Earth Matters: Time to audit our garbarge

Garbage – noun | gar·bage | ˈgär-bij
– discarded or useless material
– something worth little or nothing

Audit – noun | au·dit | ˈȯ-dət
– a methodical examination and review

Garbage day.

I am walking my dog around the neighborhood and marvel at the cans and piles on the sidewalk. Where does all that garbage come from?

How are we, my family, my neighbors, my friends, collecting all these useless materials considered worth little or nothing? I am thinking about my garbage.

What is in it? Do you know what’s in yours?

While at college, my son was part of an unusual challenge: Can college students fit their weekly trash into a one-gallon bag?

This challenge was dubbed the Gallon Challenge. It’s a genius idea as it makes people, in this case, college students, acutely aware of the waste they are creating.

Not just the waste volume, but given that the gallon bag is clear, it also allows for an overview of the garbage itself. And it will likely prompt some behavior changes: Do I really need to double bag that muffin?

Do I really need the supermarket receipt? Do I really need a fresh plastic cup every time I drink a sip of water or can I just keep and refill the one that I had used before? And can it be recycled after I am done with it so that it doesn’t end up in my gallon bag, aka landfill?

Our garbage ends up in landfills, but Long Island doesn’t have enough space for all of us and our garbage, so most of it gets trucked for miles off the island to “some other place”. That transport, of course, costs money and convincing other communities to accept our trash costs money as well, and we are paying for it, every one of us.

The Town of North Hempstead website states that “… residents regardless of garbage district have an obligation under New York State and local law to recycle,” yet many of us don’t do enough of it. (Source:

You now might think “OK, I’m in. But where should I start?” Well, I believe an effective residential waste reduction program starts with a current assessment of the garbage that we create.

So, the first step needs to be a self “Garbage Audit”, i.e., the methodical examination and review of those discarded or useless materials that we deemed worth little or nothing and therefore threw into the garbage.

That doesn’t mean that you now must dump your garbage can and sift through all that stuff (yuk), but it does mean that you might want to keep a piece of paper next to your trash and tally everything before you throw it away.

Then after a couple of days you and your family can review the list and discuss which type of garbage you might be able to avoid or divert. I believe it will be eye-opening.

And, by the way, there is nothing shameful about recognizing the amount of garbage we all create.

However, today’s concern over waste generation and increasing costs of collection and disposal are good reasons to find out how to reduce waste, increase recycling, and try to cut costs.

We obviously can’t fit all our garbage into a gallon bag, but we can work on knowing what is in it and raise our awareness. You won’t be able to avoid it all – nobody can – but here are a couple of simple ideas on how to reduce the volume:
– Return hangers to the dry cleaners
– Skip the slip: “In the US, over 10 million trees and 21 billion gallons of water are consumed each year in the creation of paper receipts, generating 686 million pounds of waste and 12 billion pounds of CO2.” Source:
– Composting: Find a corner in your yard to collect fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, tea leaves and eggshells. Cover with dry leaves and grass clippings, if you don’t like how it looks. You will be amazed how fast it turns into compost. One of many resources can be found on the TONH website: Did you know that banana peels and coffee grounds are great fertilizers, and eggshells keep the slugs out of your garden?

Unfortunately, there is no system in place that charges residents by the trash volume they produce, so we all must do our best to keep recyclables separate, to compost our garden, fruit and vegetable waste, and to reduce the amount of stuff we are buying just to throw it away a couple of days later.

It all starts with that “garbage audit.” Let’s do it.

TAGGED: garbarge
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