An Attempt at a Trash Free Week

Illustration by Nik Garvoille.

The idea for a “No Trash Challenge” hadn’t yet finished percolating in my brain when I brought it up at our brainstorm session for the 5th annual Sustainability Issue. What did come to fruition rather quickly, nevertheless, was that I was the lucky employee who would attempt the “No Trash Challenge” and share my findings with our readers.

Despite feeling like I had “Sucker!” written in bold, block letters across my forehead, as I should know better than to pitch an idea that I wasn’t willing to follow through with, I accepted the assignment. The original framework for the idea came from the blog 30-day No Trash Challenge (, but for the sake of ease – and hopefully promoting the notion that “if I can do it, then so can you” – I committed to a “No Waste Week,” believing the timeframe would be a more palatable option than carving out 30 days of my life.

So, during the second week of March, I kept track of my waste for the week (see “One Week’s Waste”). The goal of my Sunday to Saturday experiment was to prove that with a little thought and effort I could significantly reduce the amount of trash I create.

The first hurdle I had to overcome was that I don’t compost. I live in an apartment with minimal outdoor space to call my own, and the feasibility of starting my own compost pile mid-March for this endeavor didn’t seem like a viable solution. So, instead, I collected my compostable items in a stainless steel bowl and delivered them to friends who have a compost pile. I do, however, question whether the gas I used to transport my “trash” offset my efforts to keep it out of a landfill.

Another area that I anticipated might create unnecessary waste was in the packaging of products I purchased. While in preparation for the endeavor I vowed to follow my sister’s lead (I deem her the Queen of Bulk Shopping), I inevitably ended up struggling in this category due to the timing of my “No Waste Week.” My conscious foray into bulk shopping and reduction of packaging just so happened to coincide with the week prior to my 15-day backpacking trip to Honduras. I planned to carry my backpack on the flight, so I’d need to follow the 3-1-1 rule for airline travel, bringing any liquids in less than 3 oz. containers. So, say goodbye to the notion of bulk with a few tablespoons of shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, contact solution, etc. all neatly packaged in tiny plastic bottles.

There was one area of my “No Waste Week” that I was feeling pretty confident about: not wasting food. That was until Wednesday morning when my successes came to an abrupt end. The previous days I’d over-eaten at lunch to avoid asking for a to-go container (which would inevitably end up in the landfill), eaten the chips on my plate (after I’d forgotten to ask for my sandwich without them), eaten repetitive leftovers for dinner (instead of risking the creation of more leftovers) all to avoid throwing away food. On Wednesday morning, as I balanced my usual array of more items than I have hands – keys, telephone, coffee cup, computer bag, and breakfast – my breakfast happened to be the item that slipped out of my hands and toppled onto the floor in the backseat of my car.

I looked down at the slice of tomato sliding in slow motion down the outside of my gym bag to join the bagel, egg and cheese on the rubber floor mat of my car. I paused, and at that moment, actually contemplated eating my disheveled, gravel-laced sandwich so that I didn’t have to throw it away. I also caught myself looking around, up and down the Highway 57 in Baileys Harbor, to see if anyone else had witnessed not only my clumsiness but my waste of an entire meal. With a sigh followed by a few choice words, I opted for the trash can rather than my stomach.

The hollow thud of the trash can lid was a reminder of the blunder I’d made and the blunders I was sure to make as I finished out my week-long endeavor of creating no waste. If I examined my week in regard to a pass or fail grade – I failed miserably. Items ended up in the trash can at home and at work each and every day. But, every time my hand lowered something into the trash can, I was at least aware.

I suppose this initial recognition was a success in its own right – a first step toward making changes to reduce my overall waste production. As the 30-day No Trash Challenge blog shares, “In the end, it’s not just about a 30-day challenge. That’s just the beginning. It’s about learning how to be mindful of the waste you create on a day to day basis and using the 30 days to pick up new habits, incorporating those changes into your daily life & hopefully making an impact in the long run.”

While I learned a lot during my “No Waste Week” Challenge and know that I reduced (although I wouldn’t claim “significantly reduced”) the amount of garbage that ended up in my trash can, I admit that a week is not nearly enough time to reap the full benefits of the exercise. While seven days is certainly an approachable timeframe that anyone can tackle – and I’d encourage you to give it a try as it’s pretty enlightening about where/when/why you create garbage – I’m pretty confident that a longer time commitment is necessary to recognize your own patterns and build better habits. Next time, sucker or not, I’ll attempt the challenge for the full 30 days.


One Week’s Waste

My trash heading to the landfill:

Sunday: paper & plastic bag; plastic seal from a jar of peanut butter; napkins

Monday: protein bar wrapper; napkins

Tuesday: Straw from a water glass at a local restaurant; drink napkin; napkins

Wednesday: my entire breakfast; protein bar wrapper; paper coffee cup; to go container; foam container and plastic wrap (from mushrooms); napkins

Thursday: plastic fork, Styrofoam plate, napkin, grape stem, plastic juice cup (from attending a breakfast at Gibraltar School); napkins

Friday: plastic wrapper; paper and plastic bread bag; napkins

Saturday: plastic bag; paper coffee cup; napkins

My recyclable waste:

Sunday: plastic container; cardboard milk carton; cereal box;

Monday: tin can; paper used at work

Tuesday: tin can; cardboard box; paper used at work

Wednesday: cardboard box; paper used at work

Thursday: paper used at work

Friday: cardboard box; plastic bottle; paper used at work

Saturday: plastic bottle; cardboard milk carton

My compostable waste:

Sunday: vegetable trimmings/scraps; coffee grounds; egg shells

Monday: vegetable trimmings/scraps; coffee grounds

Tuesday: vegetable trimmings/scraps; coffee grounds

Wednesday: vegetable trimmings/scraps;

Thursday: coffee grounds

Friday: vegetable trimmings/scraps; coffee grounds

Saturday: vegetable trimmings/scraps; coffee grounds; egg shells