How hard would it be to not produce any trash?
That's the question that led me to this four-week-long, two-part trash experiment.
For the first part, I saved all of my trash for two weeks to see how much I usually produce. By the end, I had accumulated 11 pounds. Not bad. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the average Minnesotan produces about 42 pounds – not counting recyclables – every two weeks.
Then I started the second part of the experiment: turn 11 pounds into zero pounds.
Here's how it went:
Grocery shopping was a struggle
By day three, I had to go grocery shopping.
This was the first time I realized how much food is packaged in non-recyclable materials. That day, I just got eggs and lettuce.
Later, I went back with my own cloth sacks, and bought some unpackaged fruits and vegetables.
The most difficult thing for me was finding meat. Pretty much all of it comes in bags or plastic wrap – which aren't recyclable. Towards the end of my experiment, I discovered butcher shops often wrap meat in compostable paper instead of plastics.
Composting really helped
Composting is a way to efficiently break down organic materials – like food and some paper products – so they can be reused as things like fertilizer.
Honestly, I had never composted anything before, so I had to do some research.
I found my county provides residents with free organics recycling (compost) buckets and bags. Some counties even have curbside pickup.
I was able to put all my food scraps in the compost bucket. I also really committed to this experiment and kept every used tissue and paper towel I used throughout the day so I could add it to the pile.
What did I end up with?
I did not make it 100 percent trash-free, but I was pretty close.
At the end, I had a few produce stickers from fruit, chewing gum, dental floss, some candy wrappers (darn you, communal candy dish at work) and a chunk of plastic foam from a package I ordered online. There were also two small bags of kitty litter – I switched from litter to compostable wood shavings halfway through, though, so I had less than I usually would.
Here's what I learned
Going trash-free doesn't happen overnight – unless you don't mind starving.
Finding food was really hard at first. But once you figure out how to shop (and where to buy things like meat), it gets a lot better.
Doing this long-term would be much more difficult because you'd have to deal with things like toothpaste, deodorant, and packages of toilet paper.
But it must be possible. This lady claims she's been trash-free for four years and only has a mason jar of junk.