Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the deal?
From January 1 2008 to December 31 2008 I kept all of my garbage and recycling in my basement.
So you're insane.
Well I guess that would depend on your definition of insanity, but actually I don't really see anything insane about it. Out of the ordinary? Yes. Abnormal? Most likely. But insane? Probably not.

Why are you doing this? Did you lose a bet or something?
Actually believe it or not, this was an idea that a friend and I came up with (although it is hardly a unique one) that I really wanted to try. We were talking about the idea of throwing things "away" and how "away" is just that, somewhere other than here. It occurred to us that it is easy to waste because we are not confronted with that waste since it goes "away" and then began to wonder how our choices would differ if we had to keep everything in a pile in the backyard. So the idea is to keep everything for a year and in doing so, be able to see how much waste I create and how much I can avoid.

What do you do with everything?
Right now everything is going in the basement. Each day I tally up what waste I created for the day, what it was (to the best of my abilities anyway) and what is going to happen to it (garbage, recycling, etc.) and then it goes in the appropriate place downstairs.

Doesn't it stink?
This is probably the question I hear the most from people. When you think of what goes in your garbage, what is it that usually smells? For most of us, it's food, leftovers and scraps from prep. That's where our worm composter comes in. All of my food scraps go in here and as for leftovers, I rarely have any that need to be tossed. You can't put dairy, meat or fish in there, but I don't eat meat and fish and dairy i just finish. It works great. Everything else that needs it is cleaned before it goes down there, so there is really no smell, and no tiny (or larger) livestock to speak of. Hopefully it'll stay that way.

What about your family? How do you decide what's your and theirs?
I am undertaking this project on my own but not without the support of my wife and two daughters. As for determining what's "mine" I thought long and hard about this and wrote up these rules which i have pretty much stuck by.

I've been following your blog and it doesn't seem like you are eating enough based on your waste. Are you changing the amount you eat so you don't waste more?
There are a few answers to this question. For starters, and I've mentioned this on the blog, I'm not a great eater to begin with. There are many days when I don't eat breakfast and sometimes will not eat lunch either. I know this isn't really good for me, but it's what happens when i get busy so there's that. Secondly, if I do eat lunch, it's usually something like a peanut butter sandwich. We have a huge thing of peanut butter, so while you may not see it in there for a while, the jar will eventually show up. We also tend to make large helpings using foods that may not be packaged (veggies, fish from the market, beans, rice, etc.) so those will last a while and not show up on the basement list. Finally, I have made a concerted effort to neither increase or decrease my eating habits. That said, i have passed up junk food on occasion due to the waste associated with it, but i figure that's for the best.

How can you be sure you don't miss anything?
Honestly, I can't. Living in a family of four where I am not there all the time, there are bound to be times that something gets finished when I am not there. Anytime I use something for the first time (or it's used in a meal) my initials go on the box/bottle, but mistakes are bound to happen. And of course, I'm honest about the fact that when I go out to dinner, there is waste that I cannot account for. That said, I'm doing my best and hopefully very little will fall through the cracks.

What about the toilet?
What about it? I'm keeping my garbage in my basement, I'm not crazy. Seriously, this is a question everyone asks and my bathroom habits are outside of this little experiment. At some point i will pick a week and keep track of numbers of flushes, etc, to try and extrapolate how much water I waste, but that's it. Oh yeah, and I do save tp rolls.

Why don't I see boxes and packaging in the basement? Don't you ever buy things online that are shipped?
Yes, as a matter of fact I do, but I suspect much less than the average person. We usually keep boxes and packaging in the back room for re-use. At the end of the year, anything that hasn't been re-used will be noted, but for now, it didn't seem like it fit in since it wouldn't be staying down there.

How do you know what's recyclable? That always confuses me.
To be honest, I'm doing the best i can with the little I know at this point. As soon as i can, I'll be meeting with a recycler and asking about the things that I am not sure of. At that point, I'll post the info and change the basement list to reflect the new info.

What's gonna happen to everything at the end of the year?
As of right now, it'll all end up where it would have otherwise, in the landfill or the recycling center. Having said that, it will be a heck of a lot less than it would have been otherwise as I am slowly whittling away at the amount of things I am getting rid of.

