What better way to address bigger picture environmental problems than creating an interactive eco-art installation and putting it on public display? Perhaps there’s no finer tool to get a complicated issue and positive message across to the masses.

“The Garbage Cube” is just one such device.

The artwork emerged this year from its previous incarnation as “The Carbon Cube”, a concept design by 350.org Art Ambassador, Kevin Buckland. It was first presented in China two summers ago and has appeared at several major events across the capital, such as The Modern Sky Festival, Climate Action Carnival, and last year’s Beijing Electronic Music Festival (INTRO).


The Carbon Cube, scaling 2m x 2m x 2m, was originally designed to demonstrate the size and average volume of CO2 emissions that a person produces on a daily basis. According to Kevin’s calculations, each person in China produces 1 of these cubes every 11 hours. He also estimated that the average US citizen produces 1 of these cubes every 4 hours.

But how could Americans use (and waste) so much more energy? Haven’t we all read the headlines how China surpassed the US as the largest producer of global CO2 emissions?

The answer lies in the difference of habits and lifestyle. In other words, the average Chinese citizen does not fly home for the holidays, drive an SUV, eat large slabs of beef every week, or own two TVs.

At least, they don’t yet.

But the scary fact remains that the rise in prosperity, available purchasing options and consumer trends in China today predict an increase of cubes per person in the not-too-distant future. As economic prosperity rises, so does the atmosphere of throw-away culture, continuing to seep into people’s subconscious alongside the number of the nation’s urban landfills, which are expected to reach capacity in the coming decade.

Waste management solutions are not only critical to combat the rapid disappearance of environmental resources, but vitally needed to slow climate change in China and solve its various pollution problems. For example, reducing the volume of household trash by one kilogram daily could cut carbon emissions by 2.06 kg per day – with China’s 370 million households combined, that’s a savings of 762.2 million kg of carbon emissions daily.

In response to this emergency, student members from “Greening the Beige”, a grassroots volunteer project dedicated to raising environmental awareness through hosting art and community activities, transformed “The Carbon Cube” into “The Garbage Cube” in an effort to illustrate the relationship between CO2 emissions and waste production.

“The Garbage Cube” recently premiered at the 3rd annual Beijing Electronic Music Festival (INTRO) from May 21-22 and was held in the city’s illustrious warehouse district, 798 Art Zone, welcoming nearly 20,000 attendees from across China and the world over.

INTRO stands for “Ideas Need To Reach Out”, making it the perfect platform to present the installation and for “Greening the Beige” to recite its mantra: “One person’s trash is another person’s art project”.

The new cube not only demonstrated the volume of CO2 each party person produced, but also offered thousands of young Chinese hipsters to learn more about the trash situation in Beijing, as well as helping all those who entered to sort and classify their festival waste.

sites/all/files/beijing1.jpgThe response to “The Garbage Cube” was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone knows that China faces increasing threats of pollution, drought and climate change. Handing them immediate tools to do something about these problems personally is extremely empowering.

“Do you know that this is the only place on the entire festival grounds (40,000 sqm) that offers a place to recycle?” one festival goer asked me. I nodded, showed her where to chuck her plastic water bottle, and explained we were happy to help out.

For a country that continues to struggle with balancing its economic development and environmental damage, establishing eco-culture is an essential element towards its success.  Of course, this rings true not only for China but for post-industrial countries such as the US that grapple with green development just the same. Finding creative solutions to pollution problems is a global mandate. Which reminds me of another Greening the Beige mantra: “Home is where the eARTh is.”

Carissa Welton – aka GreenLadyC – is the co-founder & 1st director of Greening the Beige, an “eco-minded” art collective organically formed in Beijing that’s served the local community various forms of trash-art since 2007.

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