Valuable lessons learned from tracking garbage output at home

FARGO - I always thought I understood how to conserve resources, being mindful of how much my daily existence weighed on Mother Earth. What I learned while tracking my garbage output is that I have so much to still learn about sustainable living ...
According to the EPA, the average American produces 4.4 pounds of garbage per day. Thinkstock / Special to The Forum

FARGO - I always thought I understood how to conserve resources, being mindful of how much my daily existence weighed on Mother Earth. What I learned while tracking my garbage output is that I have so much to still learn about sustainable living - and that we all throw out much more than we think.

Inspired by zero-waste activist Lauren Singer, a New York-based blogger, I set a goal to track the amount of garbage I threw away during the month of April. What followed was a lesson on how easy it is to place living a sustainable life at the bottom of the priority list.

(At first, I planned to try to track the amount of waste that I produced for 30 days then this shrunk to one week and then just three days as deadlines loomed. I squeezed my lofty, altruistic experiment into one weekend. Sorry, Earth.)

Zero waste is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills or incinerators.

Before trying to implement zero-waste practices, I decided to figure out how much garbage I created after three days. I recorded the weight of my trash after three days (April 13 through 15) in two different rooms - the kitchen and the bathroom. I also recorded my carbon dioxide emissions after using my car for weekend errands. Here's what I found out.

*The amount of weight is approximate, weighed with a store-bought scale. The amount of garbage listed is generated by two people.

Much more than food waste

Total garbage weight: 10 pounds

Recycled items: 25 aluminum cans

Locally, organizations like the Ugly Food of the North keep the issue of food waste top of mind, and I thought I had a pretty good handle on minimizing my wastefulness in the kitchen. I regularly cook with leftovers. I go shopping frequently, buying specific portions for recipes. (And I recycle plastic and aluminium to one of Fargo's recycling centers.)

But I was flabbergasted at the leftover garbage I still sent to the landfill, such as Saran Wrap packaging, eggshells and vegetable peels.

Here's how I could reduce food and packaging waste in the kitchen:

Some unavoidable waste

Total garbage weight: 4 pounds

Recycled items: 6 plastic containers

The amount of plastic containers, wrappers and packaging in beauty and hygiene products is staggering. I try to buy in bulk when I can, but I am attached to certain beauty products and brands that are only available in single bottles.

What surprised me most is that I had to recycle six plastic containers and how many times I just had to throw away something like the numerous Q-Tips I had in my bathroom. Perhaps it's time to find products that don't include additional packaging?

Here are some practices to reduce future waste:

  • Use low-waste hair products such as shampoo and conditioner bars.
  • Use low-waste dental hygiene products like regular floss instead of floss that comes in disposal plastic holders.

Watch a video about finding products that would help you to create an almost zero-bathroom at Trashisfortossers.com/my-zero-waste-bathroom-essentials.

Hidden costs of transportation

Total miles traveled by car: 50 miles

Miles per gallon: 21

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 8,887 grams of carbon dioxide are released for every one gallon of gas.

My 2008 Volkswagen Beetle uses less gas than some other car models but in just three days, my daily travel generated more than 17,774 grams of carbon dioxide into the air.

Here's how I could reduce carbon dioxide emissions:

  • Ride MATBUS.
  • Ride bike.
  • Carpool or walk.

(Learn more about living without a car and search "Drive nowhere: Can you live car-less?" on inforum.com.)

According to the EPA, the average American produces 4.4 pounds of garbage a day. After three days, I averaged about 3.5 pounds a day, but this amount only includes trash from the bathroom and kitchen, not the living room, bedroom or office.

Although I try to be green through recycling, it's clear now that many changes needed to be made if I want to live a zero-waste lifestyle.

Save energy, money

During the last two years, the city of Fargo and area organizations encouraged energy conservation practices in an effort to reduce the city's energy usage and lower residents' energy bills.

A partnership among the city of Fargo, North Dakota State University and the two utility companies in Fargo (Cass County Electric Cooperative and Xcel Energy) called efargo received the Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP) in December.

The two-year, nationwide competition brought together 50 communities in rethinking the way America's small-to medium-sized towns, cities and counties use energy.

During that time, Fargo reduced overall energy consumption by more than 172 million British Thermal Units (BTUs) to earn a ranking of fourth among the 50 semifinalists' overall energy scores. Activities that initiate and sustain energy reduction were an important part of efargo's community-focused plan.

On efargo.com, these organizations share the top 10 ways people can save energy and money.

  • Cook with microwave ovens.
  • Use sleep feature on computer to turn it off when it's not in use.
  • Wash clothes with cold water.
  • Air dry dishes and wash full loads.
  • Turn off unused lights and replace most used light bulbs with energy efficient ones.
  • Install a low-flow showerhead.
  • Dial back thermostat 2 degrees.
  • Hang clothes to dry.
  • Open windows for fresh air and use a fan.
  • Use advanced power strip.

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Celebrate Mother Earth

Local organizations and businesses are inviting the community to gather and give back by attending some of the Earth Day events listed below.

Party for the Planet 2018

Red River Zoo, 4255 23rd Ave. S., Fargo

10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Through a partnership of local groups and organizations, the Red River Zoo wants everyone to celebrate conservation through fun activities and crafts. The Red River Zoo kicks off its regular season with this event and animal encounters during the afternoon from 1 to 5 p.m.

Members of the Red River Zoo receive free admission. Otherwise, regular rates apply.

Find out more at redriverzoo.org or by searching "Party for the Planet" on Facebook.

Bees, Birds and Trash

4315 18th Ave. S.W., Fargo

2 to 4:30 p.m.

To celebrate Earth Day, NDSU Natural Resources Management Club is installing bird houses at World Garden Commons in Rabanus Park, Fargo.

Install tree swallow houses or nesting platforms, bluebird houses or pollinator houses. Locals can also help to collect trash.

Find out more at thefargoproject.com or by searching for the event on Facebook.

Drink for Mother Earth

6 12th St. N., Fargo

Noon to 8 p.m.

Visit the newest cidery in town today to "drink for Mother Earth." For every pint purchased in the taproom, a tree will be planted. Find out more by searching the event on Facebook.