It is estimated that each person generates 4.3 pounds of waste every day. This is 1.6 pounds more than back in 1960. Over the course of one week my husband and I would generate 60.2 pounds per week, not including our cats. It felt like we were so far from that number that we could consider ourselves low waste. So we decided to do an experiment to see how we rated among the average.
For one week we collected all of our trash to see what we actually throw away. We are going to collect our trash at work, at home and if we go out. Below is a summary of what one week of trash looks for us. I started with a rough estimate that 25% will come from food packaging and the other 75% comes from pet waste.
Our bin contained 3.5 pounds of household trash and our 4 cats made 16 pounds of pet waste. What kinds of stuff did we consider trash?
- 1 broken hanger
- 1 dozen egg carton
- 2 incandescent light bulbs from our rental properties
- 4 bottle tops
- 1 takeout bag of disposable cup and soiled wrappers
- 4 cartons of polyethylene cardboard. This is not recyclable in our area. 1 of which comes from my coconut milk which I plan to make my own when I run out of what we have already. One was an egg white container and 2 were from soup broth.
- About 1 cubic foot of packing tape, peanuts and other shipping materials
- A tape dispenser that was about 15 years old. We do not use much tape in this household.
- I accidental left out a bunch of pesto from our freezer last week. When my husband found it it was too late to save. All of the plastic bags had to be disposed of.
- Food wrapping: spinach bag, cheese wrapper, butter wrapper, chip bag, a container of ice cream, tea bag wrappers, meat wrappers, saltine wrapper, plastic cling and 2 ziplock bags.
- Lint from our dryer from 3 loads of laundry
- 4 single use lens wipes with wrappers
- 2 Andes chocolate wrappers from dining out at Olive Garden
- Empty bag of bath salts
- Wrapper for rubber gloves for deep cleaning our toilet
- 2 slips of paper stickers came on
- 2 single pouches of hot cocoa for a movie night with a friend
- Bathroom waste: floss, 3 Q-tips and 6 pill enclosures for my cat who needs Cosequin for her back.
- Gym waste: probably about 4-6 wipes to clean off our equipment. This one thing I didn’t even realize I was throwing away until after I did it. I was not about to grab my wipe out of 50 already trashed for this project so I left it there.
Much of the above waste did come from it being Christmas week. The mailing waste was from a Christmas gift my mother in law from California shipped us. A couple of the ziplock bags were from homemade Christmas cookies. The rest seems to be typical weekly garbage.
After seeing all of this, I don’t think we do create LOTS of trash, but we can eliminate some by doing the following things:
- Make food from scratch. And we generally do so the polyethylene packages of soup was a unique piece of trash that ended up in our bin. My husband generally makes homemade broth a few times a year from turkey or chicken bones that gives us a few meals from it.
- Buy meat and cheese from the deli or meat counter by bringing your own to-go container. This will definitely be a huge change for my husband since he likes convenience and he does the grocery shopping.
- Buy tea from bulk.
- Buy loose veggies and bring your own bag.
- Hang dry clothes. 1) they last longer, 2) you save money not using the dryer and 3) they don’t create lint you have to throw away.
- Compost all food waste, except for bones, meat and dairy (which I now do all year long). The U.S. EPA says about 24 percent of our waste is organic material that can be composted.
- Avoid single use items.
Going waste free isn’t an over night process. The first step is tracking what you actually throw away. By seeing it all laid out in front of you, you can start implementing simple changes to reduce what you throw away. You will be surprised how easy it is to throw things away without thinking about it. But these things don’t go away forever. They go to a landfill where they slowly, or never degrade and create toxic gas that pollutes our air.
I blogged in 2012 about making a homemade composter. But I made one on such a small scale it didn’t make sense. I am moving up in size ladies and gentlemen! I am just going to use a garbage pail, one that is small enough to roll around on the ground, but not large enough for it to be bulky and difficult to hide. I have seen a lot of cool composters people have made and designed it with a door, and on 2 by 4’s so you just have to turn a knob to mix it:
With my vacation coming up I don’t have the time to make this so I made a simpler one.
This is what you will need:
Round Garbage Pail with a lid (one that locks in place if possible).
Food Scraps/Yard Waste (I will get into more detail below on what you need here).
Soil or finished compost
In order to make good compost you need a good combination of green ingredients, brown ingredients, water and air. Green ingredients are things like, fresh cut grass, fruit and veggie scraps, egg shells, plant trimmings, coffee grounds and filters and hair (I had 3 cats so I have an abundance of cat fur) Brown ingredients are dead grass (if you need to rake, this will give you a lot of brown ingredients you can stock pile), saw dust, newspaper, pine needles and straw. I mixed mine in layers. I started with brown, mixed in some green, soil, greens and brown. Add just enough water so it’s as wet as a damp sponge that has been wrung out.
Make sure you drill enough holes in the lid to get good air flow. This mixture should create heat, but you don’t want it to get too hot.
Pop on the lid and secure and you are done. I will keep adding food scraps and yard waste until it is full. In the mean time I will ensure it is properly mixed every few days by rolling it over the ground on it’s side. This will be easy that the garbage pail is round. I will update on the progress as it gets closer to complete compost.
Sorry that it has been a while since I posted. With it being so hot this summer I haven’t had any energy/motivation to make anything. I have been trying to sell my beads and gift tags on Etsy too. If you are interested in checking out my shop, please do, but it is still sort of new and I am trying to figure things out.
Something very cool that happened recently in Fargo, is the city is now taking more waste as recyclable. I read this in our local newspaper and was SO excited. This type of stuff makes me happy. Less garbage headed to our landfill is good. They are taking all plastic with a recycle symbol and numbered 1-7 and all cardboard. It always bothered me that we couldn’t recycle cereal boxes or yogurt containers. But we can now!
I have had composting machines before, that worked okay for a while, but were either too loud or stinky. I like the idea of making my own compost from food and garden waste but I didn’t want to make a compost heap in our back yard for the rodents and bugs to get into. Plus, we didn’t have much of a back yard to do this in anyways.
I am going to try to make compost in a coffee container. Anything with a solid cover would work. The more coffee containers I can collect the better. I have more laying around our garage I am sure but will start with one to see how it goes.
Make sure you use brown and green waste. Brown waste is yard waste: leaves, small twigs, newspaper, dryer lint or straw. Green would include food scraps: grass, coffee grounds, egg shells, fruit and veggie scraps and plant trimmings. Combine a good mix of both of these things and put in the coffee can and put the lid on it. It does need heat to compost so I will just leave it outside. I will shake it once in a while and check to make sure it’s moist. You do not want it wetter than a rung out sponge.
I normally take our food scraps to the recycling center and dump it in the garden waste bin they have there and let the city make compost to share. But I wanted my own to keep. Now that I have roses and a garden I want to make sure I am taking good care of it.
I am hoping that in a few weeks we will see some progress. I will update this blog post with how it turns out when it is finished and the time frame to expect good compost.