In 2017, I decided to collect all of my household waste for an entire year in a jar. As I have written about consistently on this blog, since I began going zero waste three years ago I have been doing a waste audit each month to analyze the contents of my trash bin. It gave me a way to motivate myself to make changes each month and target those items that were the most relevant to my lifestyle. But going into 2017, I felt like each month I gave myself a pass by emptying the jar down to nothing. It made me lazier when it came to avoiding trash the next month because I had room to fill up the jar again. By holding on to my waste for a whole year though, I had hoped it would keep me more motivated throughout the entire time to ditch disposable items.
I started off 2017 with a small pint jar that I used each month to collect my waste. I had high hopes that I could make a years' worth of trash fit inside of it but quickly realized that I was a little too ambitious. There are still so many factors in life that I don't have control over when it comes to making waste and, let's face it, I'm still human and make mistakes. By the end of the year, I had two quart jars stuffed (and I mean stuffed) with trash along with two broken plates and a light bulb. Overall, it totaled 1.67 pounds of waste. The picture below features everything except the two broken plates that went straight in the trash for safety reasons.
The average American produces at least 2.89 pounds of trash per day (Municipal Solid Waste), which translates into approximately 1,054 pounds per year. By only producing 1.67 pounds of trash, I produced about 0.001% of what I would have living a typical lifestyle.
So what exactly ended up in my jar? Rather than list out every single item (which would be hundreds of pieces since most are tiny tiny!), I've divided them up by general category to get an idea of where I am still making the most waste. You can also check out my Trash Jar page to see a month by month photo collage of the whole year.
Food Waste: lid seals (e.g. peanut butter, yogurt, ice cream, mayonnaise), cheese wrappers, two broken plates, tea packets, sugar packets, fruit stickers
Medical Waste: bandaids, adhesive tape, vitamin seals, cough drop wrappers, a IOPI tongue test tube, disposable gloves, blister pads, cough syrup bottle seals, bandages from donating blood
Shopping: receipts, clothing tags, price tags, credit card strips, gift card strips
Office: stickers, postage, glue sticks, calendar tabs, bits of tape, staples, ink cartridge packaging, envelope windows, rubber bands, sticky tack
Home: a light bulb, candle bases, sponge packaging, broken plates
Eating out: straws, toothpick toppers, receipts
Miscellaneous: string, bus passes, hair ties, sunglasses lenses, a phone case
I also kept track of how much trash in weight I added to my jar each month. I usually find that the summer months and the holidays are when I see a spike in my waste output, and this year followed a similar trend. Those times usually coincide with traveling which can be a waste reduction nightmare. To learn more about how I reduce my waste while traveling, you can read my suggestions for hotel stays and road trips!
2017 Trash Jar by Weight
January: 0.9 ounces
February: 0.4 ounces
March: 0.9 ounces
April: 7.6 ounces
May: 0.4 ounces
June: 2.8 ounces
July: 6.7 ounces
August: 1.5 ounces
September: 0.8 ounces
October: 2.4 ounces
November: 2.0 ounces
December: 2.0 ounces
The real question is, did my year long waste jar collection actually work? Did I stay more motivated and make less waste? Kind of. Compared to 2016 when I produced approximately 9 pounds of trash, I only produced 1.67 pounds. But most of that waste was when I was hospitalized in Mexico (anyone remember that fun adventure?), and overall, my average monthly waste was pretty similar. I do feel like it kept me more motivated however. Visually seeing the trash accumulate on the shelf was like a symbol for how my actions cumulatively effect the planet. I don't get to re-start every month in terms of my carbon footprint, and my trash jar helped me remember that. As to whether I keep it going for this year...you'll just have to wait and see!
If you've been wanting to reduce your waste and can't seem to figure out where to start, I highly recommend doing a waste audit and checking out my post 31 Ways to Ditch Plastic for Good!
Do you do regular trash audits? What ends up on your waste bin? Comment below and maybe I have a solution to your reoccurring, pesky item!