Each American makes around 4.4 pounds of trash a day, According to the Environmental Protection Agency. That is roughly the size of a chihuahua.
I never thought about my trash being around the size of a small dog, but then again I never thought about what I threw away, or how much.
It did not seem like much at first, but then I really thought about it. If each person really throws away 4.4 pounds of trash every 24 hours, I would be surrounded by an amount of my own trash resembling thirty small yapping animals by the end of the month. I also live with three other people, so triple that amount. We would be practically swimming in small dogs.
For some reason, I could not accept this. Me being the crunchy granola type, I decided to challenge this statistic. I recycle a fair amount and I am a proud owner of many reusable water bottles and lunch containers, but I wasn’t sure if my efforts were helping. I set out to find if my lifestyle was just another statistic. I was about to sentence myself to a week of hoarding all my trash.
I set aside a trash can for just myself the entire week. I planned to weigh my trash, sort and analyze what I used and disposed of at the end, to see what I use in my average life.
The first day was off to a rocky start. I caught a cold, so most of my trash consisted of napkins and used tissues, all which added up. I ended up finding a handkerchief to use out of guilt of all the garbage I made, and all the trips I had to take to my special trash can.
It can be a hassle, and you realize how you will automatically move to the trashcan to throw something away without giving a second thought to where that garbage will go. Multiple times I had to dig stuff out of the family trash can and put it in my individual bin, and each time I did so consciously, I really noticed how frequently I made the trip.
The rest of the week was generally the same. I threw away mostly take-out and napkins. The farther I went on with this challenge, the more it compelled me to make less waste.
I went out to eat, so whenever I had leftovers I would have to make sure to wash out my containers and throw them away in my special trash can. When I went out for frozen yogurt, I had to carry the spoons and sticky cups back with me to my house. One night I had pasta and shellfish for dinner, and the shells of the clams and mussels count as food waste, so I had to clean them out to prevent seafood smell.
At the end of the week I ended up making 4.2 pounds, roughly averaging half a pound a day.
As I lay all my waste out in front of me, I marveled at how my waste was a chronological log of my week, the top of the bag being the most recent and the bottom of the bag reminding me of the first day I did this challenge.
Of course, I knew this was not accurately representing my waste. I only found one tea bag, and I drink tea every day and probably used around 20 bags.
The impact of all my waste, however, did not hit me until a day later.
At the end of the week on Friday, I had the opportunity to visit where my trash would eventually end up; the SMaRT Station, Sunnyvale’s waste management system.
A lot of effort goes into making sure biodegradables end up in their proper place, and recycled material get used again.
I witnessed long assembly lines of workers sorting trash, separating plastics and papers. It was shocking, and made me thankful I had sorted my trash beforehand so these workers wouldn’t have to later.
If I had to make a change to anything I was creating, I knew I could stop using so many to go boxes and save the utensils from being discarded. I could also compost my tea and banana peels separately.
Either way, I really did make a lot of trash. It wasn’t 4.4 pounds, but it still creates as much as an impact as any other discarded item. It is easy to say I can make changes, but actually tracking your waste is hard. I have yet to make my trash cleaner to benefit the rest of the Earth.