Why I Spent The Last Month *NOT* Throwing Out My Trash

Why I Spent The Last Month *NOT* Throwing Out My Trash
6 Minute Read.

I’ve spent the past 4 weeks not throwing out any of my trash.

Now, you’re probably wondering why anyone would do such a crazy thing. But then you’d remember that I do some weird shit. And you also know there’s usually a good reason for it.

First off, I just wanna say one thing: I’m not a hoarder. This whole trash collection thing is called a waste audit. Its purpose is to understand what and how much trash you produce, so that you can adjust how you consume and in turn reduce your trash. It’s also a great place to start if you’re beginning your zero waste or sustainable journey because it gives you a benchmark for starting out.

I’ve wanted to do a waste audit for ages, but to be honest I was too afraid of what the result would be. Until recently, I was happy living in the ignorant bliss of not knowing how much trash I was actually creating. I was scared that I wouldn’t like what I found, or that I’d realize all my efforts to lower my waste weren’t having the impact I thought they were.

But I was wrong. Wayyyyy wrong.

And after getting some inspiration from fellow eco-warrior, Carly Bergman, I decided to do my first waste audit. The goal was to keep everything I threw out for 4 weeks to see exactly what I was producing.

I kept everything except food scraps since I normally send those straight to the compost. You see, when you compost something, it literally goes right back to the source (or to the ground). This creates a closed-loop system (or circular economy) with no waste 🙌🏼.  I also didn’t keep my food scraps because keeping anything that’s been decomposing for any longer than necessary would’ve been . . . ummm gross.

Now, when I say I kept everything, I mean everything: empty chip bags, protein bar wrappers, boxes from online deliveries, a beer can I got at a networking event, and the packaging from a gift I’d received. There were a few instances where I forgot to carry home a paper plate or napkin from a restaurant, but those were very minimal and wouldn’t have greatly contributed to my total audit.

 

Here’s my loot!

a picture of various boxes and containers for waste audit
4 weeks worth of trash

 


Total Trash from My Waste Audit = 8 pounds 5 ounces

graph showing trash audit, 94% recyclable, 4.5% non-recyclable, 1.5% compostable


8 lbs 5 oz . . . kinda sounds like a trash baby!

  • 94% was recyclable: food cartons, plastic containers, paper, cardboard, metal and glass [my recent kombucha addiction did me no favors in this department]
  • 4.5% was non-recyclable: packaging from food and online deliveries
  • 1.5% was compostable (not including food): compostable packing peanuts and plant-based food containers, like the ones you get from SweetGreen (by the way, here’s how you can spot these)

These are the non-recyclable items from my waste audit:

 

a picture of a small pile of non-recycleables from a waste audit

They mostly came from online orders & food wrappers

 

To be honest, I thought this would be a much worse experience than it was. But considering that the average American throws out 4 lbs of trash a day, I think I did a pretty good job, especially since I had less than 1/2 a pound of non-recyclable waste at the end of the 4 weeks (pictured above).

I also did my best to separate my trash from my husband’s. In some cases, this was easy to do; but in others, I had to decide which communal items to include. My decision factor was: if Wilson bought something at the grocery that I would’ve also bought, then I added it to the audit. But if he bought something that I would’ve intentionally never bought because of the packaging, I didn’t include it.


What was the #1 thing I learned from my waste audit?

Well . . . food packaging is by far the biggest culprit for me. I don’t know what the exact percentage is, but I’d say its at least 80-90%. And even though most of it is recyclable, there’s still a significant amount of non-recyclable food packaging that will be landfill bound unless I drop $90 on a zero waste recycling box (which, let’s be honest, I’m probably not gonna do).

I also noticed that a lot of the non-recyclable packaging came from vegan and gluten-free foods, which typically come in plastic. Since this makes up most of my diet, it poses a tricky conundrum when choosing between health and waste. So, until there are better options, I may just have to succumb to the fact that I can’t avoid packaging with some of the things I eat.

 

Packaging from vegan chik’n fingers and gluten free grains

Waste Audit Takeaways

This was such an eye-opening experience. And even if I’d ended up with way more trash than this, it would’ve still been extremely valuable and would’ve helped me to be more aware of what I throw out.

For me, the main takeaway here is: I’m doing a pretty good job, but I also have some work to do. Now that I’ve identified my biggest offenders, I can keep that in mind the next time I go grocery shopping and see if there are ways for me to avoid certain foods.

Something to keep in mind if you decide to do your own waste audit is: this doesn’t have to be an exact science. It’s really about creating an awareness around what you consume and throw away. You may have roommates or other external factors that are out of your control. Things like this can make it difficult to give you an exact amount. And that’s OK. This is your audit. You make the rules.

It’s not a competition.

And it’s not a race.

It’s about awareness and adjusting your buying habits based on that newfound info.


So here’s my challenge for *you*:

Try doing a waste audit for 1 day, 1 week, or if you’re up for it, 1 whole month. The key here is to not judge yourself based on how much you create. Remember, this is something you’re doing for yourself (and for the planet!). It’s an experiment to see how much you produce and to find small ways that you can do better.

If you’re up for the challenge, drop a comment below with the words: “I’m in!”

And if you have any questions about how to start, let’s talk about it. I’m here to help.

 

Here I am with my 4 weeks of trash 😛

 


 

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2 thoughts on “Why I Spent The Last Month *NOT* Throwing Out My Trash”

  • Every location is different… but you MIGHT be able to recycle some of that plastic food packaging at your local Walmart, where they collect plastic grocery bags. I called Walmart’s customer service line, and was told that some locations allow for ***CLEAN*** plastic food packaging to be included (the liner of cereal boxes, rice packets, the thin plastic cover sealing some containers when you first take lids off, etc…). The way to find out is to talk directly to the store manager at your particular location; they should know what facility/company handles their plastic bag recycling, and will be able to tell you whether or not they are capable of processing other plastics as well!

    • Hey Carly, that’s a great tip! We don’t have a Walmart in NYC but there are some stores that take plastic film/bags like pharmacies and target. I’m glad you gave me the reminder to look more into it 🙂

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