3 Reasons the Trash Jar is Bullsh*t

It's officially been two years since I started this blog. I wrote a great post about five lessons I've learned over the course of my two-year journey. It was really uplifting focusing on positivity and unity. (And, then you guys wound up with this post instead. ;)

Three reasons the trash jar, the zero waste icon, is bullshit from www.goingzerowaste.com

As I was photographing my two year's worth of trash for my celebration post, it didn't feel right. I haven't done a trash update since last year because I've felt weird about it.

The longer I looked at the jar of trash, I felt like a phony. The trash jar really isn't an accurate representation of the trash I've made at all. Almost anyone who has a trash jar has some sort of exception they don't put in there whether it be condoms, contacts, broken glass, receipts, etc. It feels like you can justify keeping almost anything out of it. And, when you're constantly picking and choosing between what goes in the jar and what doesn't, you get a skewed perspective.

The trash jar is supposed to be awe-inspiring or a WOW factor to get people interested in the movement. It shouldn't be an end all be all. 

So, today I'm telling you all about what you don't see in this photo. I've tried really hard to be transparent in the past, and the future will be no different. Being truthful and honest is the only way to guarantee that this movement flourishes and resonates with people. 

No one is going to be perfect, and that's A-OK! I am far, far from perfect. 

Three reasons the trash jar, the zero waste icon, is bullshit from www.goingzerowaste.com

I cringe every time I hear someone say, "Zero waste fail." I, myself, was guilty of it in the beginning. I was holding myself up to ridiculous standards. I want you to know there is no failure here. 

This isn't a test. You aren't going to be graded. 

In fact, when The Guardian came to my house they were very fixated on my trash jar. I tried to dissuade them from paying much attention to it. When they asked why, I told them, "The trash jar is merely a dick comparing contest. I'm more concerned with the big picture."

They asked me if they could quote that, and because my grandma would probably read the article, I told them no. 

Grandma, if you're reading this now (I don't think you are, but....) I'm sorry. I'll go put soap in my mouth. Video evidence here

1. ignores waste upstream:

The trash jar is a physical representation of trash from *my* home. It's trash that I have brought into my house. 

What about all of the trash created in the waste upstream? There's no way to see all of that. Everything we do produces trash or waste because we don't live in a circular society. 

We don't value our belongings. We don't value our earth. We just assume that she'll keep pumping resources to fuel our consumption habits. But, she won't; she can't. 

The trash jar focuses on a tiny, little portion of our/my consumer waste. For every pound of trash we throw away, 7 pounds is thrown away in the waste upstream. 

If a trash jar intimidates you, don't do it. Just do the best you can and buy less. Just because our visual trash is small, doesn't mean our behind the scenes trash is small too. 

Three reasons the trash jar, the zero waste icon, is bullshit from www.goingzerowaste.com

2. out of your control: 

Life's too short to get hung up on something out of your control.  

  • You asked for something to go in your own container and they included a plastic fork.
  • The grocery store clerk put it in a plastic bag before you could hand them your own.
  • They printed a receipt, even though you requested an email 
  • Your laptop dies.
  • Your hot water heater bites the dust.
  • You asked for no straw. 
  • You're given a gift that doesn't have zero waste packaging. 

Things happen. Life isn't always perfect and there's no reason you should feel bad about extenuating circumstances. Just do the best you can! 

I can guarantee you, I have asked for no straw in my drink and one has arrived anyways. Most likely I'm not going to carry that straw all the way home to store it in my trash jar. I just let it go. 

Most places I go email receipts. If they don't, and they print one, I won't touch it. Receipts are lined with BPA and I don't feel comfortable touching receipts. The BPA is absorbed into your blood stream after being in contact with your skin for seconds. 

That's why there are no receipts in my trash jar. Doesn't mean I didn't produce them. It just means I didn't take them. 

3. rewarding bad habits: 

When starting the zero waste lifestyle, I bought common grocery items in glass jars like pasta sauce with the intention of reusing the jars. 

If I were going to recycle the jars, I could put them in the bin with the label on. The labels is incinerated when the glass is melted down to form new glass. If I were going to reuse the jars, I'd need to peel the label off. 

