The trashman


Ari Derfel of Berkeley, California may be one of the people glad to see the year end. He’s been keeping his trash — all of it — all year. He blogs about it here. His house — where he’s keeping all of his trash — looks more organized than mine — where I’m not.

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the trash helped him learn how much stuff he throws away. It also helped learn a lot of new things to do — outdoors — in order to escape the trash.

If you’re thinking of trying this idea, here’s his simple guide to saving your trash.

1. As the rules suggest, I keep everything I generate first hand in my personal life. I don’t keep all of the trash I generate at work for work specific purposes. It would be far too vast. But, trash that I create for personal use at work does have to be kept. For example, if I go out for lunch and get a burrito during work, I have to keep the aluminum foil that wraps the burrito. If I get a bag of chips, I have to keep the bag. If I get a drink, I have to keep the bottle or can. However, if our company orders boxes of food from our organic wholesale distributor, I don’t take the empty boxes after the chefs empty them.

2. If I go out of town, I have to bring everything back with me. I went to Hawaii for 2 weeks during February of 07. I brought home roughly 15 lbs of trash with me in my suitcase.

3. If I go out to eat and there is a white piece of paper covering the table instead of a linen, I take that piece of paper home with me. If I order French fries and they are served on top of a piece of paper I take that piece of paper home with me.

4. I keep dental floss. I keep condoms.

5. I don’t keep toilet paper, but I keep the toilet paper rolls so I know how much I’ve used in a year.

6. If I go backpacking for a week and take a ridiculous amount of packaged food with me, it all comes home with me at the end.

7. Virtually every time there is a judgment call to be made, moments in question where I have to decide if I keep it or leave it behind, I keep it. Seriously. I have been diligent, disciplined, committed, and determined to stick to the spirit of this challenge. It’s been an amazing meditation.

Tess Vigland of Marketplace tried this a few months ago, only the difference was she had to haul it all around with her. That worked for about two weeks.

Now, here’s the thing. Clearly there’s a statement being made about our ability to generate trash. But here’s the EPA assessment of trash generation in 2006. (Source here)


We each generate on average about 4.6 pounds of trash/garbage a day. But look at the map closely. That number hasn’t really changed in almost 20 years. So even as we become more of a throwaway society, with electronics and all sorts of other junk, we’re not really throwing away more; we just have more people.

And look at our rate of recycling.


Our rate of recycling in Minnesota is higher than the national average (about 47%).

But it appears the amount of trash the average person tosses is higher, too. says the average Minnesotan generates 2,000 pounds of trash a year — 5 1/2 pounds per person; well above the national average.