My Trash Diary
Regardless of whether we choose to avoid plastic straws, go vegan, or drive less, everyone has the potential to better their impact on the environment. This can be done hugely through the conscious production (or lack) of waste. Our waste goes on a journey before it begins to impact the planet; first having to travel from us, to the trash (or not), to treatment plants, and then either to recycling or landfill. Once in landfill, the trash piles up and doesn’t really decompose, secreting methane and warming up the atmosphere. As waste creates an indirect effect on the environment, it’s not a surprise that what we put in the trash isoften times overlooked. Since an important step in making mistakes is learning from them, I figured I could understand a lot about my habits from paying attention to what I trashed. Inspired by Refinery29’s “Money Diaries”, I decided to keep a Trash Diary and track of all my waste for a week so that I could look back and see which items I threw away and what I could do to change that. I figured this would work best if I went about my week as if it was any regular week, not purposely limiting myself to the things I bought, ate or finished more than I usually would.
It’s pretty daunting to see people online who are living “zero waste” lifestyles, or those who are able to collect 5 years of trash in a mason jar. However, the unofficial definition of zero waste is only using things that are waste free or recyclable at end of life. Considering how much I do recycle, the premise of living “zero waste” didn’t seem so worrying. I put out the trash to be collected every Thursday so I started my week with a clean slate ahead of me, trash free and full of zero waste opportunity.
8:25 amI started my early morning with some avocado toast (basic, I know) and then got into uni for 9. Avocado sticker, trash.
10:50 amBut, I didn’t have to be in past 10 this morning, so I decided to go find a cafe to work in once I was done. I got a hot chocolate in my reusable cup (it was delicious) but no food. Eventually I got a bit hungry and I found a Naked bar in my backpack which I ate. Bar wrapper in trash
12:00 pm My laptop and phone started to die so I quickly went home and grabbed some chargers before moving to my next work spot. After quite a few wrong-turns and detours, I finally found the place I had been looking for. Despite a bunch of online reviews that raved about their delicious vegan burgers, I got there and nothing looked great. I felt weird walking out after having stared at their menu for so long, so I bought a Lemonade and moved on. 1 boujee glass bottle which I’m keeping, obviously.
On my way there I also stopped at a store to refill some of my dish soap. They have Ecover refills if you bring in your old bottle and I got it for cheaper than the original bottle price. Win.
1:30 pmAfter walking forever, I finally found someplace cute where I could have some lunch and keep working. I ordered my food to eat in, but didn’t manage to finish my giant brownie and I had to wrap it in a napkin to bring home. 1 napkin in the traaaash.
I ate leftovers at home for dinner and didn’t buy anything new for the rest of the day. 0 more trash.
9:00 amFor breakfast I ate a chocolate and berry chia pudding that I had made the night before.
11:00 am I went into uni to do some work and forgot my lunch at home. I bought some fries in the end since I didn’t think I’d manage to make it through lunch without food. I actually ended up going home right after finishing them so they were pretty pointless but whatever.
12:00 pmLunch was some leftover soup I had made earlier in the week. I took a nap later in the afternoon and felt too lazy to do anything until the evening.
7:45 pm I went to go see On the Basis of Sexin cinemas and brought plenty of snacks along. At the end we had a couple empty cider cans, a finished crisp packet and half a bar of chocolate. I recycled 2 cans, and 1 bag of crisps but will send them in to TerraCycle to get recycled.
10:30 pm After the movie, we had planned to go out for a friend’s birthday, so we went home and atedinner before leaving. Homemade fries and crispy kale, some baked beans, and a small salad. We hung around and waited but ended up not going out since it got late and there was no plan. Tin of baked beans in the recycling. Parchment paper (reused 3x but finally trashed).
10:00 am Pancakes for breakfast! I whipped up some banana pancakes and finished my last egg. I made sure to pick up a banana without a sticker so I avoided that one. Egg carton, recycled.
1:00 pmWent on an adventure to find a hardware store with not much success. We took about 2 trains and 5 buses and finally found what we needed and headed home, but not before we stopped by this housing estate well-known for its cool Brutalist architecture. People always love to take Instagram photos there so when we passed by it on the bus, we decided to see what the hype was about.
5:00 pmI spent the afternoon snacking on chips and dips. I didn’t finish them all but I threw away the cardboard wrapping for the salsa and guac. I baked the most delicious chocolate chip cookies and ate a few before dinner. Cardboard label x2, butter foil cleaned and recycled.
7:30 pm At dinner, I made my second lasagne of the month which ended up finishing quite a few different packagings.Cheese wrapper trashed. Quorn mince bag to be recycled at a supermarket, lasagne box & tinned tomato recycled!
10:00 pm I got hungry for a snack and made myself a smoothie. I use frozen berries in the winter if I need them, and this was the last bit I had left. Frozen fruit bag in trash.
11:00 amI woke up and ate some cereal for breakfast. I finished the last few drops of my oat milk and panicked a bit before I remembered I had another carton in the cupboard. Carton of milk, recycled.
1:30ish pm After working a bit in the morning, I was hungry and lazy so I went down the road and ordered some curry from my favourite veggie place. I figured that being a vegetarian restaurant they’d give me some sustainable packaging but no… I got one of those regular plastic takeaway boxes and regretted my decision. In the end though, the curry was tasty and I’ll use the box for packed lunch so it’s not a complete waste.
