In terms of trash consciousness, I'm somewhere along the scale of, "Never purchases plastic water bottles," and "How do I compost?" I'm well-meaning—I recycle, bring reusable bags to the grocery store, and use cloth rags instead of paper towels—but I've also recently become aware of just how much waste I produce, between Amazon Prime shipping boxes, the occasional coffee to-go cup, and food scraps. As someone who cares deeply about nature and our planet, I hate that I'm putting so much into landfills. On average, Jonah and I take the trash out twice a week—but we're just two people! I often wonder, "Where does this all even come from??" so I decided to monitor and reduce my trash, recycling, and food waste for eight days to identify which areas I can improve in. By the end of it, I learned two things: 1.) I produce a lot of waste, and 2.) There are a lot of easy, totally doable ways to reduce this waste! By the end of the experiment, I could hold all the trash I produced in my palm, down from a garbage bag's worth! That isn't to say that this will be possible every single week, and doesn't account for everything that happened out of my view (i.e., did the restaurant I visited use paper napkins in preparing my food?) but reducing my trash was much easier than I expected it to be. Watch my video diary of the week below, and read on for the tips I learned during my (nearly) trash-free week:
A quick disclaimer: Going 'trash-free' is such an enormous topic—you could literally spend hours reading about it—so my own week-long experiment isn't as comprehensive as, say, an entire blog dedicated to the subject. There were a lot of things I had to leave out of the video (I didn't even address kitty litter!) so that it didn't end up being two hours long, but I've provided some tips below and resources at the end of this article if you're interested in taking a deeper dive!
Tips for Going (Nearly) Trash Free:
1. Create a "trash-free" survival kit (more on this below!) and keep it with you on-the go so you can keep your compost, reusable containers, etc. with you. I keep mine in my car for easy access.
2. Re-do your at-home trash can. I honestly think one of the reasons I created so much trash is because I was thinking about it all wrong. My trash can was the largest thing in my house, so I put the most into it, followed by a tiny recycling bin, and no compost bin. Since doing this experiment, I keep my compost bin (a large repurposed covered bowl) on top of my trash can, but I love the idea of purchasing a "smart" trash can like this down the line, which makes much more sense for minimizing landfill waste.
3. Keep it up! The longer you go trash-free, the more of an impact it will make. I only recorded a week of my experiment, but the longer I continue, the more of an impact I'll be making! Since I already have things like beauty products that aren't recyclable and packaged goods in my pantry, I'll be using those until they're out, but as I continue to purchase more things in bulk, I'll have less and less packaging to toss and recycle until I ideally have very little to none!
4. Don't waste food, then compost the food waste you don't consume. I'm not entirely proud of this, but until doing this experiment, I assumed it was difficult or required a garden to compost, so I just didn't. Most of the trash I was creating was food waste and—here's a kicker—there isn't enough oxygen, dirt, or microorganisms for food to compost in landfills. According to the L.A. Food Policy Council, "Food is actually the largest single source of waste in California, comprising 15.5%." Here's the thing: At least in Los Angeles, it's totally easy to compost food. There's conflicting information online, but I felt confident putting my compost into my green bin after this article confirmed it's okay to. I should note that calling the L.A. Bureau of Sanitation confirmed two completely different answers (one person I called said "just yard waste," while another operator said, "that's false—all vegetative food waste can go straight into the green bins" and a volunteer at the Griffith Park Compost Facility confirmed the same thing). Since recording my vlog, I've started bringing scraps to Elysian Valley Community Garden, where I weigh and sort my scraps before depositing them into a lock box, but you can find a "compost hub" in L.A. near you here. If you're not in L.A., I know booths at the Union Square Green Market in New York accept compost, as do many farmers markets, and many Whole Foods have composting programs.
5. Take time to research things you aren't sure about. Before putting anything into a landfill, first research to see if it's recyclable or compostable, and vice versa—I nearly tossed lint before learning it's compostable! There are also a lot of great resources for makeup—many brands, like MAC and Credo, have in-store recycling programs. A quick Google will give you the information you need—whether you're wondering about a bar of soap or a Q-tip.
6. Take things more slowly and put in the extra effort. Many of the things I was throwing away, I was doing so on-the-go—like a coffee cup in a city landfill bin. Instead, I started just taking the extra effort to put the item in my purse, then recycle it at home.
7. Whenever possible, shop at the farmers market. While compostable fruit stickers do exist, most of the stickers placed on fruit are trash. To avoid using them at all, buy your produce from farmers markets whenever possible (which also ensures that you're getting local, high-quality produce!).
8. Go digital. A pretty significant portion of my recycling from the week was junk mail and pamphlets I received from stores. Here are a few ways to reduce that: Instead of grabbing pamphlets from places, look online; sign up for online bank alerts, rather then getting them mailed to your home; opt out of junk mail through this site!
9. Buy only what you need. There's a reason "reduce" is at the beginning of "reduce, reuse, recycle." The fewer things you have in the first place, the fewer things you'll need to reuse or giveaway—think twice about purchasing new items, and whether it will just end up in a giveaway pile or landfill within a few months.
10. Whenever possible, buy things in person in bulk. Yes, buying items online reduces driving and emissions (delivery fleets are built on efficient routes so they result in fewer emissions), but the increase in packaging and impulse buys from online shopping makes it less eco-friendly (this article weighs the pros and cons). To minimize waste from shopping, purchase things in person in bulk—especially if they're on your commute anyways—and think twice about impulse buys when purchasing items online (I'm lookin' at you 'One Click').
11. Give items away to someone who will actually use them. Soon after completing my vlog, I started to re-do a portion of my home to create a breakfast nook and found myself with a pile of things—a lamp, a desk, and bookshelf—to giveaway. To find it all a loving home, I sold the table on Craigslist, then used a "Buy Nothing" Facebook group to find a home for the other items. To recycle clothes I no longer wear, I either sell them on ThredUp or donate them to Out of the Closet in Los Angeles.
12. Whenever possible, make items instead of buying them. There's a thin line between going nuts trying to make every single thing at home, Little House on the Prairie-style, and finding doable items to make at home rather than buy. While I'm still finding the balance, I'm considering purchasing a Soda Stream to cut down on my LaCroix addiction and making all of my beer at home using recycled bottles (something I used to do semi-regularly!). Then there are food items I have long-term goals for, like making yogurt at home. It isn't exactly convenient, but it can be fun and rewarding when you find the right balance!
The trash I made this week: Floss and contact lenses (not photographed), a "Keep Fresh" bag from a bag of vegan jerky I ate, a plastic newspaper tie, a plastic tab from a clothing tag, and fruit stickers
Biggest challenge: It was easy to recycle things, but much more difficult to limit the number of things I had to recycle in the first place (i.e., purchasing yogurt instead of making my own in a reusable jar, or using a sparkling water-maker instead of drinking a can of LaCroix). It was also difficult to find products in bulk—grains and nuts were easy, but I had a difficult time finding other products, like bulk pasta.
Things In My No-Trash Tool Kit:
Iced coffee mug
Reuseable water bottle
Reusable bags for vegetables
Tupperware for eating food out
Tupperware of bulk bin snacks (so you don't have to eat a packaged power bar, etc.)
Tupperware for keeping compostable items on-the-go (like banana peels)
Resources and blogs I found helpful:
Waste Management's guide to recycling
Trash is for Tossers Instagram and blog
Zero Waste Home blog
Zero Waste Nerd blog (and this article about keeping waste-free cats!)
Good Holding Company for bulk shopping
(Shout out to the people who helped me find these sites on our Facebook group!)