The LONG-AWAITED, MUCH-ANTICIPATED…Trash Audit!

Ok, maybe its not really long-awaited or much-anticipated for you, but I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. Well, one week, to be exact, while my trash accumulated. 

To catch everyone up, as part of my zero-waste transition, I wanted to see where my waste was coming from, and what processes needed to be implemented in order to exact change. I view zero-waste as less of a split-second decision and more of an ongoing process. I’ve discovered that it is challenging in unexpected places, and almost silly-easy in others. Cleaning products for the home that are zero-waste or near zero-waste? Easy. Shampoo? Challenging. Feminine products? Surprisingly, easy. Food waste? Easy. Food packaging? THE BIGGEST STRUGGLE OF MY LIFE. I’m talking epic battle against giant, bug-eyed aliens for the future of the planet where all you have is a spork and the bug-eyed aliens have sophisticated, matter-altering ray guns. 

But I digress. 

I did my trash audit, faithfully weighing all my trash and sorting through it (cue the “eewwww groooosss” now), although I did discover that when food waste is separated out (which it is in my house, now, because we’ve already started composting), trash is surprisingly clean and not smelly. 

Here are a couple of things that I discovered: my household (two humans and one cat…we will not count Mr. Belvedere the Betta Fish because he is part of a closed ecosystem and doesn’t produce any waste) is about on par, or slightly lower than the average American household in waste production. The average American produces 4.33 pounds of garbage A DAY that is landfill-bound. So, with my trusty calculator in hand (nobody ever said I had to be good at math):

4.33 pounds x 2 (humans) = 8.66 pounds per day for the household

8.66 pounds x 7 days (1 week) = 60.62 pounds per week for the household, theoretical trash production. 

ACTUAL TRASH PRODUCTION: 55.4 pounds

And because I am a faithful zero-waster, I rummaged through and picked out the top 6 offenders:

1. Feminine product supplies and Efferdent wrappers

2. Toilet paper rolls and the plastic that encases the packages. 

3. Cardboard boxes from my amazon.com habit. 

4. Plastic food waste (this general category includes food bottles and containers, saran wrap, non-reusable plastic bags from food, and any other plastic container found in the house like laundry detergent containers or shampoo bottles)

5. Food waste (meat scraps, other non-compostable items)

6. Kitty litter and kitty diamonds

My theory was to address these categories one at a time and find ingenious solutions to them so that I can still keep living mostly unchanged, but in a zero waste way. 

I have adjusted that mindset a little, because some of them were so ridiculously easy, it was a non-issue, and some were so mind-blowingly hard, I still haven’t come up with a viable set of options. 

1. Feminine product waste. This, I thought, was going to be hard. The two options for women (men, if this makes you uncomfortable, feel free to avert your eyes) who want to produce little waste are the Diva Cup and LunaPads. The Diva Cup was NOT going to happen. People say its really easy and flexible, blah blah, but I already feel Red Tent-dirty enough on my period without having to wash out a flexible rubber cup filled with unmentionable goo. However, LunaPads turns out to be a genius solution for a multitude of reasons, most of which I will not share so as not to offend your delicate sensibilities. However, if you’re not into the Diva Cup, check out LunaPads. I use them exclusively now, and I’m a convert. 

2. Toilet paper rolls and plastic from packaging: My boyfriend and I go through a lot of toilet paper. This becomes a problem, because rolls are produced at an astonishing rate, and the plastic from the packages is piling up in our bathroom. Our solution to this was to give up our beloved bleached white, three-ply, extra cushy Charming toilet paper and move to an eco-friendly brand. We use a recycled toilet paper now that comes in a paper wrapper that can be composted. The toilet paper rolls get shredded and composted, and as a result, we never suffer for “brown” waste in our compost bin. 

3. Cardboard boxes: This is time intensive, but easy. I cut them up into strips, run them through the shredder, and into the compost they go. Bam. Endless supply of “brown” waste. Also helps keep the fruit fly population down while my pile gets started and changes from a giant pile of trash in my backyard to “black gold” but not the oil kind. 

4. Plastic food and packaging waste: Holy mother of GOD, this one is hard. Some parts are easy, like soap. I exclusively use my homemade soap (featured in the post The Soap That Changed My Life), and I am grimly struggling towards a homemade shampoo solution. I’ve almost got it, and when my hair stabilizes, I will post about it. But right now, I don’t want to talk about it. Other parts are hard. Food is hard. Everything has plastic on it or in it somehow someway. Even vegetables bought from the store have these plasticized tags on them that cannot be reused. I will continue to post on my struggles with plastic, but right now, I’m settling for buying only stuff in recyclable plastic, or not at all. This is also for things like castile soap, that I cannot find in bulk in Los Angeles (unlike Seattle, where every PCC has bulk castile soap just, you know, hangin’ out…like its normal or something), laundry detergent that I am still using up, and kitchen products I cannot find in bulk (like olive oil, etc.)

5. Food Waste: Victor and I thought about this one long and hard. We decided to give “flexitarian” a try, which sounds super pretentious, but really does fit in with the way we’re trying to live. Basically, our version is no meat unless it is: sustainably raised, humanely and respectfully slaughtered, and no packaging. This cuts down our meat consumption significantly, but gives us the flexibility to enjoy Community Seafood in our farm box from Silverlake Farms or occasional visits to the butcher for sustainable cuts of meat. Thus, by doing this, we’ve basically eliminated meat scraps from our trash pile. 

6. Kitty Litter/Diamonds: Unfortunately, poor kitty may be infected with toxoplasmosis, which can be transferred to humans, so no compost pile for kitty diamonds. It’s also considered unsafe and unsanitary to bury them outside, so we’ve settled for using paper bags to place the used litter in and using a refillable container for buying litter. It’s not a perfect solution, but like I said before, this is a journey, not a destination. 🙂 

One of the other things we did, which was met with skeptical eyebrow-raising from my lovely boyfriend, was to rid ourselves of trash cans. As Amy says in her Zero Waste book, its surprising how you can take away the trash cans and..stop..producing waste. I didn’t believe it, Victor didn’t believe it, but somehow, it works. We now have a HUGE trash can in the kitchen for recyclables, which is faithfully carted off to the recycling center weekly (my garbage collection is shifty about recycling), a small trashcan for trash, which is lined with paper bags, and a compost keeper that is dumped regularly. In the bathroom, we have a compost keeper and a teeny Tupperware for trash. BAM. 

So here’s where the cool “math” part comes in. I’m going to redistribute the above values, removing all the pounds that are no longer landfill bound (instead recycling center or compost bound). BC = before challenge, or before I took on the zero-waste initiative. Fittingly, AC is after challenge, or after the institution of composting, recycling, and refusing. 

Pounds of kitchen trash produced (total, BC): 14 pounds

Pounds of kitchen trash produced (total, AC): 2 pounds (meat scraps and unavoidable packaging)

Pounds of household trash produced (total, BC): 35 pounds

Pounds of household trash produced (total, AC): 5 pounds 

Pounds of bathroom trash produced (total, BC): 6 pounds 

Pounds of bathroom trash produced (total, AC): 0.5 pounds (feminine products prior to receiving my LunaPads)

SO, from 55 pounds to (drumroll please) 7.5 pounds. WHHHAAAAATTTTT. And that’s one month into my challenge! 

Happy one month, everyone. Be inspired. Start small. Every little bit counts. 

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