When Radish asked me to try to limit my family's trash for a week, the first thing that came to mind was an article in People magazine about a family of four whose nonrecyclable, noncompostable trash for an entire year fit into a quart Mason jar. In contrast, the average American throws away four-and-a-half pounds of trash a day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.|
I'd say my family falls somewhere in between. I've been composting for about 15 years and recycling for more than that, but we still generate our fair share of trash. As part of the challenge, we were given four large, empty cottage cheese tubs (the kind that hold two pounds each) to use as our trash containers — not quite a mason jar, but not far off. It was time to see how good we could be. I told my boys, Logan and Tyler, that this wasn't a contest, it would be OK if they each had more than a full tub. "I'd rather do it," Logan said. "My conscience would rather have me do it."
What follows is a week in the life of trash at the Wren house. Of course, Murphy's Law kicked in and a nasty case of the flu ran rampant through the house that week. My tissues alone would have filled one of those tubs so I didn't include them in the experiment. I realize hankies seem more eco-friendly than tissues, but as one of the sickies, I didn't want to trade less trash for more laundry.
I also didn't include leftover food in the experiment for one simple reason: I have 12- and 10-year-old ravenous boys — we don't exactly have much in the way of leftover food. What leftovers we might have get "recycled" into my lunch the next day.
Monday: I felt a little bit cocky; we could do this! Logan and Tyler were excited, too. We got off to a great start up through lunch, then the effects of the flu started to kick in and the idea of cooking didn't sit well. We ended up bringing home tacos for dinner. On the negative side, there were 20 taco wrappers to deal with. On the plus side, the cardboard taco carriers were recyclable!
Tuesday: I have to keep an eye on the kids' tubs. They're rather competitive. I wouldn't put it past either one of them to put trash in the other's tub. We've been recycling since they were babies and they're pretty good at it, although sometimes their idea of keeping something out of the landfill means keeping it behind their dressers. They are still trying to get the hang of composting, though. That might change this summer when we get our chickens and the kids will be able to feed them scraps.
Tyler's flu has almost run its course, so he won't have any more medicine packets in his tub. I'm still putting mine in two or three times a day. Of course we would all get the flu instead of coughs. The cough medicine bottle is recyclable. Foil packets of medicine are not.
Wednesday: Somebody had a hot dog after school. That means a paper towel, which is wrapped around the hot dog before it goes in the microwave. I guess I can't complain; my cheese stick did come with a plastic wrapper.
Thursday: It was a bad day at work and I was ready to relax. I pulled out the detoxifying mask I got at the drugstore, but it wasn't one out of a tube. It was sort of a moist towelette you put over your face for 15 minutes. So my relaxation added the towelette and packaging to my tub. Dinner that night ended up being frozen breaded chicken patties out of a bag (not recyclable) and mashed potatoes (peels were compostable).
Friday: We started running out of lunch packing supplies, meaning there was more trash. The wrapper from the tomato juice cans went into a tub. The package from the lunch meat was about to follow when I happened to notice the recyclable plastic logo on the back. Score one for the recycling bin!
I cooked ground deer for dinner, which added plastic wrap and butcher's paper to the tubs, but no Styrofoam. I wonder what Ms. Mason Jar did with her meat packaging. The article in People said that she takes glass containers to the store to hold deli items. I can't help but wonder if that meets health codes. Even if she skips the Styrofoam trays for meat, there's got to be some sort of packaging.
Saturday and Sunday: These two days were when the experiment imploded. It started when the boys had a friend spend the night. We ordered pizza, and unfortunately you can't recycle that kind of cardboard. Three boys in the house meant that bags of chips were emptied at record speed. Also, I indulged in one of my favorite pastimes, baking. You can't recycle butter wrappers, though you can recycle the containers from the stuff that comes in tubs (but doesn't taste like real butter).
Overall, I think we did OK but Tyler was more optimistic. He even seemed to grasp a way we could do better in the future. "Maybe we should eat stuff that doesn't have wrappers and just eat stuff with wrappers when we're really hungry," he suggested. It may not be a year's worth of trash squeezed into a Mason jar, but it's a victory. I'll take it.
Sharon Wren is a regular contributor to Radish magazine.
Rock island, IL Details
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