Sunday, April 11, 2010

Exercise 1: Trash Inventory

After a week of recording my food, paper, metal and plastic wastes, I discovered that on the average day I waste the equivalent of 3.3 banana peels, 9.3 pieces of paper, .3 aluminum cans, and .3 small plastic wrappers. This is probably less than the average American, although I would probably have more waste if I weren't living in on-campus housing at a university.

Although I've never thought of myself as a wasteful person, I was surprised by how much I wasted, particularly paper. I noticed that much of the paper I was throwing out was junk mail and handouts that I grabbed on places like Bruin walk, only to throw away later (into a recycling bin, of course). Some of the mail I get that I don't read is from organizations I've joined or supported at some point that send out periodic newsletters. I normally get this information online anyway, so whenever possible, I should suspend these newsletters. I can also stop grabbing handouts and fliers, and instead just ask for the information to be told to me verbally.

I think that the quantity and type of waste that I recorded is not representative of the average American. For example, the average American probably uses much more metal and plastic due to beverage consumption and fast-food dining (single-use items). Even though the opportunities to use these sorts of items is limited for me because I live on-campus and eat in the dining halls, I can't remember the last time I purchased a beverage that came in a single-use plastic bottle or aluminum can. Instead, I use a reusable plastic bottle.

My waste patterns reflect my own beliefs about the environment, which were fostered by the amount of time I spent outdoors as a youth and by educational programs and news articles that I've read on the subject of environmental degradation and sustainability. My belief that global warming is anthropogenic and that, accordingly, people can also be a solution to climate change, informs my lifestyle choices. I am also an extremely stingy person, which is also probably unrepresentative of the average American.

I think that people in areas like Europe that have been densely populated for very long periods of time are more likely to use fewer resources and live in higher-density areas (as opposed to sprawl) because, unlike Americans who still harbor fantasies of an endless frontier, Europeans know that their resources and space are limited.

My lifestyle as portrayed by my trash inventory is very paper-intensive with noticeable amounts of food waste and almost negligible amounts of plastic and aluminum waste. If I were living in accordance with the lifestyle laid out in "Radical Simplicity," I would probably compost my food waste to make fertilizer for my garden (the dining halls compost food waste, but don't use it as fertilizer), would basically not buy packaged items (essentially eliminating plastic and single-use metal waste), and would use less paper through a variety of methods (such as those listed in the second paragraph).

I may not be able to make many of the changes advocated by Jim Merkel due to my living situation, but there are many small changes I can make to further reduce my waste beyond the efforts I've already made to be an environmentally responsible person.


  1. Can you post your spread sheet data?

  2. Europeans do seem more into conservation than Americans and probably for the reasons you identified above. There are incentives to conserve, b/c resources are scarce there. I also got the sense from my time in Europe that there was greater awareness of what and how to conserve. This seems like a cultural difference in attitudes and values, which may have been shaped by a scarcity of resources (and resultant higher costs of electricity, paper and plastic products, etc.)...or by some Euro coolness factor.