Miss Moneybags

The Trash Audit: I Save Money, Time, & The Environment By Looking In My Garbage

trashauditAlthough I’m not happy to say this: my garbage is the product of my life.

A few years ago, I got fed up with the high cost of garbage collection and decided to figure out how to lower that bill. While many municipalities offer incentives for customers who generate less garbage, I quickly discovered that Los Angeles charges me for garbage pick-up regardless of whether my can is empty or overflowing. I was super complain-y about this to the nice Sanitation Department worker who was unfortunate enough to answer my call. Because shouldn’t I be rewarded for good behavior? The sanitation worker patiently explained that her department barely makes money. The universal garbage fee isn’t in place to gouge the thoughtful customer, but to disincentivize jerks from polluting the city by illegally dumping or burning their trash.

Angelinos. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Annoyed that I couldn’t save on my trash service fees, I decided to do a Trash Audit: I would examine my waste stream for inefficiencies. If my trash consists of items I originally paid for with money, time, and labor, if I cut the amount of trash that I was producing, wouldn’t I, by default, save money, time, and labor?

Auditing the trash was easy. For one week I dumped all my household trash into one garbage can. At the end of the week, I dumped the contents of the can onto a plastic tarp (actually my shower curtain) and counted out what was there.

Although I smugly assumed that I wouldn’t find anything terrible because I am a ninja recycler, when I actually looked through a week’s worth of trash I discovered a lot of inefficiencies. For example, I wasn’t really conscious that my tea drinking habit had so much waste involved. When I counted 100 tea bag wrappers in my kitchen garbage can, I was horrified. Tea bag wrappers are small items in the scheme of things, but I was putting 5200 of them into the town dump every year. Luckily, I was able to find a local tea importer who not only sells loose tea, she encourages customers to reuse and refill the packaging.

While swapping loose tea for bagged tea is a break-even endeavor for my bank account, it’s far better for the environment. According to the EPA, the average American throws away a staggering 4.4 pounds of garbage per person per day. I can do better. Auditing my trash has not just made me a better recycler and composter, it’s made me a better consumer. When I actually counted how much food I was tossing in the compost bins, I radically changed my grocery shopping habits. Clearly I was over-buying. This one change has saved me several hundred dollars a year on my food bill.

One of my friends recently did a trash audit and discovered that she was throwing away plastic toy parts. She thought she was rewarding her kids by supplying them with a large variety of playthings, but in reality, the cheap toys were breaking at such a fast rate, her kids didn’t value them. When she switched to buying fewer, but better-made toys, her kids didn’t notice.

What’s in your garbage?

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