The 30 Days of Garbage Challenge

The Challenge

In January of 2019 I started my first thirty-day challenge: I would collect whatever trash I produced for thirty- days (excluding food scraps for compost). At the end of every month I would sort through and lay it all out. This was a way to:

  1. Document what items I was using.
  2. Give me more accountability to properly dispose of these items.
  3. Show that you do not have to fit everything in a jar to be part of the “zero waste” community.
  4. Show that it is a PROCESS.

I started this challenge because I noticed that I was not as strict in avoiding single use plastic as I had been in the past. I would just toss stuff I would never really think about it other then the small moment of guild that I contributed to the plastic problem. Actually physically collecting what I was using turned out to be quite an eye opening experience that I would recommend anyone- beginners and veterans alike in trying. Thirty-days can be a bit extreme for some but get a bag or a designated area and collect your single use trash for just seven days.

How I Categorized

I divided my garbage into three main categories:

Recycle- These items were accepted to common recycling facilities, they were typically number one or two plastic, glass, and cardboard.

Compostable- These were cardboard, wood, or any natural biodegradable materials that I could put into my at home compost and they will break down.  

Landfill- Lastly were the items that I could not put in city recycling or my compost so they would have to end up in the landfill were they will last for thousands of years causing harm to the environment. This was to be avoided as much as possible and is the least desirable of the three.

  • In the future I would like to add a fourth category for Tricycle, which is a company that takes typically unrecyclable materials and turns them into bikes and other long use items.   

An Honest Evaluation

Some months I thought I did really well, a majority of items were either recycled or composted with only a small portion to the landfill, while others I was disappointed because I had an image in my mind  that I did well until I laid everything out and saw how much it adds up. It is a humbling experience. I also became incredibly aware of my consumer decisions because If I bought something in plastic I would have to carry it back with me, clean the container, and then store it- sometimes I found myself avoiding single use plastic just for the fact that I did not want to add it to my pile.

Although from where I started I have made massive improvement, I on average only produce a little more than a bathroom wastebasket size amount of trash. This in comparison to what the average American produces in a month is progress! I am proud of the progress I have made, and the lessons I have learned, I have been refining my garbage habits  time and time again for six years and I am STILL not 100% zero waste. This is what I hope to show through this challenge, that you don’t have to be perfect. In fact I have yet to see videos other then the [insert crazy time line here] jars of trash - which I am not discrediting this amazing accomplishment, that is fantastic! But the reality for most people, especially if you do not live in big cities with access to resources and like minded communities, it is not a practical way to live and most individuals can not do it. That's not to say that you shouldn't make changes where you can, get into some local activism, and understand your trash habits!

In all I will strongly recommend you give this a try, it is not a competition by any means but a way to gather accurate data about yourself. It is not about being perfect rather than acknowledging that we can do better, and giving ourselves an honest evaluation of where we are at now so that we can improve, pushing ourselves to get to where we want to be, or just an honest reflection inward of where we simply are at now.

If you would like to see my 30 days of garbage videos click here

If you would like to participate take a picture of your garbage for a week and post it on our Sustainable Havasu Facebook page!