Tag Archives: whats in my trash

Tracking My Trash Round Two

 

In a previous post I had guest written for Angela’s blog on how I wanted to start moving towards a more zero-waste lifestyle. That basically just means trying to cut back on what I buy, cut down on single use items, especially plastic, and re-use as much as possible.

Then I followed that up with one week of tracking every single piece of trash I ended up generating. It is quite an eye-opening experience, I would highly recommend you try it. It makes you much more aware of tiny things you would just trash without a second thought.

Well, some time has gone by, and Angela and I discussed tracking for a week again, to see how we were doing. We are equally terrible at remembering, so we decided to just start on a Tuesday.

boxed Panera lunch

For the purposes of tracking, I kept a running list in my phone of anything I threw away while at work or outside the house. Luckily I have already implemented a few tips and tricks at work to cut down on waste.

  1. I have a reusable k-cup and a small container of coffee, in case a second cup is required
  2. I have my own reusable coffee mug, water bottle, silverware, oil and vinegar, and salt in my desk
  3. I bring lunch & snacks in reusable containers and take anything compostable home with me
  4. I bring a new dish towel each week that I use at lunch and for drying my hands after using the bathroom
  5. I try to use as little TP as possible now
Trash outside the house:
  • Panera boxed lunch:
    • big paper box
    • plastic salad clamshell
    • tiny plastic dressing cup
    • plastic silverware wrapped in plastic
    • thin napkin
    • plastic paper wrapper on sandwich
    • plastic bag for cookie
  • 2 times forgetting my towel, used paper towels for hand drying
  • 2 tea bags at work

So overall, not a bad week. That one day of Panera just killed me though, and at least 2 dozen people were there with similar amounts of waste each.

Catered lunches are a pit of plastic.

Moral of the story: Bring your lunch!

single use plastic in trash

At home, I tried to keep anything I would normally throw away in a separate bag in the other room. Food containers I rinsed out so I didn’t have troubles. But some things had to just go straight into the trash, like moldy cheese.

Also, the boy lives here too. And he creates some trash, which I did not include because I don’t want to force him onto the blog without permission.  🙂  Only things which I used or emptied or cooked with are included here, because it is a pretty accurate representation of what I would do were I living alone as well.

We have 2 dogs, 11 quail, and no kids, for context.

I have a home-delivery for produce weekly, which re-uses the delivery box and any packaging needed. So if I get a pint container of strawberries, I just send it back empty so they can refill it for next time. Thus, no waste.

But, I do also supplement with things from ALDI, other grocery stores, ethnic markets, Amazon, and my co-op as well.

Trash at home:
  • 2 sliced cheese wrappers, and 4 slices moldy cheese
  • 2 plastic bags from frozen mixed fruits
  • Small black styrofoam box from food tour leftovers
  • Big white styrofoam from leftovers after Friday dinner
  • Top rip off from several cheese, frozen fruit, and tortilla packages
  • Half brick of cream cheese that went moldy, foil wrapper and box
  • 3 q-tips (don’t @ me, I mostly just hate water in my ear)
  • Sticker from 2 bananas and a grapefruit
  • Plastic inner ring from an Almond milk container
  • Empty Almond milk container
  • Giant plastic boxes from mixed salad greens (2)
  • Plastic bag from spinach (2)
  • Plastic lid from a tea box set I got for Christmas
  • Plastic wrapper from 2 boxes of green tea
  • Plastic wrap from a Butcher Box pork roast
  • Plastic wrap from a Butcher Box chicken breast
  • Edamame bag
  • Lemon bag
  • Avocado bag
  • Brussles sprouts bag
  • Plastic window from some mail
  • Plastic wrap from Charmin 
  • Plastic covering from Greek yogurt container
  • Plastic inner bag from “Cracklin Oat Bran”
  • Plastic wrapper from a frozen pizza
  • Plastic ring around new can of raisins
  • 1 stevia packet
  • Tempeh inner and outer wrapping
  • Bag from loaf of seed bread
  • Plastic grocery bag
  • Plastic wrapper from cauliflower
  • Foil top of new coffee can
  • Vitamin water mix packet
  • Mio knockoff bottle
  • Vegan cheese wrapping
  • 2 grocery receipts
  • 1 gas receipt
  • 2 dining out receipts

Yikes.

The thing that stands out to me is that is a really long list!

I thought I did better than this.

And I felt pretty ashamed of how much plastic I’m bringing home from the grocery store.

But then I thought of how much better I’m doing since a few years ago. How the co-op has become part of my life, so I do my best to shop in bulk for things like oats and barley and beans. How I now have a 100% local and package free source of daily eggs.

And all I can do is keep trying to do better.

recycling bin

Luckily, I now live in a place where recycling is an option.

This is the first time, as all my previous apartments and rental houses have not offered this. I could have saved things to take to my grad school campus to recycle but we all know how motivated grad students are when there are a million other things on your mind…

Anywho, the things that got tossed into the recycle bin did not have to go in the trash, and for that I’m thankful. But for those who don’t have the option to recycle, the below list would have been trash too.