What's the point?
The point is to better understand and therefore limit my footprint on the planet as far as my waste stream is concerned. It's my belief that we are all so far removed from things (waste, oil, water, consumption) that we don't see the consequences, but if we did, we would change our ways. It's my hope that by going through with this project, others will begin to think about their own consumption/waste streams and learn from my experience, and that I will in turn learn from theirs.

Why don't I see mail and receipts in your daily lists?
This has more to do with my personal habits than the blog. I tend to take care of a weeks mail or so at a time so I don't even go through stuff until then. Then, the excess (envelopes, etc) tend to sit in the box I've put them in until I get around to posting them. That's why you'll see nothing and then see a whole stack all at once. Same goes for receipts pretty much, but many are kept in a separate box for tax reasons. In seven years (or whatever that time period is) I'll recycle/compost them.

So you're insane.
I think we covered that already. Check back at the end of the year.


Anonymous said...

how many appx. lbs. of trash do we produce evey day? And how much of that is recycleable?

Dave said...

According to the US gov statistics, every american produces roughly 4.6 lbs of trash a day. As for how much of that is recyclable but thrown away anyway, I can't say.

Anonymous said...

Under "Doesn't it stink?" you wrote, "Everything else that needs it is cleaned before it goes down there..."

If you're essentially washing all your food-associated trash, doesn't that increase your waste-water output?

Also, with regard to the worm farm, I eat red meat instead of fish. Health considerations aside, what would/should happen to this type of waste?

Dave said...

Good question Tim. I try as best I can to wash everything with grey water. We have a sink bin that we normally use and i put whatever needs washing in there and wash it last, so I'm hopefully not wasting much if any water when doing so.

As for the red meat, that's a toughy as I don't deal with it much. The best thing i can say is don't make more than you can eat. Beyond that, do you have a dog or a neighborhood dog who would take the scraps and leftovers? You could do an outdoor compost for that i guess but it would smell and attract animals so i'd only suggest it if you had a large piece of property where it would be far away.


Lora said...

Very cool. This is great to read and gain awareness of all the garbage we generate and get people thinking of what happens to it.
Have you discuessed sites such as freecycle.org for when you clean out a room, rearrange or as your family grows? It is a great place to get ride of unneeded furniture, household supplies and anything that kids grow out of. It is efficient, free and allows stuff that we have to keep on being used when we no longer need it.

Dave said...

Hey lora,
Freecycle rocks but always glad to have another plug for it.


Never Thirst! Pat Ferraro said...


I find your research a very good lesson for all consumers, as the corporatist call us.

You inspired me to write this post in my blog:

My wife thinks your wife is a saint to put up with this behavior, but earth saints like you don't get much respect at the Vatican.

Never Thirst!
Pat Ferraro

Anonymous said...

is this project aimed for next year too?

Dave said...

Not right now. Want to pick it up?


Anonymous said...


I just came across your blog and read the Q&A to find out how you're coming along. I wanted to let you know that some cultures use water to cleanse themselves instead of TP. Don't know if that might be an option for you, but I just wanted to throw it out there.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dave,
I heard you speak at Governor's School this year at Meredith College in NC, and I just wanted to drop by and thank you. Your presentation has really made me think twice before I throw away something.

Anonymous said...

I greatly respect you, however I think you should be considered an average, normal person rather than one at the extremes. I saved my garbage for a month -it was a few ounces. I could easily carry my annual trash in my backpack. I don't really understand how people (even you) generate so much garbage. I could even go to zero, but I'm not putting any effort into it -I just naturally don't generate trash. I generate a lot of compost, but I'm not counting that. Simple -just buy fruits and vegetables which have natural containers. Buy nuts, seeds, etc. in bulk (bring a reusable container), and no waste. (I also bicycle, so don't have a car and need all that stuff.) BTW, I use just a couple gallons of water per day. Very easy to do, not a sacrifice at all.

Anonymous said...

Brennan Bird, a UC Davis student, also saved his trash for one year (2010). Media links:



Dave said...

Funny I was just giving a talk the other day and I heard about Brennan and then here this is. Cool.

Dave said...

Wow, a few ounces. That's fantastic. Thanks for checking in and I hope more people can begin to live your example.