Trash Audit Stats:
Living Situation: Lives Alone (+ 1 cat)
Waste that showed up the most: Non-recyclable plastic
Biggest Surprise: Broken glass can’t be recycled
Hello friends! It’s been a week since I last chatted with you about our Reducing Waste sustainability theme. Last Monday, I started a “trash audit” so today I opened up my trash can and checked out what was inside. Some people might not think this is a lot of trash, others might think it’s a mountain. For context, I live alone (well, Joan the cat lives here too, but she doesn’t do much) and I have been making an effort to reduce the amount of trash I create for the past few years. Also, being in quarantine has changed my trash production A LOT. Usually, I buy a lot of fresh fruits and veggies and go out of my way to shop at stores with bulk sections so I can bring my own bags. Right now, though, I’m going to the grocery store closest to my home which doesn’t have a bulk section and I’m mostly buying canned and frozen veggies so the amount of waste I am producing in terms of plastic is, unfortunately, higher. I am going to the grocery store approximately every 2 weeks which makes buying fresh, packaging-free food pretty tough. Anyway, let’s do a deep dive into my trash. More pictures and my thoughts can be found below.
Let’s Dive In:
Non-recyclable plastic containers
Above is the lid from a veggie broth carton (carton is recyclable, lid is not), a small plastic spice container, and a butter tub (usually I clean and reuse containers like this, but this type of plastic is particularly flimsy and falls apart pretty quickly). We think that plastic is generally recyclable, but a frustrating reality is that a lot of plastic is not accepted by the facilities that process local recycling. In the tri-state area, the number on plastic containers doesn’t matter, it’s the shape of the container that will indicate whether or not something is recyclable. Basically, the only types of plastic recyclable in Cincinnati are bottles and jugs.The reason for this is that bottles and jugs are a different type of plastic than things like berry containers and butter tubs.
From Hamilton County Recycles: “Plastic bottles and jugs, in which the body is larger than the mouth, are “blow molded” which means the shape is made by blowing air into a mold, similar to blowing air into a balloon. The other plastic packaging is made in a process called “injection molded,” whereby hot liquid plastic is injected into a mold and then removed once it cools and hardens. Blow molded and injection molded plastics melt and cool at different temperatures, therefore are not compatible in the reprocessing stage. We currently only have local markets for blow molded plastic packaging.”
Basically, no company wants to recycle injection molded plastics because it’s cheaper to produce them from scratch than it is to buy the recycled plastic to make them. So if you have a piece of plastic waste and the mouth is smaller than the bottom, you’re good to recycle it. Otherwise, it has to be cleaned and reused, tossed in the trash, or you will have to seek out other, usually costly methods of getting it recycled yourself. This is an unfortunate reality that we have to consider when going on this reducing waste journey. Recycling isn’t a perfect system and just because you think you should be able to recycle something, that often isn’t the reality. I have been doing my best to limit buying plastic that isn’t recyclable, but with things like butter or a plastic cap on an otherwise recyclable carton, it’s tough to find grocery store alternatives.
Above are other frustratingly non-recyclable plastic things.
- The picture on the left is a pretzel bag and some plastic wrap.
- The middle is the plastic bag from a box of wine. Wine boxes often boast that they are the most environmentally friendly containers because one box is equal to four glass bottles. The cardboard box that wine comes in is very easily recyclable, but the plastic bag and the plastic spout definitely are not recyclable.
- The picture on the right is the packaging from some veggie burgers. Usually, I just clean and save these packages because they are resealable and freezer safe. Unfortunately, though, as you can see in the photo above, this package ripped so I had to throw it in the trash.
Plastic lined paper
This is a category that people often don’t know they aren’t able to be recycled. The items above might look like paper, but they are actually lined with plastic so they absolutely cannot be recycled. The above examples are the labels from a set of yoga blocks and the packaging from a tea bag. Other items that fall into this category are receipt paper and to-go coffee cups. If you have paper item and it looks sort of shiny, it probably is lined with plastic and isn’t recyclable.
The EPA estimates that food waste makes up about 15% of all landfilled trash in a year. In 2017 alone, the U.S. threw away 41 million tons of food. The best option for reducing food waste is to compost, but that isn’t necessarily plausible for all of us. I live in an apartment building where having a compost station is not possible. Usually, I take my scraps to my parents’ compost bin, but I’m obviously trying not to leave my apartment much during this current time. In order to slightly reduce the food waste I’m producing, I am saving veggie scraps in order to make my own veggie broth which you can see in the picture on the right. The picture on the left, though are the scraps I’ll be saving to compost eventually, or, unfortunately, that I might end up throwing away if I run out of room in my freezer.
Similarly to plastic, not all glass objects can be recycled. In Cincinnati, glass bottles and jars are the only types of glass accepted. Even if the glass pictured above was a bottle or jar, I wouldn’t have been able to recycle it because it has a massive crack in it. Broken glass should not go in the recycling bin. Not only is it harmful to those employees handling/sorting recycling, but it can also damage other recyclables and deem the whole bin unfit for recycling.
Trash Bag and Crumbs
The recycled plastic bag I used to line my trash can is obviously another big piece of trash I need to consider. In addition, all the little crumbs, cat hairs, and dust that I swept up this week are sitting there at the bottom. Most of those little scraps could probably be composted which is something I’ll consider next time I pull out my broom.
There is a lot in my trash this week that I wish wasn’t there. Some of it is unavoidable, but there are definitely changes I could make to reduce the amount and types of trash I’m producing. I put together a common swaps document that I’m going to keep updating as more folks share their trash audits and struggles. Check it out here and keep your eyes peeled because we are also putting together a reducing waste challenge as a fun way of learning and holding ourselves accountable.
If you did a trash audit, please share your thoughts, pictures, tips with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on Instagram. Like I said, other than Joan the cat, I live by myself so my trash is not going to look like everyone else’s. I know you love looking at trash, so don’t fret, we’ll be sharing more trash audits in the coming weeks featuring different living situations.