In the zero waste world, the pinnacle of achievement is being able to fit a year’s worth of the direct waste you create in a mason jar. I’m not sure I’m there yet but I definitely think that tracking my waste is a helpful exercise and tool for reducing my waste. It’s kind of like a food journal or calorie counting app. When I actually have to track my behavior in detail, I become more aware of my patterns and habits and then I can start changing them.
For the past week I have been collecting or keeping all of the direct trash I made. Well, most of the direct trash I made. I decided to get clear on what the ground rules were for this practice so that I could really track my progress and keep my sanity. There are lots of kinds of waste so I narrowed down the kind of waste I was focusing on. I am focusing on waste that goes from my hands, into the trash. I am NOT including food waste that is compostable (there is a compost bin at work and we compost at home) and I am not including my dog’s poop or my own bodily waste. Maybe someday I’ll get to the place where I’m shitting in a composting toilet and making Humanure for my veggie garden but for now, I’m going to sit, wipe, and flush like the majority of Americans. I’m also not tracking indirect waste which is the additional waste caused in the production or distribution of the items I use. Just what am I putting in the trash. I included stuff that might be recyclable because to me, the recycling bin is still trash. I think it’s important to be mindful of how much I’m putting in the blue bin since not all of it is actually recycled and a lot of it ends up in the landfill.
I’ve only been doing this a week but let me tell you, it has had a big impact on my behavior. When I realized that I’d have to carry this crap around with me all day so I could track it, I started making adjustments. I used the cloth napkin that I had with me in my lunch bag instead of using a paper napkin. I opted out of eating a second bag of potato chips because I didn’t want to carry the empty bag around with me and I went home and made dinner instead of stopping at a take out place on the way home.
I still noticed that there were so many mindless things that I do every day that create waste. I think most of them fall under the umbrella of mindless eating so this challenge may have some great health benefits too. That bag of chips in the picture was not a deliberate thing. The bag was in my hands and open with a chip three quarters of the way into my mouth before I realized what I was doing AND that I’d have to carry this damn empty bag of chips with me for the rest of the day. After that I was slightly more mindful but I continued to notice so many impulses to just grab a tissue, grab a paper towel, grab a piece of wrapped candy. Each of these on their own seems small but it adds up quickly.
Sharing all of this with you feels incredibly intimate. These are some of my deepest darkest secrets exposed through my trash! The only thing more personal that I could publish would be my bank statements or my health records. It’s all for a good cause though. I really am committed to reducing the amount of trash I make and it just might take getting a little uncomfortable to get there.
Are you trying to reduce your waste output? What are some of your challenges? What are some things that have helped you out? Leave it in the comments!