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The Trash Challenge: What’s In Your Trash?

Last week, I introduced The Trash Challenge. Funny enough, although I started off explaining that we are still filling 4-6 bags a week, we only ended up with 2 bags. I was very careful not to change any of our habits during the week, and I think that the switch back to cloth diapers and the end of my deep cleaning/decluttering frenzy has had a bigger impact than I realized.

During the week, I learned a couple of very interesting things about our garbage:

1. Most of our trash during the week is the same basic stuff, a lot of which can be composted or burned instead to drastically reduce it even further.

2. While we only had one bag of trash from Sunday-Friday, we filled up an entire second bag in two days over the weekend.

What’s in the Bag?

I actually stopped writing things down on Friday because the lists for each day were so similar, but I wanted to give you a basic breakdown of what was in our bag, as well as my plan to reduce it:

  • mac ‘n cheese packet
  • individual chip bags
  • peelie lid from breadcrumbs can
  • a plastic bag from salad
  • food scraps
  • napkins
  • cereal bags
  • popped balloon
  • paper towel
  • bag/packaging from ground beef
  • banana peels
  • mail packaging
  • plastic yogurt cups
  • tea bag wrapper &  tea bag
  • Deli Creations box
  • takeout cup from McD’s sweet tea
  • bag from microwave popcorn
    2 bags with a few leftover stale marshmallows

Weekend Trash:

  • takeout boxes
  • old food from the fridge
  • bathroom trash

That’s obviously not everything that filled those two bags, but it gives you a pretty good idea. I was glad I took the time to write everything down for those five days because it really helped give me a better picture and formulate a plan.

What’s the Plan?

The first thing I noticed about our trash was that a fairly high percentage of it was paper products and food scraps. We don’t have a garbage disposal, and while we give our cats a lot of our leftovers, they have no interest in fruit and veggie scraps. Composting has been on my list of things to do since we moved here, but I am overwhelmed by it and haven’t taken the time to get started yet. And unfortunately, while we take our glass, plastic, and cardboard to “the city” to be recycled, we haven’t found a place to recycle the rest of our paper.

What I realized, though, was that I could eliminate a lot of the trash by composting and even more of it by burning the things that were not compostable but okay to burn (napkins, chicken bones, etc.). With that in mind, I now have a container in my freezer for food scraps – because I don’t have time to run outside every time there are scraps to be thrown away – and a container for paper trash next to the trash can.

The other way we could obviously reduce our waste is by reducing the amount of packaged food we eat. For example, I decided to buy ahead of lettuce rather than a prebagged salad this week, and I’m not entirely opposed to homemade popcorn. However, I’ll admit that microwave popcorn has a special place in my heart.

On the other hand, a lot of that packaged food came from freebies or great deals at the store, and I’m not quite ready to give up the convenience of all packaged food when I can get a great deal on it.

And finally, there is always room for more repurposing. We usually keep our yogurt cups and use them to serve fruit, applesauce, and other portions.  I also started washing out and keeping cereal bags this week. We don’t buy freezer bags anymore, and I realized that I could use these and bread bags in their place.

And Now?

One of the biggest benefits of The Trash Challenge was the amount of thought I am now putting into what goes into our trash can – and consequently, what we buy.

I’ve canceled our trash service because my husband can take up to one bag a week of non-smelly trash to work with him thanks to a business acquaintance who has offered us use of his dumpster of redbox+ dumpster rental in Tampa. Saving $23 a month is definitely an added bonus of the challenge, and I think not having a trash service to fall back on will help us stick to our commitment to reducing our waste. I’m betting my husband will really enjoy not having to drag the trash can to the end of our 100-yard driveway in the dark this winter as well!

What about you? Did you participate in The Trash Challenge? Did you have any epiphanies as you thought more about your trash? What changes could you make to reduce your weekly trash?