An Experiment in Zero Waste
Posted on February 6, 2013
Ever since I read Elizabeth Royte’s Garbage Land, I can’t throw away anything without thinking about the secret life of trash. Royte followed her garbage to landfills where nothing decomposes and a hotdog from 1950 looks virtually the same in 2005. I followed her to the recycling plants where enormous batches of paper are made back into pulp, and where plastic bottles find a second life as carpets or outdoor furniture. I traveled vast distances as trash from New York City is trucked to landfills as far away as West Virginia and where toxic sludge from wastewater treatment plants is spread on fields as fertilizer. Knowing that Americans generate 250 million tons of trash per year, I began an experiment last summer to see how much waste I actually produced and could divert.
Recycling was the easy part. Because I do not drink soda or bottled water, my container recycling over the course of a week was usually one or two milk and orange juice cartons, an egg carton, and various paperboard containers, aluminum cans, and plastic tubs. My paper was fairly minimal because almost all of my printing was done at work and I subscribed to no paper newspapers or magazines. However I did get a large amount of junk mail…