The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
May 12, 2009

Challenge: Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash!

Beth throws down the gauntlet, upon which Soots proceeds to gnaw. Nom nom nom! It is plastic, after all. Yummy!

So as you all know, I’ve been collecting and tallying my own plastic trash for almost two years. The experience has been educational for me, and I hope, for readers of this blog. I’ll keep doing it. But now it’s your turn.


1) Collect all of your own plastic waste for a minimum of one week. (Longer is okay, too, but try to separate out the weeks’ collections.) What qualifies as yours? Anything that benefits you. So, if your housemate or significant other brings home a tub of yogurt that you both share, the tub goes in your tally. But if you hate yogurt, never touch the stuff, and wouldn’t have bought it for yourself in a million years, it’s not your responsibility. What about stuff for your kids? I’ll leave that up to you. Whatever you decide, just be consistent about collecting it. Personally, I’d be very interested to see how much plastic waste is generated by babies, since I don’t have children myself.

2) Try to live the way you normally would. It doesn’t help to artificially reduce your plastic consumption for the sake of a one-week tally if you will go back to living with more plastic afterward. Think of this exercise as a scientific experiment. Nothing more.

3) At the end of the week, take a photo of your stash and list out the items. You might also want to include details about what things are recyclable in your community or not.

4) Guilt is not encouraged. Nor are comparisons with other people whom you perceive to be doing “worse” or “better” than you in terms of plastic waste. This exercise is for purely educational purposes. Guilt doesn’t help.

5) After tallying your plastic waste, try answering the following questions:

  • What items could I easily replace with plastic-free or less plastic alternatives?
  • What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic-free alternative doesn’t exist?
  • How many of these items are from “convenience” foods that could be made from scratch with less packaging but might take more time to prepare?
  • What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
  • What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
  • What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
  • What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?

6) Guilt is unnecessary.

7) Email your photo, tally, and answers to questions to me along with as much personal info as you feel comfortable sharing: Geographical location, gender, housemate/relationship status, work status (at home or away from home), children living with you, etc. These factors might influence the amount of plastic waste you generate and would be interesting to know, but are completely up to you of course.

8) If you have your own blog, feel free to post your tally, etc. there as well. And let me know the URL so I can link to you.

9) There is no time limit for doing this exercise. I would love to publish a series of “Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash” posts over several weeks or even months, depending on the response.

10) Guilt will only get in the way of understanding. It’s not needed for this challenge.

11) Seriously.

Who’s in?

Leave a Reply

52 Comments on "Challenge: Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash!"

4 years 11 months ago

We’re gonna try to do this as well this next week. It will probably be surprising to see just the number of plastic shopping bags we count. Thanks for your work at making us think about our everyday waste.

5 years 7 months ago

I’m in! Thanks for the push. :)
Am starting today.
.-= Green Grrl´s last blog ..Experiments in efficiency =-.

6 years 3 days ago

I’ve been waiting to do this for a while, so here it finally is:


Gamer Girl
6 years 3 days ago

My tally is blogged here. No pictures or weights.

6 years 6 days ago

I blogged my tally here!

Results were somewhat surprising–a very helpful exercise.

Amy K.
6 years 9 days ago
6 years 9 days ago

Oie. Blogged.

6 years 13 days ago

I’m about to leave the country for two weeks, but I will give this a shot when I return! I have an almost-eight-month old daughter, so it should be interesting.

6 years 14 days ago

I’m going to try this too

6 years 15 days ago

The fella and I are in, probably next week or the week after. We’ve been cutting our plastic consumption quite a bit and recycling almost all the rest.. but I already know what will be in the tally- darn that plastic cheese wrapper :p

Condo Blues
6 years 16 days ago

“The point is that it doesn’t help if everyone continues to buy new plastic but doesn’t count it because they intend to find an alternate use for it. It doesn’t help to collect a million plastic bags in your house. But that’s not what you’re doing.”

So I guess that means that the plastic dried bean, frozen food bags, etc. I save and reuse for dog waste (we have pooper scooper laws here) counts in the tally? Put my dog down for 7 plastic bags (dried bean, frozen food, and bread and a couple of biodegradables if I run out of reusables) to begin with. Geez, I’m starting in the hole before I even start the challenge :(

6 years 16 days ago

I’m in! The tally starts today.

6 years 16 days ago

I’m in!

I’m just starting to cut out plastic again after 7 very plasticky months (I’m talking styrofoam cup plastic, here)In fact, watching your video to Oprah turned me around again. I just went through the trash and found everything since trash day Monday. (Except the soy milk container caps, ’cause they were buried in the kitty litter and that’s pretty nasty.) So I’ll be posting my totals next Monday.

I’m ordering in bulk from Whole Foods and making my own bread again, so I’m pretty thrilled. Unfortunately I don’t have a good vision of just how badly I was before. Maybe if I cleaned out the car, though…

6 years 16 days ago

Oh, this is a great challenge! I’ve been thinking much more about our plastic use since I stumbled upon your blog. I’m excited to participate, sad as the results might be. I’ve coerced a friend to join in the fun, too, so we can cheer each other on!

Susan K.
6 years 16 days ago

I’m game. I’ll officially come out of lurking and play :)

I been trying to buy less anyway for the last month or so.

Rules / Questions before purchase
1. Is the plastic going to be in my house and/ or used for a week or more?

2. Is it 1 or 2 recyclable (that’s what the recycler will take)?

3. IF there is no way around it then which product has the least amount of plastic. ex) 24 cans of friskies vs. 24 cans of 9 lives cat food. 24 cans of friskies wins in it’s own recyclable box container – no plastic packaging involved

4. Is it obviously plastic? Can lining doesn’t count yet.

5. No guilt because Rome wasn’t built in a day so changing purchasing habits / personal habits could take awhile

6 years 16 days ago

I’m in.

While tossing things into the recycle bin instead of trash is second nature to me and I have a background hum of trying to purchase items without excessive packaging, I haven’t really stopped to measure just how much plastic I’m acquiring in the first place (and yes, I promise not to alter my habits for the sake of this project).

I have a feeling this is not going to be pretty ;-)

6 years 16 days ago

Thanks, Beth.

I’ve got a “natural” instrument for the band. I can use dried red chile peppers with lots of seeds in them as maracas. Arriba!

Fake Plastic Fish
6 years 16 days ago

@Chile — I was messing with Rob. I really want everyone to make their own rules and stick to them. For you, being one of the thriftiest people in town, I’d say don’t count it unless it’s ready to be thrown away… no matter when you purchased it… because you’re not buying new ones anyway.

The point is that it doesn’t help if everyone continues to buy new plastic but doesn’t count it because they intend to find an alternate use for it. It doesn’t help to collect a million plastic bags in your house. But that’s not what you’re doing.

(I heard Rob and Arduous are forming a band. I think you’d be great in it!)

To everyone — figure out the rules that feel right for your situation and stick to them. Just be clear about what they are when you write up your analysis.

6 years 16 days ago

I’m in, too. This should be interesting because my fiance and I will be out of town on weekends the next few months – that’s the hardest time to be diligent…

6 years 16 days ago

I’m totally in. I linked to your site, and clipped your rules into my post. Thanks!

As for baby-caused plastic garbage, I have a one year old and she doesn’t create any. We use cloth diapers and wipes, she doesn’t eat commercial baby food, and doesn’t get plastic toys.