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Mar 09

Time to step on the scale!

This morning I stepped on the scale five times and each time I wrote down a different number on my white board. What, you might ask, was I doing? No, not weighing myself after each Krispy Kreme doughnut… Weighing my garbage and recycling.

Ever since reading about the lady who carried all of her trash around with her for two weeks to see how much she could reduce her waste, I had been tempted to start weighing our trash. Matt totally put the kabosh on the idea, feeling like we were doing enough for the environment without going to this extreme. But then we signed up for the Lyons Greenheart Institute initiative–a grant our town received to see if we could, as a community, reduce our carbon footprint by 25%–and one of the things you track is your trash and recycling. And I had no idea how much to put down.

At first we used a base average of 40 pounds of trash per month and 20 pounds of recycling, but I had mixed feelings about how accurate that was. I read that the average American family produces 4.39 pounds of trash per person per day, and knew our average had to be less than 123 pounds (61.5 pounds if you only count Matt & I, and not the children) weekly. So I guessed 40 pounds a week and left it at that.

Then I learned, through our recent Greenheart Eco-Audit, that not only does each pound of trash you put in a landfill generate three pounds of CO2, but that even recycling materials creates 2 pounds of carbon for each pound of recycling (they are, after all, either picked up by a truck or driven to a recycling center). With my goal of having our household meet Kyoto Protocol standards, I knew I was going to have to get a grip–in this case, literally–on our trash. (Greenheart’s nifty carbon calculator is a good way to assess at your carbon footprint.)

So I stepped on the scales. The good news is that we’re averaging well below the baseline on trash, with about 20 pounds per week (that’s about 3 kitchen-sized trash bags) and just about 10 pounds a week of recycling. The bad news is that that’s still 100 pounds of CO2. Ouch.

Just to give some figures that could easily be addressed without changing much in the way of lifestyle, consider the following:

  • Americans put four million TONS of wrapping paper in the trash at Christmas each year. (Read about making zero-waste wrapping “paper”)
  • Junk Mail accounts for another four million TONS of garbage. (Consider signing up for Direct Mail’s Do Not Mail list to reduce your junk mail. And don’t forget to click the confirmation link in the email they send you! Come on, you don’t really think they WANT you to opt out, do you?)
  • Americans throw away 49 million diapers a day and they take approximately 300 years to break down in a landfill. Cloth anyone?

OK, what is your favorite way to reduce your trash output? Mine is definitely composting, and using cloth produce and shopping bags is a close second. But it’s still not enough. I might just have to be a bit more vigilant about composting tissues (especially since allergy season seems to have started for me last week!), cutting back on disposable paper towels and plastic bags, and continuing to cut back on non-recyclable packaging. I’m a ways from carrying my trash around with me every day, but I think we can do better.

4 comments

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  1. Mike Artz

    I do 2 things

    1) Always try to avoid buying things that I don’t need.
    2) By used items instead of new when ever possible (excluding food of course).

    Thank you for keeping this great blog up to date, excellent article.

  2. Joyce

    Awesome post.

    I too just read that article and considered doing it, except that I work from home and have nowhere to carry it around! This is a great alternative to help make me aware of exactly what I’m putting out there.

    Thank you.

  3. Nicole

    Funny story: at some point last year we ran out of paper towels. I was busy and distracted and never remembered to buy more. Before we knew it it had been 6 or 8 months since we’d used a paper towel. At first it was akward – we’d search for a paper napkin or something – but by the end we didn’t even notice anymore. Then, of course, we went to move and bought paper towels and found 6 million uses for them….

    So that’s my waste reduction strategy: remove the temptation altogether :)

  4. Alison

    Interesting idea. We switched to the smaller trash can last fall and one day after we had received it from the city I stood outside admiring our “tiny” and yet half empty trashcan versus our huge and full recycling bin. I was really pleased, until I realized that we were still recycling a TON (perhaps literally) of materials. I have yet to weigh what we put out, but I am actively working to reduce our recycling out-put. Mostly by continuing to buy fewer packaged foods. It also helps to buy stuff (household and kids toys) second hand or on CL as used stuff often doesn’t come with packaging!

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