Recycle:
  • 1 plastic soy sauce bottle
  • 1 plastic lemon juice bottle
  • 1 coffee tin
  • 1 can pineapples
  • 6 cans beans
  • 1 can beets
  • 1 can tomatoes
  • 3 beer bottles
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 can coconut water

box full of boxes to burn

Another fun thing about having a house now is that we also have a fire pit in the back yard. We recently took down 6 big trees, so we have tons of wood and sticks. But, we usually need some fast burning items to start it up, or keep it going.

So, we keep a “burn box”.

This is where we put any big or small cardboard boxes, paper towel or TP rolls, envelopes, etc. Anything that will burn, can go into a bonfire rather than a trash can.

But again, not everyone has this option. So these things could have been trash instead.

Burn box:
  • 3 paper covers and rolls from “Who Gives a Crap” tp
  • Box from “Cracklin Oat Bran”
  • 1 paper towel tube
  • 1 empty box tissues
  • Cardboard bottom from a tea box gift set
  • Empty frozen pizza box
  • Dentastix box
  • Blue Moon beer box
  • 2 boxes from pasta
  • Box from cake mix
  • Box from granola bars
  • Bagged green tea box
  • Amazon delivery box
  • Tissue paper from a swap (quail eggs in exchange for 2 cute crystal serving trays and a neat ceramic soup tureen)
tea set
The tea box gift set. At least I can re-use the tins for loose leaf tea later!

And finally, my favorite way of keeping things out of the trash, is composting.

When we lived in a rental and I didn’t know if we would stay long enough for a pile to make sense, I had a big Rubbermaid container full of worms in the yard and did vermicomposting.

Now, I have enough space for a permanent pile.

We toss our kitchen goodies in there, and combined with the fall leaves and mulch, and sawdust shavings and quail manure, we make our own supercharged garden fertilizer. And keep literal tons of organic matter out of land fills.

compost

Compost:
  • Banana peels
  • 2 pear pits
  • 5 clementine peels
  • Coffee grounds
  • Old hard bread
  • Persimmon peel
  • Centers of broccoli and cauliflower
  • Zucchini and carrot ends
  • 2 paper tissues
  • 4 tea bags
  • 2 lemons
  • Loose leaf green and hibiscus tea
  • Ends of sweet potatoes
  • Onion ends and peel

Tracking My Trash: Round 2

Woof.

There you have it, in startling technicolor, all the trash created by an actually-quite-eco-conscious person trying not to make trash.

What a world we live in.

 

Any suggestions guys? How do I do better?

Tracking My Trash

 

So after my big declaration of wanting to move more towards a zero waste lifestyle, I approached it the same way people wanting to make big money changes should: tracking all your expenses so you get an accurate picture of your current situation.

I decided to track all my trash for one week.

At work, at home, on the go.

Every cup, wrapper, paper, bag, container, and paper towel.

And this is what I had after 7 straight days:

tracking your trash budget epicurean zero waste lifestyle

Minus a few things from our travels:

  • a Starbucks to go cup and sleeve
  • an empty water bottle
  • a paper bag and to go container
  • wrapping from a Torchys taco
  • a paper plate and 2 napkins
  • a paper plate and tin foil
  • a synthetic wine cork

I’m not going to lie, I was a little surprised. I thought we already did a pretty great job of recycling and not buying a whole lot. But this was quite eye opening. This is only 7 days worth of trash!

The empty box of ziplocks is evidence that I have or had at least 50 more plastic bags somewhere in my house. A plastic takeout container that I had been reusing for work lunches got smashed to pieces. A styrofoam container from portobello mushroom caps. A plastic wrapper from a stick of butter. Some non-recyclable plastic windows from mail envelopes. We run through sunscreen and bug spray like water in the summertime.

With the obvious exception of toilet paper, anything I normally would trash at work got put into a plastic bag. Things that I might normally toss that could be composted, I brought home instead to toss in my compost bin. Like a banana peel, or some yellowing leaves from my lunchtime salad.

And this is the bag I kept at work:

tracking your trash budget epicurean zero waste lifestyle

And you can see it is much less heavily food-focused and more weighted towards snacks and paper products. I have always brought my own lunches to work in reusable plastic or glass containers, and have a set of silverware and cups there that I wash daily. This helps cut down on my overall waste at work.

I honestly do not think I could, nor do I really want, to get my household waste to less than a mason jar full per year. But this definitely showed me that there is more room for improvement.

I love the aptly named “Near-O Waste“, which more accurately describes the lifestyle I’m shooting for. I still want to enjoy modern conveniences and not live like it’s the 1800s. But I also want to be gentler to Mother Earth.

Lesson #1

I use a lot of paper products! Like, a silly number of kleenex and paper towels throughout the day. Obviously to blow my nose, but also to wipe up small spills around my desk, to blot grease or lipstick, after washing my hands or my lunch containers. And every single time I use the restroom at work, I use 2-3 paper towels.

