January 12, 2012

2011 Plastic Trash Collection Wrap Up

As many of you know, 2011 was difficult and challenging for me in many ways. My mom passed away early in the year, and I didn’t really have time to truly grieve until after I finished the biggest project ever: writing my book. Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too is now available for pre-order on Amazon. (I’ll tell you more about the book in a future post.)

I kept collecting my plastic waste all year and just today have finally made the time to photograph and post the 2011 tallies. Surprisingly, and somewhat disappointingly, the total was almost exactly the same weight as last year: 2.11 pounds. Keep in mind that this number represents both recyclable and non-recyclable plastic because I don’t consider recycling to be the answer to the plastic problem. While recycling is necessary, reducing our consumption should be the first priority.

So here’s what the 2011 batch looks like. It all fits inside one regular-sized plastic grocery bag.  (Click here to view my individual plastic tally posts.)

Beth Terry's 2011 Plastic Trash Collection by Beth Terry, on Flickr

Beth Terry's 2011 Plastic Trash Collection by Beth Terry, on Flickr

Making a change

I feel like I kind of let the plastic get away from me this year. Yes, 2 pounds is very low when you consider the average American generates at least 100 pounds of plastic waste per year. Still, I know it’s possible to reduce it even more with a bit more mindfulness. To that end, I have decided to return to posting weekly tallies.

Why not join me and start collecting? It’s a great way to not only keep ourselves accountable but learn from the discoveries and solutions of others.

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Robert Toll
10 years ago

Why is it that I see mountains of paper being recycled by International Paper and never see a plastic bag recycling facility with similar mountains of recyclable plastic?

11 years ago

Although I can’t do much about what my family brings in (because they just aren’t trying) I try not to add to that.

Still it’s not easy. I have sensitive skin and the only thing that doesn’t make my face set fire is a Japanese washing powder that comes in a small plastic bottle (and uses a small foam ball to make the foam). It comes wrapped in clear plastic too. I know, it’s bad but I have yet to find a less plastic substitute. I even asked the company to send it without putting extra plastic in the packaging and they ignored me! The first time they sent it with foam peanuts, this time with plastic bubble wrap.

As someone mentioned before, we don’t have bulk bins in our area and the only organic produce is packaged in plastic boxes. We also have no trash pick up services or recycling.

11 years ago

2 lb is incredible Beth, I am so so inspired. We are not even close, coz convenience is something that gets in the head every now and then juggling work, kids, home and other social things. I do try very consciously to reduce the “regular” waste – like carrying my own bags EVERYTIME. I also use the recycle plastic bags concept coz I simply cant carry containers to store all the time while dealing with a super active 4 yr old. But I do re-use all the veggie and dry items bags till their bottom falls apart, even after that I knot up one end and line my smaller bins in the bathroom. Doing as much as I can, but always inspired to reach where you have taken yourself. Good job!

11 years ago

We’re attempting to reduce plastic waste BUT local authority is getting in the way. Stores that sell bulk food around here (northern MA/southern NH) are not allowed to let customers use their own containers. Nobody is sure whether it’s fear that a customer may not have washed their container or what. This means that if I want to buy, say, beans, I am required to take some sort of plastic bag or can lining, too.
Anybody else running into this?

11 years ago

Beth, you’ve been an inspiration to me. I once was one of those people who thought if I recycled I was doing my part. Now my focus is to reduce all my waste, especially plastic waste. Over the past year or so, I’ve been looking at my trash (and recycling) with a critical eye. I’m proud to say I’ve finally eliminated all plastic bottles in my shower – I use only bar shampoo, conditioner, and soap. I’m working on other areas of my life such as buying in bulk, making homemade, reusing, etc.

Wendy Schroeder
11 years ago

Fantastic Beth!
You have been so important to many of us who have changed our mind sets, abruptly in many cases! in the last year or two. Albatross pictures = egads! for me, and within an hour or two I found your site. You’ve helped me get started, and for that i thank you.
2 pounds IS amazing, perhaps as good as a person could do in this disposable society, but more amazing to you would be the hundreds and thousands of pounds you are responsible for making people avoid. It’s become my mission to spread the word and the reminders and to keep squeaking to the plastic makers out there!

Thanks and good luck to all of us in 2012 that it gradually becomes easier to NOT be stuck with plastic!


11 years ago

Beth – I preordered the book, looking forward to it being released!

Alina – While food is a very personal decision, and definitely a hard place to make changes (I’ve been vegetarian for 12 years, but been trying to go vegan for at least 5 of those and not being very successful at it), I’d encourage you to re-think defining milk, eggs, and meat as “basics”. Granted, depending on the resources in your locale it might be just as hard to find plastic-free beans, tofu, etc., but animal products are an important issue to look at for other environmental reasons as well.

11 years ago

I think you did brilliantly. Look back on 2011 as a hard year, in which you learned a lot. *hugs*

11 years ago

Yesterday, before freezing temps came in I cleaned the small 150 beach in front of my house on Lake Ontario in upstate NY. It had been 4 days since I last picked up the trash the waves brought up. Yesterday I picked up 3 full plastic straws, bits of straws, a long yellow rope with a plastic coating on it. Two plastic bottles, a water bottle and a gatorade bottle, a small plastic plant pot, two plastic tips from small cigars, a cig. butt, and a whole lot of styrofoam bits. I just feel so sad that my small bit of the earth collects so much plastic, can you imagine whats in all our lakes, rivers and ultimately the ocean. It is sickening and only getting worse. I get a lot more in the summer when the boaters throw plastic caps etc overboard. Keep up what you do Beth you are a ray of sunshine in this crazy world. greg

11 years ago

I dunno where you get your figures from? If you produce 2 pounds of plastic – one bags worth – there is NO way the average American, or any where for that matter, produces 100 pounds. Per month maybe, not per year!! People consume far far more than that. That would mean they produce 50 small bags of plastic a year. Is that right?? & the rest!

Well done you!!! More inspiration from you.

My friend has got on board so we can start to bulk buy. I’m excited!

knutty knitter
11 years ago

Wish we had bulk stuff here but its pretty limited. Bread bags are the worst. Only designer bread comes in paper and we simply can’t afford to feed our teenagers with that except as a treat. However we have ditched paper stuff except tp for no. 2s and there is only one bottle of shampoo in the house (from grandma and its been there for a couple of years now only because I can’t bear to throw it out). Shopping bags are now a rarity which is good. I have to admit to being responsible for one of those last year but it has been reused lots to make felt with and will not be disposed of any time soon.

Altogether we are not doing too badly but there is definitely room for improvement.

I don’t think we can come near to your level but there is some hope :)

viv in nz

11 years ago

Beth, you rock!
Despite our best efforts, our 2-persons household generates that amount and more weekly. There’s nothing more we can do; the system doesn’t allow us. Basic products (milk, eggs, meat) come in plastic and there are no alternatives :(