Jul 072010

While I have rarely grown weary of our project, I never really stopped to think how I would feel on week 52, 365 days after we started the Green Garbage Project.  Well, time passed as time does, and we’ve reached a landmark.  I won’t say we’ve reached the end, because now that we’re on a roll, there’s no way we’re stopping.  That said, the original project was designed to take place over the course of the year.  We’ve said all along we’d consider ourselves successful if, at the end of the year, we could fit all our trash in a standard shoebox or a standard plastic grocery sack. 

Our trash for one year - pictured here with a women's 7.5 shoe, for scale.

Our trash for one year - pictured here with a women's 7.5 shoe, for scale.

We did it.  With our (first) year officially over, the amount of trash we’ve produced between the two of us weighs in at about 3 pounds.  Considering that the average American creates 4.6 pounds of trash A DAY (about 3 pounds of that ends up in a landfill, the remaining 1.6 pounds is recyclable), we consider this quite the feat. 

Today, I’m not going to talk about what we’ve learned or what comes next.  Those are posts for another day.  Instead, I will tell you the story of our year – in trash.

Our trash can be separated into categories, and maybe here is the best place to start. 

Object trash – trash created from household items breaking or wearing out.

Object trash

Object trash

  • Broken dog squeaky toy: One of our very first pieces of trash, this frog squeaky toy met an early end thanks to a lawn mower.
  • Severed bungee cords: Result of someone letting our dog out of our yard.  Thankfully everything turned out okay.
  • Lightbulb: Burnt-out bulb that had to be replaced.  If you recall, we moved last September and had several bulbs burn out on us.  Some I’ve saved for craft projects, but a bulb like this I can’t do anything with.  It was replaced with a CFL.
  • Broken Christmas ornament: Knocked off the tree by our cat and shattered.
  • Ear plugs: Resulting from a mandatory field trip to a lumber mill.  We toured the local mill in the small town where I worked.
  • 2 pens and a highlighter: A good, productive year as a teacher is bound to result in some worn-out writing utensils.  To avoid in the future, I will use a fountain pen or colored pencils.

Bathroom trash: By far the hardest to avoid.  Even a year later, I don’t have any new ways to avoid some of this stuff.

8 razor blades and 2 toothbrush heads.

8 razor blades and 2 toothbrush heads.

A small mound of the rest of our bathroom trash.

A small mound of the rest of our bathroom trash.

  • 8 razor blades: For financial reasons I did not invest in an electric razor (like Adam uses) or a safety razor.  Instead, I opted for these, which are way better than the full disposable razors.  I was (and still am!) unwilling to give up shaving entirely, though I used a natural wax called Moom whenever I could.
  • 2 toothbrush heads: All in all, neither of us were in love with the Preserve brand toothbrushes.  The producers should be commended for making a recycled, recyclable product and for being responsible enough to deal with the product after its usefulness has expired.  Still, the bristles weren’t firm enough, and after using an electric toothbrush, my teeth never felt clean enough with Preserve. 
  • Birth control pill packaging: 12 plastic wrappers, 12 plastic cases, and 12 plastic-foil pill packs. 
  • Flea medicine: In the spring and summer months, the pets get fleas and so far, this is the only thing that works.
  • Hospital bracelet: Plastic, from the time I was admitted earlier in the year.
  • 2 Theraflu pouches: If you recall, both Adam and I got a nasty flu last winter.  We felt so bad that we couldn’t care less about creating garbage.  One reader correctly pointed out that, because it’s inevitable that you get sick, it’s necessary to do the research and have garbage-free alternatives on hand ahead of time.  That, and using herbal remedies are both things I plan to research in the future.
  • Insect sting relief pad: From a visiting child over the summer.
  • Various pill blister packs: Many medicines come packaged in plastic blister packs and covered with foil.  We could often, but not always, recycle the plastic.
  • Seals from contact lens blister packs


Sometimes, gifts we received contained trash.

Sometimes, gifts we received contained trash.

  • Styrofoam cup: From teacher appreciation week, when the student council brough us coffee.
  • Popped balloons: From a night out at the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant.  The Portland location has a balloon man who makes balloon animals for kids.  He wears big, crazy Dr. Seuss-style balloon hats, and at the end of the night, he gives the hat to one lucky diner.  I was that person.
  • Wrapping paper: Refer to our Christmas posts to see how we made it through the Christmas season with only two pieces of trash.  Our families went above and beyond, wrapping our gifts in towels, fabric, and baskets.  Only one family wrapped our gifts in non-recyclable/reusable packaging.
  • Cut flower preservative powder: Adam brought me flowers for our anniversary last week, and they were wrapped in tissue paper!  Unfortunately, this little packet of powder came with the flowers.

Trash we regret

Would have, could have, should have avoided it....

Would have, could have, should have avoided it....

  • Plastic tag from mesh produce bags: Oh, this makes me mad!  See this post for full rationale, but basically I fell victim to greenwashing.  The bags themselves are useful, but I wish I had purchased a different brand.
  • Two pairs of latex gloves: From our beach cleanup last spring.  Had we thought ahead, we would have brought our own. 
  • 2 Crackerjack liners: Again, I swear these didn’t used to come with a plastic-foil pouch inside.  Well, regardless, they do now.

