Trash Talk For The Non-Consumer Set

by Katy on July 8, 2008 · 8 comments


                                                                                    Illustration by Jessica Wolk-Stanley


One thing that I have noticed since starting The Compact, (buy nothing new) in 2007, is a massive decrease in my family’s garbage output. Even the amount of recycling we send to the curb has taken a satisfying hit.

We used to put out a weekly 32 gallon can for my family of four. We are now down to a 20 gallon can.

We switched to the smaller size about 3 months into our compacting experiment. I was worried we wouldn’t have enough room for our garbage output. My husband was very skeptical.

Not only has the 20 gallon can met our needs, we usually only fill it about halfway. Often less.

I even called our garbage hauler to find out if an every-other-week option was available. No such luck.

I was feeling pretty smug about our garbage output. I knew my family was producing less than the 4.5 pounds of waste per day of the average American. 

Then, my good friend Sarah casually mentioned that her urban family of four just went to a monthly 20 gallon pick-up. 

Dag-nabbit, bested by my own friend. Pride comes before a what?

So I am starting to pay really close attention to what we’re turning into garbage.

We recycle all paper, metal, glass and some plastics, (numbers 2 and 5, plus anything with a neck). We also are able to mulch our yard debris and are mad composters. 

So what’s in our garbage?

Plastic bags from cereal boxes, meaty paper from the deli, awful broken plastic toys, stickers, bones, bread bags, cat litter, dental floss,  annoying plastic sleeves from taco shells, ice cream cones, etc. It’s mostly food packaging though.

Sarah’s husband is a stay-at-home Dad/professional chef (Lucky, lucky girl). Almost all their food is from a local farm, (no packaging) and their food is always homemade. 

I see the connection. Fresh food from scratch = almost zero packaging.

So now I have a goal. I too want to switch to monthly garbage service.

The hardest part will be convincing my skeptical husband.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

How much garbage is your family generating? What trashy solutions have you come up with?

Put your answers in the comments section below.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy Goodell July 8, 2008 at 5:41 am

This past January I set aside my trash until the end of the day when I would weigh it and add it to a spreadsheet. For that entire month I produced 0.75Kg of trash. By the last week, I was averaging only 14 grams of trash each day. Extrapolate that out to a year and that would only be about 5 Kg of trash. Here’s what helped me:

1) I had stored food for the winter, so many of my meals had no trash involved in January. When I bought that food it was either out or in a box, which I recycled.
2) I purposely chose to buy foods with less packaging when it was not recyclable. The overall impact here is iffy, but it did mean less trash. I would buy salad greens in a plastic box because it was #1 recyclable, instead of buying them in bags. I guess buying loose greens in my own containers would have been even better.
3) I kept me trash completely dry, so there were no bugs around it and it didn’t smell. I would wash things like yogurt lids out before adding them to the trash. Anything compostable stayed out of the trash too.
4) Keeping a daily log of my trash was essential to making less. It’s great at making me feel bad if I made more one day, and it’s especially rewarding on the days when there was no trash which happened 3 times that month.

What I found out was that food packaging contributed to almost all of my waste. I also had diabetes supplies which added a bit also. Since I stopped buying things a year ago, I have no junk to be thrown out all the time. Frankly, I’m disgusted that Americans throw out 4.5 pounds a day because that also means that they bought 4.5 pounds a day on average. I can’t even think of how to make that much waste!

Unfortunately I’ve fallen out of some of those habits, which I blame on my laziness but I think knowing that I would only be in this apartment for 2 months contributed to that. When I move to the new apartment, I plan on being more cautious with my waste.

I also want to point out that your post the other day on putting off getting rid of your food because of guilt of getting to that point happens with trash much more too. I used to have piles of “stuff” which was really trash in disguise of me thinking I would fix it, or use it, or maybe dump it later, etc. I spent a few weeks going through everything I owned and gave away the things that worked, and trashed the rest. In the end I was much happier knowing that even though I made a pile of trash then, it was much more clear what was trash and what I shouldn’t have because it would someday just become trash. At least I know that I can make only .85Kg of trash in a month, and take that lesson and apply it as best as I can in whatever living situation I am in.

Sheesh how’d this get so long?


Stretch Mark Mama July 8, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Way to go! We have a long way to go ourselves, but there is one guy who is down to four pounds of trash a week:


Robyn July 8, 2008 at 4:22 pm

I live solo but still was taking out trash on a weekly or bimonthly basis. THEN…then…I started vermicomposting (worms in a bin or bag mixed with bedding and food wastes). I didn’t have to take out trash for 2 months. And only then because company was coming and it seemed the right thing to do. I also cook with mostly fresh food and reuse my plastics like a fiend. I bake my own bread, buy in bulk, etc. Something I read on NoImpactMan helped me with this…in a post, he boiled down the environmental issue to a simple thing – waste. It made me analyze everything that gets tossed and how I could switch to something less wasteful – bake my cookies instead of buying my favorite packaged brand. Make my favorite stew from fresh veggies instead of canned containers. Make my own tortillas instead of buying the packaged ones. Quit using soy milk. For everything I identified as wasteful I tried to find a non-waste-producing alternative or considered giving it up. Even recycling isn’t the answer. I found the changes fun and empowering.


Mrs Green July 9, 2008 at 12:35 am

Oh honey, honey, honey – I so want you to take part in my ‘Carnival of Trash’ in August. Would you like to take part?
I’d love us to exchange links too.
I’ve just put out my rubbish for this week and we’ve amassed 208gms. I’m really pleased with that and during the first week in September we are having our first official ‘zero waste week’ Yike! not long to go!

Keep up the Fabulous work and please get in touch with us!

Just a couple of ideas that might help. Cereal box inners and bread packaging can be reused to wrapping sandwiches instead of buying plastic wrap. (and of course, you could make your own bread 😉 )

You can get, over here anyway (i’m in the UK) something called a green cone. It’s only any good for those with gardens, but it’s like a composter except that it will take cooked food including bones.

Regarding the cat litter, this is something I’m investigating as it’s a problem for a lot of people. I’ll let you know if I come up with an answer…….

Have a wonderful day,
Mrs Green x


Beth Terry August 12, 2008 at 7:06 pm

I do notice that once folks are composting and recycling all they can, what is left is food packaging — mostly plastic.

Where do you live? Do you have grocery stores in the area that sell food in bulk bins and let you bring your own containers to fill up? Here in the SF Bay Area, we have Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, Rainbow Grocery, and other natural food stores where I bring reusable cloth bags or used yogurt containers or glass jars and fill them up myself. These stores are able to deduct the weight of the container so you don’t pay for more than the food.

Sorry if you’ve already covered this subject on your blog. I just discovered you from today’s Carnival of Trash. I’ll be hosting the carnival in September and hope you’ll stop by Fake Plastic Fish before then and get some ideas for avoiding plastic packaging.


Beth Terry August 12, 2008 at 7:07 pm

Oops. I just realized that the wrong web site was filled in for me in that last comment. The correct web site is this one:


Almost Mrs Average's Rubbish Diet August 12, 2008 at 11:16 pm

Yes, sadly, there is a natural connection between the amount of stuff that you buy and the size of your garbage. Great going though. Does your local district offer a plastic bag recycling service? Ours in the UK does, but it does mean that about once a month I trek off to our local recycling centre to leave any bread bags, cereal bags and everything else that comes my way. ;-D


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