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?

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13 years 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.

Green Grrl
13 years ago

I’m in! Thanks for the push. :)
Am starting today.

14 years ago

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


Gamer Girl
14 years ago

My tally is blogged here. No pictures or weights.

14 years ago

I blogged my tally here!

Results were somewhat surprising–a very helpful exercise.

Amy K.
14 years ago
14 years ago

Oie. Blogged.

14 years 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.

14 years ago

I’m going to try this too

14 years 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
14 years 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 :(

14 years ago

I’m in! The tally starts today.

14 years 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…

14 years 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.
14 years 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

14 years 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 ;-)

14 years 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!

Beth Terry
14 years 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.

14 years 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…

14 years ago

Sure, I’ll play. I’ll do this next week after my MIL’s visit.

Further question: You told Rob he has to count the plastic bag he used even if he’s going to re-use it. Is that only if he purchased the plastic bag during that week?

I ask because I haven’t purchased plastic bags in a couple of years, but I re-use the ones I’ve gotten from the CSA (holding things like wheat berries and salad mix) over and over and over and over again. They don’t become trash until they are totally falling apart, and then only if they are so ratty they can’t even hold veggies that need aerated (holey) bags.

14 years 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.

14 years ago

I love what you’re doing with this blog!…it just goes to show the power of one person…you go Beth, and thank you for your comment and your contribution to the Earth.

14 years ago

I’m in! I have two kids; 18mo and 4 years old – also a husband in the household. Will be tough to track all of his waste but could do it for me and the kids.
I’ll be interested to see too…

14 years ago

another great idea, beth! i’ll play! i was thinking this would be a great personal record and incentive as well. i could repeat the experiment on a quarterly or yearly basis, “an anniversary week collection” in order to see the documentation of my own progress.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Oh Rob Rob Rob Rob Rob. What do you think? :-)

Reuse is fine. Reduce is better. We know you are the master of finding alternative uses for things. The DIY king. But for purposes of this challenge, I would like to see you play the guitar instead of the piano. (Oops. Sorry. Just finished watching American Idol.) I mean tally your plastic before you reuse it. And then feel free to show us exactly how you will reuse it.

Of course, you could also tell me to shove it, but you did ask my opinion, right?

You and Ruchi should start a band.

14 years ago

Hey Beth- what if (here comes the justifications)I reUse the plastic somewhere else i.e. plastic pop bottles used for plant pots Or re-using tortilla ziplock bags? do those count in the tally? Or is it plastic actually thrown away?

14 years ago

Beth showing my trashy pictures on the internet??? Ok Beth I can live like you for a week, But watch those trashy pics!So count me in!

14 years ago

I’m in, starting tomorrow. No point in putting it off!

14 years ago

I’m in!
This could be a weekly feature: kind of like Tiny Choices survey.

14 years ago

@Knutty Knitter — exactly! just yesterday I was thinking about how I’ll have to be careful abou how I buy bread, and about how in order to go plastic free, I’ll have to seriously think about going cheese-free, maybe even dairy-free altogether.

knutty knitter
14 years ago

I’m in from next week – going away this weekend. I’ll include the whole family as its hard to separate them out.

I suspect the worst offender will be bread – it just doesn’t come in anything other than plastic round here.

viv in nz

Beth Terry
14 years ago

@Ruchi — I would say it’s up to you how knitty gritty you want to be… just be consistent about it… and do separate out items that are made of plastic vs. items that are simply coated with plastic. You won’t be able to get an accurate weight (if you choose to weigh your plastic) for those items since they are mostly paper or metal. Also, not all glossy paper is coated with plastic. Some gloss is from clay. Sometimes it’s hard to know what is plastic and what isn’t.

The main point of this exericise is to heighten your own awareness, so whatever works for you is what you should do. Since you’ve already been working on reducing your plastic for a while, maybe you want to push yourself harder. On the other hand, with the stresses of schoolwork, maybe you just want to give yourself a freakin’ break. Either way, you’ll get no judgement from me!

Love ya!

14 years ago

I’ve been curious to know how my family does in the plastic consumption department, especially since discovering your blog. Now that you have issued the challange, I feel like I should take it on. We move in a month, so I may do it for a week before we move and then another week after we arrive to our new home to see if there is a difference. We have 2 teens and a pre-teen, so I’ll be curious also to see the difference with others with younger children/no children/etc.

Martin at Plasticless
14 years ago

I will do it.

I’m going to have to take a few days to think about what teenage kid related plastics are arguably my responsibility (forgetting to give out allowances might help reduce that plastic waste).

14 years ago

i think i might try next week or something… i’ve always wondered how much plastic i use. plus, i’ve been slacking off like crazy, so it might be eye opening to see just how lazy i’ve gotten…

14 years ago

IN!! …in June…or maybe July…

Great idea-

14 years ago

Is it up to us to decide what we quantify as plastic?

Like … say for instance, you bought a glossy magazine. Does that count since there is plastic?

Or what about aluminum cans, since they have a plastic lining?

Or what about paper cups since they have plastic in them as well?

Basically what I’m asking is, should we be quantifying only “traditional” plastics, or all plastics, or is it up to us but we should define our categorization?

kale for sale
14 years ago

Good idea. I could use a reality check. I’m in as of today and will include the cute guy. Well, maybe I should ask him if he wants his plastic photographed before I say yes. He’s a maybe.

14 years ago

thank you!!!

guilt is an american luxury. an obstacle
that keeps us from taking responsibility.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

@Lisa — it can be any week you want to do it. There is no time limit. I’d like to keep it going for a while. So start when you’re ready.

@techie_chick — love your idea of starting right away — and I am sure your tweet about throwing stuff away was a joke, right?

@Cheap Like Me — Do you want to cross post on Fake Plastic Fish?

14 years ago

I’m in. I will try to do it from tomorrow, as if I leave it I’ll only try to reduce in advance… or forget.

14 years ago

I’m in. This is something I have wanted to do but never actually got to it. Now I have motivation I just have to keep the guilt out which I always find difficult.

14 years ago

I’m totally in. I have been considering following your lead for awhile now, but I just know I couldn’t get it down to a straw and an envelope. : ) I’ll start this week and go for as long as I go!

14 years ago

Your cat is adorable!! I also love the pic of him in your bicycle basket. So cute!!

Anywayz, yes, I’m so in! :D

14 years ago

I’m in, and will start next sunday! I can already tell its going to be depressing, but I will do my best to not feel guilty, per number 11 :-)

14 years ago

I’m in. I have a 22 month old, so it will be interesting and most probably more plastic- ugh. I’m already working on reducing – but let’s see how much more we can do here!

14 years ago

I’m gonna try and do this!

Cheap Like Me
14 years ago

I would LOVE to participate … but I just did this last month, actually! I think I met all your guidelines. The post is here.I tracked all my garbage that week, just mine, with a note about family contributions. We try to compost everything we can, and recycle both in our community and by making a special trip every year or so to the bigger recycling center.

And bless you for your multiple injunctions against guilt and comparisons. Bless you, bless you.

14 years ago

I’m game.

14 years ago

Count me in. I have a 6yr old and a 4mo old so I can provide you some interesting info. I’ll see if I can attach this in the next few weeks.