What’s in Your Garbage?


A little over a year ago, I read an online article about this family who had taken on a week long challenge to try to produce ZERO waste, that’s right – NO garbage. They were the typical family with two kids, and at the end of their challenge, they generated 1.5 bags of garbage (from their normal 6-7 bags). I was impressed even though they did generate garbage at the end of their challenge. The whole idea of reducing what ends up in a landfill by 1/3 or 1/4 of my norm sounded great – why would I not try that?! So I took on the challenge in my own home with my husband and two kids. After a week, we produced less than one plastic bag of garbage compared to our norm of 6-8 bags. Not bad for a beginner 

The challenge really changed how my family recycled, purchased foods and used products. It’s been more than a year now and we usually produce about half a bag each week. Now I want to share what we did, how we did it and to encourage you to try the ZERO-waste Challenge for a week. Experience it for yourselves and see how you can make a difference for greener every day living.

CHALLENGE: The goal is to produce NO garbage for a week

HOW: Here’s what we did and suggestions that may help you in your challenge

– use cloth wipes and diapers

– use reusable containers and bags for school and work lunches, make lunches from scratch (no pre-packaged foods) and use metal utensils and cloth napkins

– avoid excess packaging: buy produce from bulk; milk & condiments in recyclable bottles or glass if we can find it; choose to not buy items in plastic bags with paper labels (these cannot be separated to be recycled). We separate all packaging and recycle everything including the paper inserts inside clam shells (great work out!)

– use reusable produce and shopping bags for all groceries, though some food came on styrofoam trays or packaged in a plastic bag. During our challenge, I couldn’t recycle the styrofoam but now I find there’s an option for recycling styrofoam in our community

– recycle every piece of cardboard, paper, plastic, glass, tin foil and metal: separate the paper packaging from the plastic and recycled them separately. Yes, we recycled the plastic bag that grapes, bread and etc comes in, plastic coat hangers as well as the foil on top of yogurt and butter containers. Our municipality does not pickup soft plastics like shopping bags and plastic wrappings so we made trips to the local recycling depot on the weekends

– batteries, oil, paints, appliances, computer parts, electronics and similar can all be recycled at the local recycling depot

– used clothes, books, household items and etc can be donated to the local Salvation Army, Thrift Shop or charity

– bicycles, cell phones and glasses are often collected by charities for third world nations

– compost all organics including food scraps and yard waste. We are lucky that our municipality takes food scraps including chicken bones, meats, fish, shells, vegetable trimmings, napkins, tissue papers, pizza boxes and similar food paper products including popsicle sticks, any thing biodegradable

– reduce eating out, take outs and deliveries as most come in styrofoam trays that are harder to recycled

– use biodegradable kitchen and garbage bags instead of the plastic bags you get from grocery stores

– say NO to offers for more plastic bags, and remember to bring your own

So what does that leave in my garbage these days? Styrofoam food trays, light bulbs, twist ties (mix of paper and metal cannot be recycled), used band-aids, waxed wrappings from butter packs, tomato/banana/watermelon stickers, plastic with paper (cannot be removed from some produce bags and tape from boxes that has paper stuck to the tape), and chocolate bar wrappers.

Tell me what’s in your garbage after your ZERO Waste Challenge week!