Challenge Day 6: Do a waste audit

I really appreciate that Hungry Harvest including a waste audit as part of their 30-Day Challenge. Tracking every single thing you put into the waste stream can help you identify easy changes that can reduce what you throw away.

I started off this blog two years ago by tracking everything I put into the waste stream, so I was overdo for a check-in. It made it clear that I still haven’t really found any good solutions for the things that kept me from ever hitting a true zero waste goal – but there are a couple of ways I can improve.

I tracked all of the waste I created that went in the trash or to recycling. With all the recent issues with recycling processing, it’s clear that not everything we put in the blue bin is actually being recycled, so my goal is to recycle as little as possible (while trying to recycle everything that can be recycled).

  • Packaging from new shoes: I needed new running shoes because my old ones were getting to the point that they could cause running injuries. I ordered them online to get a better deal, so they came with a plastic shipping bag over the shoebox. The bag went in the trash because I didn’t think it was recyclable. It probably could have been reused for shipping but I hardly ever mail packages. The box went in the recycling. My old shoes will be retired to walking shoes for now and then go to a shoe recycling dropoff after that.
  • Container from new tree: We’re planting a habitat garden replacing more of our lawn with native plants. In the long run this is a good thing for the environment but it does create some trash along the way. On the day I was auditing we purchased our new tree that will be the centerpiece of the garden. I normally reuse nursery grow tubs and had plans for the big one from the tree, but my husband was worried about damaging the tree so cut the container open instead. I don’t think it can be recycled. I did save the containers from the shrubs and flowers for future use.
  • Container and spoon from yogurt shop: I was hot and cranky after getting caught in a bad traffic jam running errands, so I treated myself to some Dole Whip (it’s vegan and totally not healthy). Unfortunately, I keep my reusable silverware set in my work bag and so had to take a plastic spoon from the store. This one was totally avoidable.
  • Wrappers from meat substitutes: The primary food packaging waste that I can’t seem to shed is packaging from vegan convenience foods: burgers, sausages, sandwich “meats,” cheeses, yogurt, non-dairy milks, ice cream. Almost all of it involves plastic or other hard-to-recycle materials. I try to limit our consumption of these products and make my own homemade versions when possible, but we still eat them.
  • Snack bags: I felt like I was eating constantly on this particular day. I finished the last bit of a large bag of pretzels and ate some almonds that came in a single-serving bag that I got for free. Both bags wound up in the trash, although a day later I realized that one of our local organic food stores lets you drop off snack bags for recycling, so I will probably choose that option in the future. I generally avoid single serving bags of things and prefer to portion out servings from a bulk bin purchase or a larger container to reduce waste.
  • Beer cans: We enjoy local microbreweries but the recycling adds up. My husband got a tap and a mini-keg fridge specifically for reducing waste. We also try to stick to cans as much as possible because they are the easiest to recycle.

And now on to some less pleasant topics (move along if you’re squeamish about bodily functions):

  • Dog waste bags: There is really no getting around this one. I have dogs. Dogs poop, and it needs to be cleaned up. I use environmentally friendly bags and try to collect multiple “leavings” in one bag when possible (we have a fenced yard) to reduce the impact but it’s still something we’re putting into the trash daily. We live across the street from a river and it’s really important to keep the bacteria from dog waste out of the waterways, so composting or leaving it in place to decompose is not really an option either.
  • Toilet paper: This might disappear down the toilet, but again it is something our household puts into the waste stream on a daily basis, so I included it on my waste audit list.

My takeaway from this audit: We produce a bad of household trash about once every two weeks, and also fill our recycling can about every other week. It’s still far better than the typical American household, which produces an average of four pounds of waste per day, but the audit was a good reminder of where I can do better.


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