8:00 pm I ate more of the curry through the afternoon as I worked and finally realised it was about time to make dinner. I heated up some lasagne from the night before and finished it off with ice cream for dessert.
9:30 amI woke up and did some work from home in the morning. I toasted my banana pancakes from the day before and ate them with jam = 0 trash breakfast.
12:00 pmI went into uni and worked for a little until lunch, eating some lasagne and my lentil soup that I brought in from home. I even snagged a cookie and some crisps to snack on while I did more work for the afternoon. Crisp bag, TerraCycled.
5:00 pm On my way home, I stopped by Waitrose and Lidl to pick up some fun ingredients for my dinner salad bowl. I tried for the least waste possible but given the circumstances, certain things were wrapped in plastic, ugh.
7:00 pmFinally having finished cooking my beautiful giant bowl of goodness, I had finished the tinned chickpeas (I forgot to soak some of my dry ones the night before!) and so I recycled the can. The paper on the outside of my hummus pot got recycled, again because I didn’t have soft chickpeas to make my own this week. I also had an avocado produce sticker, but the rest of my ingredients were only half finished so I wrapped them up and saved some more for later in the week. Sadly, a plate was broken in the making of this dinner so I’ll have to use it as a base when I repot my next plant. 1 tin, 1 paper label, recycled and 1 sticker, trashed.
9:00 pmDessert consisted of two different flavour chocolates and some grapes. I threw out their packaging and put the rest in a bowl in the fridge. 1 fruit punnet, recycled and soft plastic top, trashed.
10:00 amToday I decided to go work in a cafe before class, so I had some hummus on toast at home before leaving and then only had to get a drink once I arrived.
12:00 pmThe sun was getting in my eyes so I moved down the road over to the British Library. I snacked on cashews as I tried to work.
4:00 pm After class I got a gingerbread man as a snack on my way home, it was from the bakery section at Waitrose and came in a brown paper bag, which I recycled. Paper bag, recycled.
6:00 pm For dinner I made myself fried rice with whatever veggies were floating in the fridge, for dessert I finished my last cookie from the batch I’d baked last week.
10:30 pmPost dinner and dessert, I had more ice cream. I finished the tub and threw it away. :( 1 pint ice cream, recycled.
9:00 am I was assisting with some interviews at uni today, so I packed lunch but left early and didn’t manage breakfast.
12:45 pmI had the last of my lasagne for lunch today. I snacked on some cashews and chocolate (in packaging which will be recycled later this week). And filled up my reusable cup with tap water since I forgot my bottle.
4:45 pmI headed home and debated stopping by Tesco for a snack. I decided against the extra packaging as the trip home was only 20 minutes.
6:30 pm Since I was so hungry, dinner was early. I finished up a bunch of stuff from the last few days. Roasted potatoes, carrots and tender stem broccoli, with a salad. Broccoli bag, lettuce bag, spring onion tag in the trash. Potato bag to be recycled at the supermarket.
9:30 amI had some time for breakfast and work before going into my tutorial so I had a bowl of cereal and some tea. Tea bag in the food waste.
12:20 pmI had a doctor’s appointment and a meeting with my group for our project, so I got home without having had any lunch. I was hungry, so on my way back, I stopped by Waitrose again and bought some supplemental ingredients to make lunch and dinner. I had cheese and leftover crackers, then started making a chili. Chili consisted of throwing a bunch of stuff in a pot, alongside some barley, but it was good. Cracker box, tinned tomato, 2 x tin of beans, recycled. Cracker plastic, kale bag in trash.
7:30 pm Since I’d had lunch so late, it was a while until I got hungry for dinner. I decided it was pasta night, but since I’d had chili for lunch I wanted to try something not tomato-y as the sauce. I experimented making vegan cheese with nutritional yeast and cashews but I didn’t love it and ended up having tomato sauce anyway. Plastic tomato carton, recycled.
At some point I got hungry again and ate a yoghurt, some cheese and some cashews. I made sure when buying the yoghurt that it was PET and not polystyrene so I managed to recycle it after rinsing, but had to trash the plastic film. Yoghurt, recycled. Cashew package, yoghurt film, in the trash.
11:00 pmI ended up finishing my night with some chocolate and warm mulled apple juice (I made my own spice mix in December and I keep forgetting to use it). It was the perfect thing to have before going to bed. Apple juice bottle, recycled. Apple juice label, trashed.
TRASH = 16 ITEMS
RECYCLED OR REUSED (ZERO WASTE) = 28 ITEMS
Note: This count does not include any tissues or toilet paper I used this week. Obviously all of that was trashed, but since they’re necessities I didn’t count them. I am sure to purchase only FSC approved paper products as they are the best currently available. As well, all of my food scraps were put into my food waste or stored in the freezer to turn into stock.
Overall, I was pretty surprised that I managed to throw away 16 items over the course of one week, equating to just over one a day. I was fairly certain I did a better job at limiting my waste, but it’s clear that I still have further to go. My common trash culprits were plastic vegetable packaging, nuts and produce stickers (which can be hard to avoid). But, it’s good to know that buying in bulk and from fresh market vendors can save me from running into this problem, though I know that this isn’t accessible at all times. I encourage you to keep your own trash diary for a week and see what you add up. Making our invisible carbon footprint more visible, is the key to understanding our true impact.