How To Reduce Your Household Waste

how to Jul 19, 2017

Automated garbage collection is expected to start in most areas of St. John's outside of the downtown core in 2018. This means you will be required to use a city provided bin that the truck's automated arms can pick up off the street. Size of the bins is still being decided, but the options are either a medium bin (holds 3-4 regular garbage bags) or a large bin (holds 5-6 regular garbage bags). Recycling collection will remain the same.

Considering this change has prompted me to do some observation of my own habits and also some research on best practices for waste reduction.

Here is what I've found...

Quantity of Household Waste
As a household of 2, we produce 2-3 bags of black bag garbage per week. (FYI: I'm intentionally leaving out blue bag recycling for the purposes of this article. We already recycle to the tune of 2-3 blue bags every 2 weeks.)

"The internet told me" that the average kitchen garbage bag is about 15 lbs (i.e. 6.8kg), give or take. So... 45lbs of garbage per week, that's about 20 kilos. Multiply than by 52 weeks per year... and just the two of us are producing a whopping 1040kg of waste per year!

For reference, that's about the weight TWO adult polar bears! I am shocked and embarrassed... just wow. That seems like a lot of garbage going to a landfill and causing problems for our health and the environment.

How does this stack up against others?
To compare, the Canadian national average is 777 kg per person of municipal waste in 2009. When you do the math, that's 114 average kitchen bags per year - just over 2 bags per week per person. The problem is the Conference Board of Canada reports that Canada ranks in last place out of 17 countries in a 2013 report. The report also found that year over year we are not reducing but generating more waste. (See Report Here)

Japan, considered the best ranking country in terms of waste world wide averaged at 377 kg per person of municipal waste in 2008. When you do the math, the Japanese only produce 25 average kitchen garbage bags per year - just half a bag per week per person!

So, by national standards we are on target, but world wide... Canadians are the litter bugs!

How much waste is okay?
This is as much a moral question as it is a matter of social acceptability. In my digging around the internet for answers, the conclusion I have come to is the answer is always less than you are currently producing. The logical conclusion of this line of thinking is that you are not done until you are at zero waste. (FYI - "ZERO Waste" has become a lifestyle movement as people start valuing experiences over stuff. Google it if you are interested.)

Full well knowing that target will be almost impossible to reach given current availability of supplies and waste management infrastructure here in St. John's... perhaps it is an ideal to dream about while I aim for something more acceptable to start.

If the Japanese are considered the best in the world at 1/2 bag per week per person... I think I could manage that with some thought and some changes.

Where to start?
In alignment with the Pareto Principle, I want to take just the key steps that will make the most impact. A quick glance at my bin reveals that the majority of the contents are food waste, non-recyclable plastic packaging, and single use items.

Personal Action Items

  1. Learn To & Start Composting
  2. Start A Household War On Disposable Plastics - Refusing and Minimizing It As Much As Possible
    Resource: Article outlining that recycling plastic is not the final answer to our waste problem (key idea - most of it doesn't get recycled anyway, it ends up in the landfill)
  3. Swear Off Single Use Items As Much As Possible
    Coffee cups, food, and take out containers etc. This seems to be a bin-filling source for us specifically.

Personally, I'll be interested to see what remains in our bin after I make these small simple changes and if they alone are enough to hit the Japanese target of 1/2 a garbage bag per week per person. Time will tell!

Some Resources For You
Here are a selection of good resources about ZERO Waste I've found while investigating things for this post:

  • ​ Bea Johnson's site, she is the unofficial queen of ZERO Waste living. Her blog is full of ideas on how she is living zero waste. Her YouTube videos are a good place to start.
  • The resources page on this site has also been a source of helpful actionable Canadian info.
  • Source of NL specific waste disposal information. Will be consulting when I need to dispose of something that shouldn't go in kitchen bin.

I hope this article served you! If nothing else, please use it as an example of one thought process on how to get started preparing for 2018 garbage automation and perhaps improving the health of your home and our environment even more.

I'd love to know what you are doing to reduce your household waste! If you have ideas to share, please leave them in the comments below.


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