Sunday, July 19, 2009

Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge

From June 8 until June 14, I participated in a modified version of the Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge, and recorded all the plastic trash I threw out. I couldn't comply with the requirement to take a photograph of my plastic trash at the end of the week, because there was no way I was going to ask the long-suffering people I live with to put up with Yet Another Pile of Trash. They already deal with two categories of trash that would go straight in the trash can in any normal household. In the living room, there's a mountain of Tetra Pak cartons that get saved until I visit a friend whose municipality accepts them for recycling, and in the bathroom, there are three large containers filled with plastic caps that are being saved indefinitely until they can be recycled. Aveda stores in certain other cities accept plastic caps for recycling, so I've been saving all the caps I've come across to take to Aveda when either the store in my city starts participating in the recycling program or someone I know visits a city where the recycling program is already active. Anyway, the point is that I didn't think it appropriate to announce that in addition to Tetra Pak cartons and bottle caps I would also be saving chocolate wrappers and other plastic trash.

Here's what I threw out:

Definitely not recyclable:

  • 2 paper sleeves with plastic lining from Weetabix breakfast cereal
  • 1 plastic bag from a different brand of cereal
  • 3 plastic wrappers from Fair Trade, organic chocolate
  • 1 bag of vegetarian burgers
  • 1 plastic clamshell containing blueberries (#6)
  • 3 bags of dried fruit
  • 1 plastic/cardboard container of dried fruit
  • 6 energy bar wrappers

Plastic portion probably not recyclable:

  • 2 aluminum cans
  • 4 Tetra Pak cartons


  • none

Total: 24

The instructions for the Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge said to include the recycling number at the bottom of each item, but only the blueberry container had a number. It's frustrating not having more information on what type of plastic is used. Each and every piece of plastic trash I threw out during the challenge week was packaging for food or beverages, and I'm astonished that there isn't a requirement that plastic in contact with food be labeled as to its type.

I wish I could say that recording my plastic trash for a week led to thoughts on how to reduce my consumption of plastic, but it didn't. There's no longer any store in the area that allows shoppers to bring their own containers for bulk foods, and I've got to eat something other than the potatoes, carrots and apples I buy at the farmer's market. I keep hoping that one of the local stores with bulk bins will abandon the ridiculous requirement that shoppers place bulk foods in plastic bags. I find it so ironic that Whole Foods, which brags about not offering plastic carrier bags at its check outs, still has rolls of plastic bags next to the bulk bins.

Items collected during June 2009

I'm still avoiding handling other people's trash, out of concern I'll bring home H1N1 flu. However, there have been times when I couldn't resist picking up recyclables or reusables, usually because they were within 10 feet of the river and I knew that picking them up was a now-or-never thing.


  • 4 glass bottles (1 Everfresh Grape Strawberry, 1 Elephant Malt Liquor, 1 Corona Extra, 1 S. Pellegrino mineral water)

  • 4 aluminum cans (1 Steel Reserve lager, 1 Yuengling lager, 1 roadkilled Diet Pepsi, 1 Heineken)

  • 3 plastic bottles (1 Dr Pepper, 1 Dasani water, 1 Strawberry Powerade Zero)


  • 1 trash bag

  • 1 plastic produce bag

  • 1 newspaper bag

  • 3 plastic carrier bags

  • 1 black Sharpie marker

The trash bag and produce bag had never been used, and were still folded tightly in the way plastic bags are only when they're brand new. I've never figured out why unused bags are so commonly found in the environment. It's especially hard to understand when it comes to bags like trash bags that actually cost money to the people who lose them.