Paper takes a lot of energy, water, and deforestation to create. And we waste a LOT of paper products as a species. Toilet paper, paper towels, actual printer paper, magazines, books, newspapers, paper plates… the list goes on.

With how much paper waste we produce yearly, we could build a 12 foot high wall from New York to California. Not that we should. Paper also gives off a lot of methane when it rots in a landfill, rather than being composted. And taking away trees means decreasing oxygen production, and less protection against climate change.

What can I do about it?

Well, I’m going to bring an actual kitchen towel to work. When you wash your hands after using the bathroom, they are clean, right? You just need a towel to dry them. Lets see how long it takes to get comments or weird looks 😉

I’m also going to try to remember to bring home any paper towels that I use (because you know I’m not going to remember or bring a towel every time). At least once a day I’d toss the towels in the trash and just as I walk out the door think shoot! I meant to keep that to compost… so clearly this will take some re-training.

Lesson #2

Even the Budget Epicurean, who revels in homemade goodies and snacks like energy balls, KIND barsgranola bars, and homemade granola, has emergency packaged snacks, and uses them. Sometimes it’s a crazy day, or the afternoon munchies hit, and for the good of my co-workers I must keep the hangry at bay.

What can I do about it?

Stock my desk and pockets with homemade, no waste goodies. This includes things like my homemade bars and balls, but also whole fruits and bags of nuts or trail mix. If you have any great zero waste snacks you love, please share in the comments!

There is a balance between tasty yummies that can sit at room temperature for days at a time without getting gross. Perhaps I will try bringing weekly batches, which will require more memory muscles. Or else get comfortable with being hungry until I get home.

Lesson #3

We go through a lot more packaged food than I realized. When I think of “packaged food” I think junk food. Which is a big part of the SAD (Standard American Diet) and a general no-no in my house.

However. ‘Healthy’ foods can also come in packages.

See above: edamame, sliced cheese, granola bars, frozen mixed veggies, frozen berries, radishes, carrots. All healthy, whole foods… yet all are also wrapped in plastic that gets thrown away. Not great.

What can I do about it?

I am now moving more towards ‘zero waste’ principles when grocery shopping. I will be scoping out the options in all my usual shopping haunts, as well as branching out more into my Durham co-op market and Farmers Market.

Ethnic grocery stores are also usually pretty good options for things like cheap produce, baked goods, and I’ve found a place I can buy seafood and whole fish right off the ice. I will start preparing better for shopping trips, asking more questions, and seeking out package free food options. And next year, we may get a CSA.

 

Is There Any Good News?

This week also made me much more aware of not just my own habits and consumption but also those around me. Waste and plastic packaging has become so convenient, normalized, and ubiquitous.

We don’t even think twice about using multiple plastic cups, straws, utensils, and bottles. Daily.

I think we should think.

The good news is, we are starting to catch on. More stores are offering bulk food sections, package free produce, local produce, discounts for bringing your own bags or mugs. The Zero Waste lifestyle is spreading, as awareness of the plight of and concern for the environment becomes more mainstream.

And I had several small wins throughout the week:

  • A friend asked to meet up for afternoon tea at Starbucks to catch up. It was spur of the moment, but I had brought coffee from home in a to-go mug. So I rinsed it out and took it, rather than use a Starbucks cup. Bonus, I got 10 cents off! And, maybe, planted a small seed in my friends’ head to bring her own cup in the future.
  • While walking to my office, I saw 2 paper napkins on the ground that must have blown off someone’s lunch or breakfast. I usually would at least pick it up and toss it in the trash. This time I took it to my desk to put in the ‘take home to compost’ bag.
  • One day there were 2 plastic bins with broken lids sitting by the recycle bins. Clearly they were no longer usable for their original purpose, but they could be perfect for another idea I’ve got brewing… so I snagged them and took them home to perhaps give them a second life.
  • When collecting mail from the week, I realized… it is super easy to make paper from old paper scraps. So I pulled out the little plastic windows, and got crafty. I even sprinkled wild flower seeds into it so the paper can be planted when I’m done with it! I think I’m going to use it to create a nice wedding shower card.
  • I saw an awesome bag that said “I used to be a plastic bottle“, and asked about it. That led to a fun conversation about plastic and waste and how we can all do better.

So there you have it, week one of my Near-O waste initiative, and lessons learned. I’m sure this will be a very long process, with a lot of ups and downs. Much like everything else in life. 🙂

 

Want to join me??

I’d love that! Just keep all your non-compostable and non-recyclable items, for one day, one week, one month. And then come back here to comment, or post about it on social media (maybe we can make #TrackYourTrash a trending phrase on Twitter?) and tell me what you learned.

 

Have you done a trash tracking week? Where do you struggle with low or no waste options? Do you have any zero waste snack ideas besides nuts or raw veggies??