But if I peeled the label off, I'd be stuck with the trash. If I were focused on my "image," I probably would have recycled the jars instead of reusing them. 

But, like I said, I'm more focused on the big picture. I reused the jars. 


I'm really torn on whether or not I should continue to keep track of my trash in a jar for the coming year. The benefits of keeping one feel pretty superficial. 

After keeping a jar for two years, I know what type of trash goes in there. What was once educational and intriguing is now normal. On the other hand, it is a pretty cool little diary. I know what I'm throwing away. I know what presents problems to me in my everyday life, and I'm interested in finding solutions.

What do you think? Do you think I should still keep track of my trash? Do you find it helpful? Do you find it inspiring? Or do you find it annoying and false advertising? 

P.S. I promise my happy, unity, super positive post is coming up soon. I just felt this need to be said. 

Four Tips for Starting a Zero Waste Lifestyle

I spoke for the second year in a row at the Zero Waste Youth Convergence in SF. Last year I did a DIY workshop on making your own lip balm and this year I spoke on individual action. 

4 tips for starting a zero waste lifestyle and become a conscious consumer from wwww.goingzerowaste.com

I have learned quite a bit in my two years of zero waste living and here are some important takeaways I'd want to impart to anyone who's considering reducing the waste in their life. 

buy less:

The average American throws out 4.4lbs of trash a day. For every pound of trash we throw away, 7lbs is thrown away on average in the waste upstream. That's almost 30lbs of trash a day. 

THAT'S INSANE. 

Buying less is the number one thing you can do to produce less trash. 

Before buying anything make sure you really truly need it. I always ask myself a series of questions.

  • Do you really need it?

  • Is it really necessary?

  • Can something else make do?

  • Do you need to own it?

Zero waste is not just about a trash jar. It's not solely about the landfill. Trash is a physical representation of misallocated resources. 

Earth Overshoot Day illustrates this best. Earth Overshoot Day came in the beginning of August last year. It's the day that illustrates how many resources the earth can sustainably produce for the year. 

We're using almost two earth's worth of resources. It's completely unsustainable. So, the best thing we can do for the planet is to buy less. 

buy well:

However, there are still purchases we need to make. If you don't live completely off grid/are self-sustaining, you'll need to make some purchases.

So when you do purchase something, really think about its full life-cycle. Think about where it came from and where it's going after you're through with it. 

Here are a series of questions I like to ask myself when making a new purchase.

  • Ask a friend.

  • Can you find it second hand?

  • Can you find it local?

  • Who made it?

  • Is it made to last/ can it be repaired?

  • What happens when you’re done with it?

Always check the secondhand market first and if you're going to buy something new make sure you're taking everything into consideration.

And, whatever you do don't settle. 

If I've learned anything in two years of zero waste living, it's that settling for something your not 100% happy with inevitably means you will be unhappy with it. Then you'll look for something else which is a waste of money and time. 

So whatever you buy, you better love it. 

find contentment:

We live in a world full of constant advertisements. Advertisers tell us in order to be happy or in order to get the girl or boy we have to have this product. This product will make us happy or loved. 

One of the most rebellious things you can do is find contentment with what you already have. 

Things don't define you. They don't give you worth. Instead of buying things to make you look better or cooler, try spending time bettering yourself. Take a class, learn a new skill, truly focus on self-improvement. 

strike a balance: 

And, like you've heard on this blog a hundred times before, it's not about perfection it's about making better choices. 

Personal sustainability is super important. I've written a whole post about it, you can read it here. It's one of my favorite blog posts I've ever written. 

We live in a society where things are meant to be thrown away. We don't live in a perfect world where zero waste is normal. 

Instead, we just do the best we can where we are. Things are going to happen that don't 100% align with your values and that's alright.

Each decision you make is a vote for the future you want. So, buying package free goods and purchasing products from responsible companies is a vote for a move to a circular economy, where waste is resumed back into the system like nature.  

So get out there, and do the best you can! 

Even if it's one change. Even if it's only buying a lonely banana. Every single step in the right direction is just that, a step in the right direction. 

What would be some of your tips for someone starting a zero waste life?