What’s in Your Trash?

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Published on February 16th, 2011  |  Discuss This Article  

A UK family made headlines this month for having thrown out only one bag of garbage all year.  Perhaps I’m just jealous, but to me it sounds almost unbelievable. So of course I had to run and go look in the trash and see how my rubbish stacked up.

So what’s in there, and should it be?

A used tissue. Yeah, pretty sure that should go in there. Did they only use handkerchiefs all year? I can’t imagine making it all the way through cold season with hankies. And imagine how many times you’d have to wash them!

Wilted cilantro. The worst part of buying fresh herbs? I almost never finish it all before it goes bad.  And that’s not all the food I end up throwing away. But I have to say, I think I do much better than the average American.  Estimates find that Americans throw away anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of food available for consumption. This is obviously a huge problem not just for our landfills, but for a society where people are going hungry. My goal will be to continue carefully planning out meals to use everything, and not to buy more than I can use in a week.

A Clif bar wrapper. I try and eat as few packaged and processed foods as possible, but I do eat several Clif bars each week. The Strausses mailed all their chip wrappers to the Phillipines to be woven into pencil cases. Is there a similar market for Clif bar wrappers?  Why, yes there is! I just signed up for the TerraCycle Wrapper Brigade, which allows you to send in wrappers to be “upcycled” into new products – and you even get money for your favorite charity in the process.

A piece of dental floss. Yeah, pretty sure that has to go. I floss every day (my dentist would be so proud), so that’s a regular item.

Cardboard packaging from razor refills. Why is this in there? It’s cardboard so it’s clearly recyclable. Maybe I just don’t really think about recycling outside of the kitchen realm where the recycling bin is right there? Perhaps I need to get another recycling bin.

A few envelopes. Junk mail takes so much time to sort through. But I do: I put everything that needs  to be shredded in one pile (and then I’ll recycle the shreds), all the plain paper in a recycling pile and all the envelopes with the little plastic address windows in the trash pile.  I’d always heard that envelopes like that aren’t recyclable.  But a quick check of our county Web site reveals that envelopes with windows are no problem.  Guess I need to go fish those out.

A sticker from an apple.  In high school I had notebooks that, by the end of the year, would be completely covered with them.  What the heck can we do with those suckers?

So, obviously I still had some learning to do about what exactly is recyclable in my area and some different ways to give trash a second life.  And this little experiment has encouraged me to install a recycling bin on the second level of my house for things like magazines, paper and cardboard.

I still don’t think I’ll be able to come anywhere near the Strausses’ level of conservation, but I’m excited to try and make a noticeable dent in our trash collection.

What’s in your trash that might not have to be?

Image Credit: Flickr/TedAbbott through a Creative Commons license

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Comments: What’s in Your Trash?

  • Hi Margaret, thanks for the mention of our site and zero waste attempts! It’s great to see you inspiring others to think about their trash before they throw it ‘away’ and you’ve made excellent results yourself. Remember; there’s no such place as away :)

    We don’t always use handkerchiefs; I compost my tissues (some people are icky about that, I’m not at all). We have a wood burner too, so if we have a cold used tissues can go on there and help get the fire started.

    Regarding herbs; do you have time to grow them? Space isn’t an issue as you can grow them on your windowsills, but this would help save food waste AND money ;)

    warm wishes
    Mrs G

  •  Comment from mickey

    Our can only goes to the curb once a month…and it’s never full. We could do better though.

    It’s amazing how many things can be recycled, washed, reused, composted or never used (bought) in the first place. My favorite new product that reduces packaging that we received lately was a set of play key’s that we bought for our son…the package turned into a pencil box!

    Also, some produce growers are beginning to laser etch labels into skins to do away with the stickers…cost saving for them, a little creepy though.

  •  Comment from Matt Miller

    Margaret,
    Matt Miller, a colleague from The Nature Conservancy in Idaho here. For the cilantro (and other veggies/herbs gone bad), have you considered composting? It has really cut down on our food waste, and then it is recycled as excellent soil for our garden.

    This may sound gross, but you can set up a vermi-composting (earthworms) bin in your house. The worms eat through lots of veggies, eggshells, coffee grounds, etc and turn it into excellent potting soil you can use for house plants or landscaping. A vermicompost bin done right is odorless–you won’t even know it’s there. We had one even when we lived in an apartment. (Maybe I should do my next CGS post on this?)

    Well, just an idea to remove some more garbage from your trash–and convert it into something useful.

    –Matt

  •  Comment from Chris

    A local woman (and former TNC employee) here has now gone 2 years and generated very little trash. Very inspiring.

    http://www.readthehook.com/86587/cover-two-years-two-bags-how-she-makes-almost-no-trash

    http://zerogarbagechallenge.info/

  •  Comment from Emory

    Margaret,

    Your organization should be ashamed of the coffee your employees consume: k-cups. Each kcup is made with plastic and foil. The plastic is not recyclable. Not only are you unnecessarily encouraging the use of petroleum, but the waste heads to landfills or is incinerated. Dig thru your trash at the end of the week and you will find close to 1000 plastic kcups packed with nitrogen rich coffee that will forever be locked away in a landfill.

    There are alternative single cup coffee solutions that greatly reduce the amount of waste and use no plastic. Used coffee grounds then can be composted. Something my company does for free.

    Many companies are making the switch to more environmentally friendly coffees. It is time for Nature Conservancy to lead by example.

  •  Comment from Emory

    Here’s an except from EarthPM.com about the amount of K-Cups that end up in landfills:

    Last year alone, over 1.6 billion (yes, billion!) cups were used.  My calculations say that this is enough K-cups to circle the earth one and a quarter times. And they all go into landfills after their seconds of use and stay there for hundreds or thousands of years.  And that’s just Keurig.  There is also Tassimo, Senseo, and others.  Further, the forecast for K-cup sales are 3 billion in 2010 and 5 billion in 2011.  So now we are talking about a chain of K-cups from 2009, 2010 and 2011 made up of 9 or 10 billion units and circling the earth eight times!

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