Sometimes it is difficult to imagine just how much waste Americans produce. The best way to understand the extensive nature of our country’s waste problem is to see it in a photograph (or 10). It is sometimes difficult to see ourselves as contributors to the mess. After all, what’s one more cell phone added to the pile? The problem comes when millions of people are thinking the same thing.

Photographer Chris Jordan takes pictures of the debris our society leaves behind. When you think of waste, you probably imagine overflowing trash bags and smelly landfills. Some of the debris collections are shocking and mesmerizing, and the photographer hopes it will instill some level of understanding. “As an American consumer myself, I am in no position to finger wag; but I do know that when we reflect on a difficult question in the absence of an answer, our attention can turn inward, and in that space may exist the possibility of some evolution of thought or action. So my hope is that these photographs can serve as portals to a kind of cultural self-inquiry. It may not be the most comfortable terrain, but I have heard it said that in risking self-awareness, at least we know that we are awake.”

Thankfully with these collections of items, they can be at least partially recycled and won’t end up sitting in a landfill for the rest of all time.  Jordan explained, “I am appalled by these scenes, and yet also drawn into them with awe and fascination. The immense scale of our consumption can appear desolate, macabre, oddly comical and ironic, and even darkly beautiful; for me its consistent feature is a staggering complexity.” The photographs should serve as a reminder that we should be conscious about how much we consume and how much we are disposing of, because it will all eventually collect into a larger problem.


Cell Phones in Atlanta, 2005 – In a world where a new version of the same cell phone comes out practically every year, old phones become outdated quickly. It’s difficult to imagine just how many are disposed of until you see them piled together in one yard. Do you really need the newest iPhone the days it comes out, when the one you currently have is in mint condition? Consider keeping your phone around a little longer before kicking it to the curb.

Crushed Cars in Tacoma, 2004 – Cars last longer than cell phones (and thankfully so!) Cars can be restored or fixed up and made like new again. For cars that are beyond repair, their parts can be salvaged and the recycled material can be used for other things.

Circuit Boards in Atlanta, 2004 – When stacked side by side, these circuit boards resemble mesmerizing building blocks. Circuit boards can be recycled for the scraps.

Cell Phone Chargers in Atlanta, 2004 – When you get a new phone it usually comes with a new cell phone charger (even if you might already have one that will work!) These also can break easily and are difficult to recycle. That leaves us with piles and piles of unwanted cell phone charger waste.

Glass in Seattle, 2004 – Glass is easily recyclable, but it is also easily repurposed. So, before you toss out your next glass bottle, think “is there another way I could use this?” Just search for “re-purpose glass bottle” on the internet and be amazed at all the great eco-friendly ideas to reduce waste.

E-Waste in New Orleans, 2005 – E-Waste includes electronics, such as televisions, stereos, computers, and gaming systems. Items in this category are similar to cell phones. What can you do with those old electronics rather than throwing them out or sending them to a recycling yard? Many of these items still work and can be put to good use by somebody in need if they are donated.

Pole Yard in Tacoma, 2004 – Poles can be re-purposed for other things in construction. Imagine collecting all of these poles and using them to make one giant log cabin!

Recycling Yard in Seattle, 2004 – Recyclable items that cannot be re-purposed are shredded and crushed at the recycling yard. It is difficult to imagine what went into the crushed cubes.

Steel Shred in Tacoma 2004 – Scrap metals can be shredded down where the iron and other metals can be magnetically separated from the rest.