Waste – an easy way to picture some ugly numbers

10 06 2007

An amazing site (that I discovered thanks to Quarentia today) is found just here.

It depicts all kinds of mindboggling statistics in visual form.  Most relate to waste and consumption.

Take a look at the jet planes’ skytrails images.  Quite shocking.

I just love conceptual art like this.




5 responses

11 06 2007

I loved some of that artwork… I’m always impressed when people try to put things like numbers into visual form – plus the artwork just looks cool 🙂

The problem though, is that whilst it lets us appreciate how BIG these numbers really are, it does nothing to put them into conext. I actually blogged about this site before, so I’ll just quote from that post:

The problem with such big numbers is that they are difficult for us to put in perspective – and whilst these artworks are good at demonstrating the sheer size of the numbers, they do nothing to put those numbers into context. The world is a big place. For example, the US generates 220 million tonnes of trash every year. But how meaningful is that figure? How much waste can the US accommodate? Are they running out of room?

Let’s try putting that number into context: If you created a landfill 35 miles on each side, and 200 feet high, it would be big enough to handle 1,000 years worth of US trash (hat tip to Penn and Teller’s episode on Recycling for this example).

Now, that’s a bloody big landfill! But on a map of the US, it’s just a dot. Obviously, nobody is suggesting we build a big waste dump of that size – it’s purely hypothetical to put the numbers into perspective. So, visit the site, and enjoy the art, but remember: without context, statistics are meaningless – whatever form they’re delivered in.

11 06 2007


Your comment about contexualising the numbers is a valid one. There are perhaps colourful ways of presenting some figures like these in relation to population size and geography.

However, without context, there remains something that we inherently understand when we look at those pictures.

When I drink from a plastic bottle it may take me ten minutes to empty it. There is a part of me deep down that relises that if I cast it aside (unrecycled), it will outlive me by many generations. I’ll change jobs, attend weddings, watch my family grow and the bottle will still sit there. Years later, I’ll play with grandkids, read some moving novels, explore my family history…..and the bottle will still be there. I’ll become ill, die and be buried or burned….and the bottle will still sit there. My children will live their lives, grow old and die…..and the bottle will still sit there. Having served its purpose in ten short minutes, it will remain and persist..unlike the products of all other species which may be broken down and re-used many times over. It makes the act of casting aside the bottle seems a perverse one. Each one of those bottles represents an obscene act.

Similarly, without understanding the context, we may view those thousands of handguns. We understand that behind each of them is a life; a complex, feeling person with unknown potential for loving and being loved, who was murdered or who ended their own life with a gun. Each gun represents an obscene act. Context is important..but the images have value despite its absence.

12 06 2007
Helen Deane

Wow, that actually hurts to look at that site…
your comment about guns is really important,…the function is to kill, that is its point, it isn’t like other objects that are used for other means that can be interpreted as weapons (kitchen knives etc), its soul purpose for existing is to end life. I think images like this can be both a help and a hindrance depending on your outlook. Some may take the massive example of wastefulness to change their habits, some may be too overwhelmed by the imagery to feel they can make a difference…this seems to be an endless hurdle when it comes to the best way in which to educate people!

14 06 2007

Mmm, pretty overwhelming. I remember one of the first statements that made me think about waste was perhaps 10-15 yrs ago when I heard David Suzuki say… “There IS NO AWAY” – referring to our oft used phrase – “I threw it away”. His comment has stuck in my mind ever since. Away is here…home…planet Earth.

21 06 2007

Wow, powerful images, thanks for the pointer.

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