Waste Not

attempting to waste less and live more deliberately

A Tale of Two Trash Cans


We have two trash cans. Our large trash can lives in the kitchen and our little trash can lives in the bathroom. We are about to find out so much more about them, but first, let’s talk trash in general.



According to the EPA, in 2011, the average American made a total of 4.40 lbs. of trash a day! Yes, some of that is separated out to be composted or recycled, usually around 35%, leaving us with 2.9 lbs. left over.  Some studies have indicated that the numbers are even higher! For our project we are going to use the EPA numbers.

You can read more about that by checking out the EPA Municipal Solid Waste web page: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/index.htm

If Sam and I are average Americans, that means we each produce 1,606 lbs. of trash a year!  INDIVIDUALLY!!!  Combined, that means 3,212 lbs. of trash leave our hands every year!!  Currently, we don’t compost and the way our Los Angeles system works, we don’t have a separate recycling bin. The recycling here is apparently sorted out in a facility somewhere. I am curious to learn more about that system…but let’s leave that for another day.

I am not great at imagining weight, numbers, or size (I never was able to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar, if you know what I mean) so I did some investigating. I found out that my 1998 Saturn SL has a curb weight of 2,271 lbs.  This means using weight as our measurement, Sam and I make about one and a half cars of garbage a year!!!

A Week of Trash

Inspired by other curious consumers, we have decided to audit our two humble trash cans.


  • Clean our trash cans and set them aside, they deserve a break.
  • Find 7 containers (paper bags, cardboard boxes, etc.) that will act as our stand in trash cans.
  • Designate one container for each day of the week.
  • Collect ALL trash we make (even at work) and put it in the corresponding day of the week trash can.

Weigh In

  • Weigh all of our trash for the week. Divide by two (two people). Divide by seven (days in a week).
  • Get our trash weight results!  Are we the average 4.40 lbs. a day?


  • Divide our trash into Compost Material, Recyclables, and Landfill Bound
  • Depending on our results, create waste reduction action plan!

To ensure an accurate number we are making no changes to our current lifestyle.  This will be our last week of consuming and pitching without a second thought. Wish us luck on this week of reflection!

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful” –Margaret Wheatley

Have you ever made a big change in your life? How did you prepare?

♥ ali



4 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Trash Cans

  1. You have inspired me. We are going to recycle by separating recyclables and taking them to the nearest center. I’m too cheap to pay our trash pickup to do this. I’ll bring paper boxes from work and recycle those with the rest each week.

    • That’s great! We dropped off our recycling at a location when we lived in Pittsburgh and it was actually quite fun!! Making it a weekly outing sounds rewarding, then you can treat yourself with a coffee or something when you are done! A recycling date! ♥ ali

  2. Sounds like you’ve found a great way to go about things analytically! Interested to hear the results.

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