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Everything is Energy

Danielle Coupland: Team Toronto

Team led by Ozant Kamaci

Project Essay: Consuming Waste

Waste is something we normally don’t think about as energy, especially once it leaves our household. Sure, we do recycle. But with most of our electronics, we recycle to upgrade to a newer version, like cell phones, video games, and the majority of electronics we own. I shot this series at my local landfill, where everything I throw out, and recycle, goes. I’ve focused on the idea of wasted energy through vast consumerism, mainly throughout North America. These images show everyday consumers looking to a place where we wouldn’t normally find value, towards the wasted potential energy.

The movie Wasteland, featuring the artist Vik Muniz, is what first interested me on the topic. The film features workers in Brazil in their daily lives working at a landfill who come home from work with anything from a new pair of shoes to a dinner that will feed their entire family. This really started me thinking about all the things — the energy — I throw out on a daily basis. Why was I throwing it out? Could I still put them to use? If someone else can find value in my trash, why couldn’t I? I wanted to illustrate how consumer-driven North America is, how we should start seeing treasure in someone else trash and, especially, our own. We’re always buying and consuming new, when really, there is so much value to the things we throw away, we just need to see it from a different perspective.

Everything we throw away, or stop using for one reason or another, is wasted energy. Through these images, I hope to get minds thinking about how we can save this potential energy, by starting to look at our waste differently, through someone else’s eyes, before we decide to trash it.

Creative Brief: Energy

I started this project off knowing I wanted to take portraits of some kind. So, my first step was to brainstorm every single person who has something to do with energy. Whether they were blue collar, white collar, or a collection of a lot people together, it ended up being a lot of people. I tried focusing in on certain areas, like how much energy it takes to get food to us, and the people involved in this process. From farmers to transport drivers, to supermarket employees, I thought about how I would take these portraits, but more important, why? Even though it is interesting, I had a hard time answering the question.

I then moved on to people not just working in that category, but ones trying to make a difference. I started researching people going out of their way to eat locally, and ones trying to conserve energy at all costs, ones ‘living off the grid’, in various parts of Ontario. I found a few couples and families in the area who were willing to participate, but I still couldn’t put my finger on the ‘why’ I was doing this, why them? I mean, they are doing good by having much less impact on the environment, and conserving all the energy they can. But it was just nothing new to me, and nothing new to the viewer. Although it’s great, it’s something we’ve all seen before.

I watched the movie Wasteland ( It’s about landfill workers in the world’s largest garbage dump in Brazil, I knew this was definitely something I was interested in. I wanted to show something we normally wouldn’t see, a sort of behind the scenes look, so I went to my local garbage dump to see if they would allow me in. And surprisingly, with open arms, they did. They took me on a tour of the whole facility from the ‘tipping face’ (where they dump the garbage) to composting heaps to various bins filled with electronics, others with paint cans, and others with various wood types, waiting to be chipped up.

I wanted to put myself into someone else’s shoes, or at least try to do this. Thinking about the Brazil workers, and how they show up to work hoping to bring valuables home with them everyday. Or how they find something to eat for lunch from the trash they find, or even them just trying to imagine whose garbage it is, and the type of person who threw out all these valuable things. This is the type of thing we do everyday. We’re throwing out energy. Once something gets old, worn, or tethered, we toss it without a second thought, and go and buy a new one. We’re throwing out potential energy all over the place, whether it’s food, clothing, or everyday items like computers, batteries, and even shampoo!

My idea is to focus on the wasted energy we’re throwing away every single day, I want to focus on the consumerism of the North American everyday lifestyle, and show this through thought-provoking photography.

All images in this article © Danielle Coupland



For more about Danielle Coupland and her photography, visit her Web site: