Daily Trash: How to Reduce It

Weighing trashOne day this month when I was on my own (sans family), I weighed all my trash — both garbage and recycling. It amounted to 2.48 pounds and consisted in the main of packaging. At that rate, I’d waste a staggering 10 tons in 25 years.

In Trashy Habits, my November issue of This Green Life, I pick through the trash from that day and offer ideas for reducing it.

Have you been successful in cutting back on your waste? Please share your tips!


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26 Responses to Daily Trash: How to Reduce It

  1. Gibsons Recycling Depot November 23, 2009 at 1:00 pm #

    The single most important thing as citizens that we can do is not elect any politician to elected office who isn't 110% behind proper managment of what we discard! In Canada, we are in the stone age when it comes to dealing with our waste. Who in their right mind thinks that we can put a lot of diferent items into one tote and then it can be magicaly sorted back to it's original condition? Yet, in British Columbia, this scheme is called single stream! Only a few things can go into the totes. Glass is landfilled and that's many communities recycling program. What about Styrofoam? Mattresses? Cloths? We could be doing so much better. Treating our waste as a resource is the future of recycling. Reuse and reduction is the only way to manage our discards effectively. Recycling is but one rung of the ladder. If we are ever to get a handle on what and how we discard, each individual must take responsability for their own discards. Reusing is something our grandmothers know instinctavly! And watching what we purchase and monitoring the packaging will help get manufactorers to reduce the amount of packaging and changing how things are packaged. Buy items that are well built. Throw away goods that are designed poorly should not come into our homes. Things that can be repaired may be more expensive but are they expensive in the long run? Green washing! Rebranding! And ignorance has become the playground for those who care little about sustainability and Zero waste. I am constantly amazed at how little politicians know about resource recovery and the Zero waste movement? This as a starting point is the easiest thing we can do. Ask hard questions? And above all, make these elected people accountable. It is just so easy for them to say that they support the sustainabilty Zero waste model. It is my experince, none of them do nor want to. Recycling is good. reuse is better. Getting rid of unaccountable politicians is best!

  2. Anonymous November 23, 2009 at 1:22 pm #

    Another idea for eliminating packaging is to refill reusable containers with bulk items. Granted, only some stores offer this, and only some products are available, but every bit helps. Can also be less expensive.
    Keep it simple.

  3. Lori March November 23, 2009 at 1:25 pm #

    when you said that you would prefer to use powdered laundry detergent, as opposed to liquid, because there's less materials that would go into the trash/recycling, did you stop to consider that most powder detergents have phosphates in them (which is just as bad for our environment, maybe worse given its' inciduous nature)?

  4. Carolyn November 23, 2009 at 1:31 pm #

    Baggies may be used over and over again for storing vegetables or parts of vegetables or fruit not used. Or storing meat in the freezer until recycled.

    Plastic store bags can be used over again until they have to be recycled.

    Of course, cloth grocery shopping bags are the best. We have learned to buy our groceries with cloth bags.

    San Jose, CA

  5. Anonymous November 23, 2009 at 1:37 pm #

    One great way to reduce waste is to go to Catalogchoice.org and opt out of all the catalogs you don't want to receive. This has reduced my catalog mailings by a huge amount — and the catalog mailing season is just about to go into high hear.

  6. Laura November 23, 2009 at 2:15 pm #

    enjoyed reading. a thought re coffee grounds – while you don't compost, you may have a friend or neighbor who does. isn't there anyway you could email/post a note on bulletin board & thus come up with a solution?
    even my local starbucks puts their grounds in a bin available for the taking. don't forget that the grounds are great for azaleas, rhododendrons, acid-loving plants – so you might find a nursery or active gardener even if only roof or balcony.

  7. Sheryl November 23, 2009 at 2:16 pm #

    Lori, it's easy to get phosphate-free laundry powder today so that is not a trade-off you have to make.

    — Sheryl

  8. Connie Richardson November 23, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    Excellent article and I applaud your efforts to reduce waste. But when you zero in on one goal, you sometimes bump against other laudable environmental goals. Take the laundry detergent above. Another problem with the powdered detergent is that you seldom get good results without using warm water and thus incur energy use to heat the water. So keep up the good work and exploration and find your best balance and be happy. By the way, I know of at least 10 niffy things to do with junk mail envelopes. Just ask me.

  9. Anonymous November 23, 2009 at 3:01 pm #

    I compost my coffee grounds with the unbleached paper coffee filter, in addition to brown paper towels, paper towel and toilet paper rolls and egg cartons (ripped up first), in addition to vegetable trimmings and leaves. I live in the suburbs and have the outdoor space for a compost heap. But I don't feel less guilty about driving my car…~NWL

  10. Anonymous November 23, 2009 at 3:11 pm #

    Try boxed wines, which are increasingly available. Boxes typically contain 3 liters, equivalent to 4 wine bottles. A compact cardboard box contains a plastic bag with a simple dispensing valve. They typically contain 3 liters, equivalent to 4 wine bottles, with minimal packaging. The valve dispenses the wine without admitting air, so the wine stays fresh for a week or two — longer if refrigerated.

  11. Anonymous November 23, 2009 at 5:01 pm #

    You can recycle your detergent cap(and all hard plastic bottle caps) with Aveda. You can take them to any Aveda store or Institute. Great programs for schools too!


  12. Anonymous November 23, 2009 at 5:57 pm #

    For apartment dwellers, there is also the composting alternative of a worm bin. They eat lots of compostable material, and don't take up much room. Check it out for us and write about it! I put worms in my compost bin to help it work–they just move to the center to get warm, and move to the edges or down into the soil when the compost heats up. Now when I take out the compost, it is ALIVE with worms!

  13. Anonymous November 24, 2009 at 4:49 am #

    For apartment dwellers, there is also the composting alternative of a worm bin. They eat lots of compostable material, and don't take up much room. Check it out for us and write about it! I put worms in my compost bin to help it work–they just move to the center to get warm, and move to the edges or down into the soil when the compost heats up. Now when I take out the compost, it is ALIVE with worms!

  14. Anonymous November 24, 2009 at 8:34 am #

    I would agree with the above – start a worm bin. I have mine in my garage – but would live with it in an apartment. If you have a balcony or patio there is absolutely no excuse to not compost!

  15. Anonymous November 24, 2009 at 2:41 pm #

    I love the systematic way you are analyzing your waste and finding alternatives to the landfill!
    Just two things to ponder: Worm bins are wonderful and small (and don't smell if managed well). If you have plants in your apartment or house they will benefit greatly from application of your worm castings.

    And if you have room, try making your own wine (or cider, beer or vinegar) and using your empty bottles to store your very own, homemade grape or fruit wines. I made over 100 gallons last year! They are usually inexpensive (i pick my own fruit), unique and make extraordinary gifts.

  16. Ben Mack November 24, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    The article is pretty good overall, however some things were missed. One significant way to cut down on waste is to buy goods and products in bulk. Buying goods in bulk quantities is a good idea because it allows you to cut down on packaging waste (per unit), personal and environmental transportation costs, and monetary costs. Buying individual items usually costs more than buying that same item in greater quantity. Another helpful approach to reducing unnecessary waste is to consider what you actually NEED, and not what you want. Instead of buying a brand new product be a creative consumer and improvise with something you already have. What would MacGyver do? You may also try to make that non-durable consumer good last for a longer period of time. Try using moderately less toothepaste every morning or go longer between visits to the laundromat. Every little bit helps.

  17. Rebecca November 24, 2009 at 6:42 pm #

    Does anyone sell worm bins? I am not handy and do not own a drill, but I love the idea of worms composting my food waste!

  18. Eileen Woodward November 24, 2009 at 8:17 pm #

    Sheryl, this article was great! Such an eye-opener and a perfect homeschool project for me and my kids to replicate. There are some good suggestions from others on here. I think taking one day at a time, evaluating waste, then finding solutions for that waste is a great way to babystep to success! We are all on a journey and taking it one day at a time with one challenge at a time keeps it challenging, fun, and productive.

  19. Sheryl November 25, 2009 at 9:08 am #

    Thank you, everyone, for all the suggestions!

    I will definitely do a piece on worm bins in the future given the interest. (Still not for me personally, though. I don't have enough plants to make use of the compost, or enough neighbors of the type who would. Waiting for an NYC composting program instead. The city experimented with it once and found it too expensive, but I have hopes for the future given the programs now being tried in other cities.)

    Re box wine — when I was in Baja visiting the gray whales, the expedition leaders served it every night, and I certainly found it good in those circumstances. My current wine store, which specializes in natural and artisanal products, sometimes promotes a box wine from Spain. I will try it!

    I love the suggestion of making my own wine, but it's truly pie-in-the-sky for me.

    Re laundry powder and water temperature — there are "all-temperature" brands, such as Biokleen's All-Temperature Citrus Laundry Powder. Whatever brand is used, it's important to dissolve it in the water before putting in the clothes.

    I've just looked up the Aveda recycling program for plastic bottle tops and it seems to be just for schools. I will call to see about drop-off by individuals. I'd also like to know what happens to the caps after they're collected.

    Lastly, re bulk buying — I agree this is the way to go if (a)you will actually use all you buy; and (b)you do your shopping by car. I shop by foot so it's impractical. On the positive side, I save the gas.

    — Sheryl

  20. Liz Amason November 26, 2009 at 7:42 am #

    Thanks for sharing, Sheryl!

    Regarding the comment about powdered laundry detergent, I dilute mine down with warm water first and then put in the detergent well in my washer. I'm still able to use cold water and get a excellent washing. The brand that I use, doesn't recommend that, I've just instituted that process, for myself.
    Also, here's my post on generating less waste:

  21. Susan December 1, 2009 at 7:41 am #

    1)Get a laundry ball. No detergent, no powder, no liquid. About $50 at gaiam.com

    2)Compost. Get a small Rubbermaid container, dark lid/body. Add worms, hamster bedding. Drop your compost in. Fits on the balcony, no excuses.

  22. Susan December 1, 2009 at 7:42 am #

    If you haven't already, I'm sure you'd enjoy reading Elizabeth Royte's Garbageland, an entertaining and accurate book, where she starts out measuring and ends up following each trash stream she generates.

    I enjoyed your column, but I do have a couple of comments. If you buy a large toothpaste, it lasts an awfully long time (for me at any rate). Buying in larger containers may make more sense to many people than making their own toothpaste which isn't exactly tasty.

    Coffee filters can be composted, as can soap wrappers and, indeed, most papers. (They need to be shredded, which in large commercial piles, will happen pretty automatically.

    Fish and meat scraps can be composted (contrary to what most books say) — the trick is to make sure they're not left where they attract animals. I'm happy to see that at least some communities are now allowing them into municipal compost piles. In fact, they supply much needed nitrogen to the compost.

    I tried to stop as many catalogs, etc. as I could but apparently the manufacturers won't listen to the pleas — even those who had signed up on the do not send list seem to have changed their mind. I've been able to stop a few but the rest keep coming. Perhaps an organized boycott of those manufacturers?

    I'm not as careful as you, although I'm pretty good, but I do get discouraged while I'm drying my washed plastic bags for reuse, and thinking about those folks driving Hummers and building 20,000 square foot houses. I think that for many people, it's hard to keep swimming against that big current of consumerism, and wondering if their efforts are worth it. (some words of encouragement?)

  23. Pat December 1, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    Instead of ordinary composter, consider a worm-condo composter. We live in downtown San Diego in a condo and have one like this. It’s great!

  24. Ro December 1, 2009 at 7:44 am #

    We live in CA and are lucky enough to have our yard waste (including kitchen waste) picked up every other week. However, I have started using biodegradable bags to hold the kitchen wastes in until there's enough to throw out. As soon as I finish up the plastic garbage bags that someone bought (!) I intend to use the biodegradable bags for garbage also.

    It's just my husband and me but many times we only throw out one bag of garbage a week. Love that composting and recycling!

  25. This Green Life December 4, 2009 at 7:55 am #

    This Green Life reader Otter writes:

    "FYI – it is possible to use worms to eat veggies, coffee grounds and such in an apartment setting. Off the shelf worm bins are available to do the job. Suggest you check out the possibilities and provide an update."

    For information regarding indoor worm composting, you can check out the following resources:

    NYC Composts…With or Without Worms: http://www.onearth.org/node/1408

    Composting with Redworms: http://whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/Redwormsedit.htm

    Vermicomposting: http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/rrr/composting/vermi.htm

  26. Sustainable Chicken Project December 8, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    We started a project in Ithaca NY to collect table/kitchen scraps from city residents who don't have space, inclination, or permission to compost. We take them to our farm, 3 miles outside the city limits, compost them, and then give our chickens shovelfuls of finished compost several times a day. The hens scratch thru and distribute the compost in our future garden area and eat the bugs living in the finished compost, which adds to their protein intake, which theoretically reduces our feed costs. City residents are paying a $35 annual fee for this and then get first dibs on the 'organic enough' eggs our hens lay at $3.50/dozen.