365 Days of Trash

Last year I didn’t throw anything away.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say I am the only person writing for Care2 who has ever started a piece with that line. For those of you just tuning in, Jan. 1, 2008, I decided that I was going to not throw anything away or recycle anything for a full year and see what happened. Now, safely on the other side of 365 days, I can report to you that quite a bit happened, and shockingly, most of it was good.

I started the whole process without much thought as to what would actually happen and boy am I glad I did. The first thing I noticed was that I am not your average consumer. I guess I just don’t buy a lot of things but I had never really realized this before I started storing everything in the basement. So I quickly changed the scope of my project from “look at how terrible we are” to “look at how good we can be.”

You see dear reader, I don’t live in a cave. I have a wife, two kids, a job, a car, and two pet rats (don’t hold that against me, they are very cute). For all intents and purposes, I am an average guy–whatever that means–but basically, if we were to hang out for an hour, you wouldn’t really notice much different about me.

And yet, during the course of the year 2008, I was able to cut my trash down to a mere 30.5 pounds. Now of course, that doesn’t include the amount of recycling, which was still small but a bit more than 30.5 pounds.

What made the whole thing possible was cognizance. By being forced to confront my trash and recycling I was able to make choices. Fish wrapping was replaced by Tupperware, coffee bean bags went away by buying in bulk, plastic produce bags were replaced with cloth that, due to the 5 cents I got back every time I used them, have since paid for themselves and are now saving me money. It was amazing to me what a simple amount of knowledge could do.

The other thing that shocked me was how easy it was to train myself to not throw anything away. Trust me, until you try and stop something like that, you have no idea how ingrained it is and how little you think about it when you do it. Now I mention this not because I’m trying to persuade everyone to stop throwing things away (although cutting back a bit couldn’t hurt, right?), but because I hear so often how hard it is to remember coffee mugs, water bottles, and reusable bags, just to name a few. My point is, compared to not throwing things away, those are easy. So if you think remembering a bag is tough, think again. If you put your mind to it, you can train yourself to do anything.

Since the year is up, I have set up a new site that I hope will continue the work that I started. It’s a bit more all encompassing–waste, renewable energy, electric vehicles, and beyond–and will be centering around the solutions videos, a new video every week (and eventually more often) that will highlight a simple solution to help save the planet at the same time will save you money, and in some cases even time. I’ll try and post them when I can here but you can also receive them by signing up for the solutions newsletter.

I think that if I were to have to sum up what I have learned in one thought though, it would be this: Think. Don’t keep on doing things the way that you have done them blindly without thought just because it’s easy. Ask yourself, “Does this make sense?” and “What is the impact of my decisions?” Often times you will find that there is a simpler, easier solution that will lessen your footprint on the planet and once you have adopted it into your routine, you’ll realize you, and your world, are better for it.

Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His website and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Give people the facts, and they’ll choose to do the right thing.”


Kerrie G.
Kerrie G8 years ago

It's amazing what you can learn to live and do without when the chips are down.

Cindy R.
Cindy R.8 years ago

Wish that he had given me more info.

Carrie M.
Carrie M9 years ago

I'm not ready to keep trash in my basement, but my weekly challenge to myself (and my family) is to keep my garbage can emptier than my recycling can. It's not so hard.

A Virginia A.
A Virginia A.10 years ago

My favorite reuse of glass food jars is to make a huge batch of dense bean-veg soup and ladle into 1-serving size reusable salsa, peanut butter, jelly jars for refrigeration or freezing. It's perfect for a healthy grab & go meal with added rice or a whole grain roll. I can microwave to reheat or serve cold. I'm pleased to be saving time, doing my small part keeping me and the planet healthy.

Norell Weiner
Norell Weiner10 years ago

I compost much of my scraps and add to my veggie and flower garden (which, by the way, is my entire front lawn--flower garden that is). I also save any water from steaming or boiling veggies to water my plants, inside and out with that. Better than buying price fertilzers and cuts down on my water bill. I also have a rain barrel which is great. I can my own jam and spag. sauce and this year I hope to freeze alot of veggies too. I also make my own laundry detergent for mere pennies and lasts me for months. For air fresheners I dry citrus peels and cinnamon and cloves and put them in pretty bowls. Instead of frabreeze I mix water and essential oils and spray my curtains and mats. For bedding I use lavendar oil mixed with water. For windows it's vinegar and water. I clean my counters with water and peroxide. Bakingsoda for my tub to scrub out the grime.

Gail Meyer

We've found the easiest way to remember bags and coffee/tea containers is simply put them back in the car as soon as they are emptied and cleaned. You can also refill safe no.2 water bottles and store them in the car. We also distill our own water so we don't have to buy bottled water.

Arlene S.
Arlene S10 years ago

Cindy B.
My cat will use the outdoors when the weather is appropriate and she is out on her leash. I only have one at the moment since losing my boy to cancer last year. I am planning on adopting another older cat (or two kittens - I haven't decided yet) in the spring. My cats do not free roam through the neighborhood...they either go outside on their 30 ft. leashes or into their enclosure. Not only is this safer (traffic, other animals, people, etc.) and healthier but there is a city by-law where I live about free roaming cats as well as dogs. Going outside to use the garden WON'T work for a significant part of the year because in Saskatchewan most winter days are just too d*mn cold to pee outside. I won't ...so I won't make my cats do it either unless they want to. They can think for themselves. Call me a crazy cat lady if you will but I care about the health and welfare of my cat(s) and other animals as well as the environment or else I won't be trying to solve this problem. Hope the weather is nice in Seattle. Arlene aka crazy cat lady freezing in cold Saskatchewan :)

Cindy B.
Cindy Black10 years ago

Good grief, how about building the cats a cat door so they can come in and out? I have two cats that I adore with every fibre of my being. But I'd just as soon have them euthanized than deprive them of the outdoors they so love. The minute they started using the cat door, that was the end of household cat poop; they'd rather go out in the SNOW than use the litter pan I still keep around "just in case." I have a pet possum too, and I just flush her poo down the toilet along with mine...which, I must admit, I don't do unless it is pretty full of poo and pee! I really despise wasting water via flushing the toilet. If we could get everyone to flush only every 2 or 3 times (or more), we could really save LOT of precious water. So long and happy New Year! Your friend, Cindy Black in Seattle

Nicole K.
Nicole K10 years ago

A few months ago, for no reason at all (that I'm aware of) I also decided to reduce the amount of trash that goes out of my home. I use a large dog food bag to collect paper and cardboard, a plastic grocery bag to collect plastic bottles and food wrappers, cans and glass bottles go into the recycle bin outside the door, and I have a compost barrel for food items. It's not a perfect system; my house is too small for trash storage and separation, and I could buy less, but my latest feat was going 6 weeks and having only 2 bags of garbage! This is for 2 people, 5 dogs, and a cat, and compared to previous garbage tossing it's an improvement for us.

Arlene S.
Arlene S10 years ago

Dear Dave,
I have done what I believe is an amazing job in our house of reducing our garbage output to almost nil by the three R's and composting....I love my worm buddies BUT I still have one area where I haven't found the answer ...and I know many others who would like to know. Is there a way to reduce the effect of cat litter going into the trash? I contacted a vermicomposting website about this because they had a page for composting dog poo but it is a problem because of the urine/litter mix. You can compost cat poo in its own outdoor compost bin IF you separate the poo from the urine and litter, not always possible. I know that there are eco-friendly/bio-degradable litters but for some due to budget or the number of cats these options are not always feasible. I do not like putting clay litter into the landfill, I cannot compost it...it is the bulk of my garbage, about 75% now. Do you have any ideas??