Walking the Trash Talk

The City of San Francisco is trying to end trash as we know it.

The plan is called Zero Waste and the idea is that the entire city will stop putting anything at all in the landfill by the year 2020. That means reusing or recycling every single thing San Franciscans “throw away.”

Away? Where is that? That’s what I hope to get people thinking and talking about after they walk this Detour.

And I’m excited. Because with this new medium, I get to literally walk you through this story.

As a reporter, I want my stories to make people think and talk.

Because if you can get people thinking and talking, it means you got them to care. And getting people to care, to me, is one of the most fundamental jobs a reporter has.

Many of our Detours are journalistic in that they tell true stories about history, people and neighborhoods. But this is the first time we’re using Detour to tell the story of an issue.

We don’t take you to a landfill or a dump, show you a “place,” and talk about it. Instead, we walk you through the nooks and crannies of daily life in San Francisco, from a convenience store to the trash cans in someone’s driveway to a brewpub to a Bay-side park — with lots of surprises along the way. Because the front lines of San Francisco’s war on garbage are everywhere.

And here’s what’s satisfying about telling this story along a path through the everyday world:

  • When I want you to think about how much trash we make every day, I can point to the shelves of a convenience store.
  • When I explain San Francisco’s strategies for keeping things out of the landfill, I can literally show you some of them, like how you can’t get a plastic bag from the Walgreen’s cashier.
  • When I want to back up and teach you a little about the history of garbage in San Francisco, I can gesture to the Bay, where people have dumped hundreds of thousands of tons of garbage over the last two centuries.
  • When I want you to think about how much litter ends up in the Bay even now, I can walk you through a bayside park and show you bits of trash blowing across the landscape before they land in the water, even invite you to pick them up.

Friends that have tested this Detour have been impressed by the difference between hearing versus walking and experiencing a story.

“It’s like you’re walking through a movie of your life,” they say. They tell me they’ve thought differently about things as banal as spitting their gum into the garbage. Where will it go?

What a thrill to get to experiment with a medium that can wrap real life into a narrative. To make people care, I can use words and voices and images, but also grocery aisles and garbage bins and a native plant nursery and plastic bags stuck in trees. That’s a storytelling vocabulary we at Detour are only beginning to understand.

Marianne McCune


Originally published at blog.detour.com on February 19, 2015.