the creation of their meals, or whether it was recycled or composted as much as they were doing themselves. More importantly, many of their their practices are simply out of reach of many people. Most people, shopping at normal supermarkets such as Aldi cannot avoid the packaging on virtually every product. If you can afford to purchase top quality fresh ingredients, waste is much more easily avoided than the majority of people who cannot afford to pay substantially more for every meal. What this means is that the clean bin project is essentially impossible to replicate on a budget. While admirable, it may be more effective to focus on the prevention of waste generation at the producer end, and to encourage supermarkets and other places to reduce their use of non-recyclable packaging. This would enable all people to be able to reduce their environmental footprint without compromising their family's financial security.


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