Tuesday, January 4, 2011

No Impact Week: Day 2 - Trash

This week I'm experimenting with No Impact Week, exploring some of my past successes at decreasing my carbon footprint and generating even better ideas for the future. My goal is to challenge myself to redo the week later this year when it will have the greatest impact on my day-to-day life. Click here for a review of Day 1 - Consumption.


Day 2 - Trash

It's funny how I unconsciously renamed the second day of this experiment; I called it "Waste" instead of "Trash" at the end of yesterday's post and almost did the same again today. While it's true that throwing so much stuff in the garbage is a big problem that we're ignoring (when was the last time you visited a landfill?), it's important to scrutinize what goes in your blue and green bins, too. Of course any waste diversion is better than none, but minimizing our overall waste generation, whether blue, green, or black, is better. In other words, it's time for a waste audit!

Day 2 of No Impact Week called for examining the contents of a bag that I was supposed to fill with my "trash" from Day 1. Once again I should remind you that I'm not really participating this week, as it's too abnormal compared to my usual routine. Case in point: I stayed home on Day 1. Not bringing anything new to my place meant not opening any packages, not using any bags, and not accumulating receipts. My breakfast was toast, cut from a loaf of bread purchased on December 31st and brought home in a reusable shopping bag, and spread with peanuts-only peanut butter from a glass jar. Since I don't cut away the crust (who does that?!) and ate both slices of toast completely, no waste was generated. Lunch and dinner were leftovers from lots of big meals over the holidays, resulting in dishes and utensils that needed to be washed, but not much else. Between the meals? I read books, watched DVDs I had previously borrowed from a friend, had conversations on the phone and in person, and played games. Keep in mind that Day 1 of No Impact Week fell on January 2nd, a Sunday firmly wedged between two vacation days. Definitely not a normal waste generating day for me.

If I had to highlight areas I can - and will - improve on, then these are my top 5:
  • Start carrying a reusable food container and utensils with me wherever I go, to complement my water bottle and insulated thermos. If I can't finish my meal at a restaurant, I won't need a styrofoam clamshell. If I can't avoid a quick lunch at a food court, I will at least be able to decline taking a plastic fork, knife, and/or spoon. I can even cut up an old shirt into many pieces and always carry one with me to use as a napkin, then wash them all at the end of the week.
  • Invest in organic cotton produce bags for grocery trips. Often, I'll place certain fruits and veggies directly into my reusable shopping bag, then once at home, I'll reuse old plastic produce bags to store these items in the fridge. But purchasing a dozen apples at a time doesn't lend itself well to this procedure. So, instead of loading them into new plastic produce bags, I will start bringing my own to the store!
  • Reduce the number of garbage bins in my home to two: one in the kitchen, and one in the bathroom. Then, increase the number of bins for compostable facial tissues such that there is one in each room! Most non-reusable, non-recyclable, non-compostable items are found in the kitchen and bathroom (if any of you come up with a reuse for floss, I'm all ears), while every other room generates virtually only facial tissue trash - which is green bin friendly where I live. By keeping these two streams as separate as possible, I can maximize my landfill diversion.

  • Plan meals around what's in the fridge to avoid having to compost food that has gone bad. I'm actually really ashamed that this happens. Sometimes I cook a big meal too soon before leaving town for the weekend, and it's inedible when I get home. Other times I excitedly pick up some interesting groceries, then forget them at the back of the fridge until I notice them again for "that smell". I'd like to design some sort of a spreadsheet (laminated, to be used with dry-erase markers) that keeps track of the inventory of the fridge, including the dates on which certain items were purchased and cooked. That would make it a lot easier to use up food before it goes to waste.
  • Buy groceries at my local farmers' market more often to avoid excessive packaging. This goes hand in hand with my second point about reusable produce bags! There are some veggies that automatically come with packaging in some stores. For instance, my local grocer carries imported spinach that has been pre-washed in a facility that subsequently places the greens in clear plastic containers. Why not instead purchase locally-grown spinach from a nearby farm with my shiny new cotton produce bags?
I'm glad to have discovered a few more simple actions, which, taken together, can noticeably lower my carbon footprint. Although it's comforting to know that I can recycle and compost most of the things I throw out, the best strategy of all is not to bring so much stuff home to begin with!

Stay tuned tomorrow for my thoughts on Day 3 - Transportation.

Photo credits: landfill compactor and cat with tissues.


  1. I don't have reusable produce bags but I also don't generally use the plastic bags in the store either. I don't see why I need a bag for a bunch of broccoli or a couple of tomatoes or apples. They all end up together in my reusable shopping bag after when I leave the store and roll around happily around in my cart beforehand.

  2. That's great to hear! While reusable produce bags made of cotton are better than single-use plastic bags that grocery stores provide, not using any bags at all is best.