Food or medicine seals

Food or medicine seals.

Food or medicine seals.

  • 14 seals: Some of these fall into the category of regrettable (or avoidable) trash.  But, since living garbage-free is so easy, it wasn’t always at the forefront of our minds when we were replacing a condiment or medicine. 

Miscellaneous  and packaging trash



  • Big ball of plastic and tape: I’m really at a loss as to where this came from.  The only trash from our move, perhaps?
  • Plastic mailer: I might be able to fuse this, but for now, it’s trash.
  • Flat packing foam: Again, we can also probably reuse this for mailing our own packages in the future.
  • Miscellaneous: Some odds and ends plastic – tags from clothing, a plastic tag from a bundle of radishes, two suction cups from the bottom of our bath mat.

And there you have it.  A year’s worth of trash.  Oddly enough, this has become enough of a talking piece that we’re unlikely to ever throw this stuff away. 

One last look inside the box.

One last look inside the box.

To our faithful readers ~ we hope you know we couldn’t have done this without you.  Thank you for your support, advice, and ideas.  We would have created much more trash if it wasn’t for the excellent, resourceful reader network this site has developed.  Please continue to check back in often (at least once a week), because the Green Garbage Project doesn’t end here.

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  16 Responses to “Week 52: And what a year it’s been”

  1. Congratulations on your year long journey! We have learned a lot from you and I thank you for that. We will never look at garbage the same way ever again. I do believe one person makes a diffrence. You have created ripples in the pond and have opened up the eyes of many people. Hets off to the both of you!

  2. you rock. congratulations. proof positive it can be done, world.

  3. Well done! Thank goodness it doesn’t end here. I’m betting the future posts will be just as intriguing as the last year. : )

  4. A wonderful year. You really did a great job and a great service to those of us who just don’t know how to do even begin. We will be looking forward to your “finds” in months to come. Keep up the good work. It has been informative and fun to see what you do. thanks, Amy and Adam.

  5. I just saw the piece on KGW.com! Great job! I do as much as I can but I’m inspired to do more! Thank you!

  6. [...] Couple Lives Trash Free for One Year Image: Week 52, Green Garbage Project [...]

  7. [...] Image: Week 52, Green Garbage Project [...]

  8. you are loved. and i mean it. this is a brilliant and needed project.

  9. [...] Treehugger Image: Week 52, Green Garbage Project [...]

  10. That is just amazing.I am gonna have to go and read the rest of ur blog to see how u did it..
    As far as the flea issue with ur pets..have u ever tried Diatomaceous Earth?
    Its a natural mineral that when dusted on animals,yards,etc it stripps the fleas and other pests of their oil coating and kills them..
    This would help u elimenate ur flea packaging waste..


    That is the website u can check it out on.There is a vid on there that will explain exactly what it is.
    I hope that helps..
    You all did a great job!
    I look forward to following this site to see how you keep doin!
    Keep it up ya’ll
    If more people did this..The world would turn around quickly!

  11. Often wondered if reuse is ‘cheating’, as it does involve buying to start.

    On balance, so long as it doesn’t end up in the bin or landfill it’s cool.

    Some nice ideas I’d invite on the site, and you may even find some more to reduce that bag more.

  12. Ok I am reading your post for the first time today. I had already put into action some ways to help save our children’s planet. I have long been convinced that we are a greedy genration who just wants wants wants and never gives back. I freecycle, recycle, reduce and reuse but I have to say you guys have done some tremendous things here. I am going to research and figure out what I can do to get something like this going in my home. I can truely say that I have questions and concerns but life often gives you the answers you are looking for if you are willing to look harder at the questions. Thanks for posting your personal experience.

  13. Don’t throw away those bungee hooks!
    Elastic cord is available by the foot, a few minutes of attention and you can have a new, custom length bungee cord.

  14. Really inspiring. I read about you and your husband in last week’s New York Times. Thanks for doing this.

    Funny, I don’t think my husband and I could manage with 1 toothbrush head for a year. We can certainly replace paper napkins with cloth, for starters.

  15. I’m not sure if this is something you would be willing or able to do, but I have been off of chemical birth control for a year and a half now. I use a Natural Family Planning method where I take my temperature every morning and chart it along with my other fertility signs. I save my temps on my cell phone so I don’t have to write anything down and there are online sites where you can chart everything paperless as well! If you want any other information on this, feel free to contact me any time.

  16. Wah! I only just *now* discovered this blog! In 2009, I set a goal of cutting my non-recylable, non-compostable trash in half and suceeded. This year, (2011) I plan on cutting it in half again. To start, I have collected two weeks worth of plastic stuff, the stuff that just seems to happen (much of it like what you have left over). After I take a look nad decide what consumer changes I must make, I’m gonna go for it! Wish me luck, and follow my progress on http://www.debgoesgreen.com, the eco-blog I’ve been keeping for that past two years on how I am reducing my carbon (and other) footprint. Good job guys! -Deb Seymour, Seattle

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