9 Tips for Less Trash in 2015

In spring of 2013 I took a wonderful course entitled “Less is More; Getting to One Can of Garbage in a Year” taught by Betty Shelley and her husband, Jon. We met once a week for three weeks, and Betty along with our other students, helped inspire me to take on the goal of filling only 1 trashcan (or less) in 2014.

First, I want to let you know that Portland has a great curbside recycling program.  It even includes collection of all food and organic waste at the curb as compost each week.  By removing all food items and organic matter, what’s left is dry and doesn’t smell.  Thank goodness!  This made my project much easier.

My monthly baseline prior to Betty’s course was:

  • 1/2 of a garbage can of trash
  • 1/2 of a big blue recycling bin

By the end of 2013 my new monthly baseline was cut in half:

  • 1/4 of a garbage can of trash
  • 1/4 of a big blue recycling bin

For 2014 I wanted a goal that challenged me, but had a chance of happening.  So I set out to have only 1 can of garbage.  That equates to reducing my trash by 66% after already cutting it in half the year prior.  I began by taking photos of my trash each month.  I used Metro as a resource to know what could be recycled versus what was trash.  I soon began to post the photos on Facebook where I got a lot of encouragement from friends and family.


Me with my household trash for the month of December 2014

 “By far, the biggest change I had to make, was reducing my use of plastic and mostly the plastic that comes with food.”

Here are my tips on how to reduce your waste in the year ahead:

  1. Say “no” to offers for a plastic bag.  Instead, bring your own bags for purchases of groceries and any other purchases, such as department or local convenience store.  Or hand carry items if you can, versus saying “yes” to that offer of a plastic bag.  In a pinch, use paper versus plastic.  IMG_6765
  2. Buy in bulk when possible.  Shop around, you might be surprised that items such as dry pet food, salt, tahini, oil, honey, spices, nuts, dried fruits, baking items and so much more can be purchased via the bulk bins and often for less money.  Check out your local food co-op or Whole Foods as they tend to specialize in bulk.  IMG_0021
  3. Have an assortment of containers for grocery shopping.  This includes mesh bags for produce, homemade cloth bags for bulk foods, and glass for spices and liquid bulk items.  To make this easy, I carry one bag with all the bulk containers in the trunk of my car, next to the cloth grocery bags.  All of these are easy to wash prior to their next use.
  4. Stop putting produce in plastic bags in the grocery store.  The first time I did this it felt very weird (kind of like those nightmares where you go to school but forgot to put your clothes on).  But, soon that became the new norm, and now it would feel just as weird to grab a plastic bag for each head of lettuce or item of produce.
  5. Experiment with new ways to store produce in your refrigerator.  So far, re-washing plastic bags or using an old Rubbermaid tub, are the best ways I have found to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables that require refrigeration.  I am still seeking new improved alternatives here.
  6. If an item is packaged in plastic, ask yourself if there is another way to purchase it without plastic.  One example is I love cherry tomatoes!   But, often they come packaged in those cute green plastic baskets or in blister packs, so I choose to purchase them at the farmers market or via a CSA where they are packaged in IMG_0023paper baskets or better yet I also grow my own cherry tomatoes.  With bread, I try to buy loaves in paper.  I buy toilet paper which is recycled and wrapped in tissue paper, as compared to toilet paper that is not recycled and is wrapped in plastic.
  7. One of the biggest things you can do is to study and get clear on what your local curbside recycling can and cannot take. If curbside recycling can’t take an item, I seek other ways to recycle them.   One great example here are plastic bags from groceries or  bread.  You can’t recycle them curbside as they jam up the recycling equipment, so I bring my bags to Far West Recycling, where they can recycle the bags.  It’s important to note however, that with plastic, it really is “down cycling” versus “recycling” as even when we do a good job of separating out and recycling plastic, it usually will have only one more life and then it won’t be able to be used again.  And, unfortunately, it takes hundreds of years for plastic to decompose.  Glass and metal are far superior as they can be melted and reused repeatedly, but they do still require energy and they create waste in their production and recycling, so less packaging is always better.


    Trash (not recyclable), so bring your mug instead

  8. Eat in.  Yes, eat in at home or even in a restaurant, but avoid take-out at all costs.  Even containers that say they are recyclable do not have someone downstream who will accept them, so while they are trying to do better, they often are trash.  Bring your mug to get coffee as the cups are usually not recyclable.  Bring your own take-out containers if you still wish to eat out.
  9. Take photos to determine how you can improve.  IMG_0007You might start with your biggest items of trash and see how you can substitute them for something with less plastic or less packaging.  Or you might take some of the simple small wins and do that first.  The photos give you feedback.  And, it you really want to raise the bar, post them on Facebook, which will start to hold you accountable.  Accountability is an important step in creating change!

And, so how did I do with my 2014 challenge of just having one trashcan?  Well, for one thing I had to exclude my Airbnb guest’s trash when I rented the whole house in August and 4 guests who stayed for 6 days generated this (below).  Mind you, I really can’t blame them, as I had not done a good job of explaining what I was looking for.  I have since changed my Airbnb posting to say “prefer eco-conscious guests” and I explain my 1 can of trash in a year project.  This revised message has helped a lot!  I may be able to include my Airbnb guests in my new 2015 goal, and in fact some people are staying with me because we share similar values.  An unexpected plus has been that I have had some great conversations about trash, recycling and veganism with my guests!

6 days of trash for 4 adult guests

6 days of trash for 4 adult guests (excluded from the challenge)


Me with my monthly bags of household trash in the background


Some of the best months were when I was doing a raw cleanse (Feb, May & Sept).  November I was on vacation for half the month and I haven’t been including trash generated outside my home in the 2014 challenge.


Yard trash and de-cluttering trash (before monthly household bags added)


And the results are…it fit in one can with a little room to spare!  Now time to figure out my new 2015 goal!

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What part of this challenge speaks to you?  Which tips can you do to reduce your waste in 2015?  Please answer in the comments below.


  1. Wow! I am super impressed! How do you handle nonfood packaging? That’s the hardest for me.


    • I ask for any internet orders to be sent using as little plastic as possible. Here at the Far West recycling, we can recycle styrofoam, film plastic, paper and hard plastics…so that helps. I also don’t buy much as I am in the process of reducing what I own, versus gathering more. I did have a hose and some compost bags that I reused, but then they were falling apart and I had to tape them that ended up as part of my 2014 trash. There also is a book called “Plastic-Free” by Beth Terry that offers lots of ideas for reducing consumption and increasing recycling options. Check it out. It is a wonderful resource!


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