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3 Reasons the Trash Jar is Bullsh*t

Zero Waste Lifestyle

Last Updated on January 23, 2024

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. 😉

3 reasons the trash jar is garbage from #zerowaste #sustainable #goingzerowaste #trashjar #trash #jaroftrash #masonjar #jarofwaste

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. 

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. 

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. 

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  1. This all makes perfect sense; trash jars ARE a good teaching tool/intro to zero waste concepts, but you’ve "done your time" and have a handle on your zero waste goals; if you’re tired of having a jar of trash sitting around the house for a whole year (and who wouldn’t be?), kiss it goodbye!

    I’m still a zero waste newbie, and have resisted starting a jar. Tracking what goes in the recycling bin would be smart, so I could see where our "problem areas" are, but a jar? I’m not ready for that, neither emotionally nor waste-reducing wise.

    1. I’m still not sure I’m emotionally ready. Lol! I think taking a look at what you’re recycling before you throw it out and making mental notes of what piles up, is a great idea!

  2. Hi
    To be honest I am not impressed by the trash jars that you see on pretty much every zero waste blog for exactly the reasons you state above. It just isn’t real, I get that the bloggers are trying to inspire people but I think it intimidates more than inspires. There is so much waste happening on all our behalves behind the scenes that I think we should all just do the best we can and be honest with ourselves and each other. Thanks for the post I really appreciate your honesty about this.

  3. Hi there! I’m going to try to express my thoughts about the trash jar, but I can’t promise that my English is good enough therefore… :-/
    I’m into zero waste for little more than two years now. When I started, I never imagined myself being able to produce so little waste that I could keep it in a jar for more than a week. But nevertheless, I started to reduce my trash "production" (weird expression anyways) and after maybe 8 or 9 months I noticed I had so little trash every week, that it might be fun to keep it a little longer to see how long it will take to fill up the bin. At the end it took three months to fill a quart jar and I learned so much about my main "trash mistakes" that I never regretted to have that trash jar. Some months later I did my "jar project" again and it even took 6 months to fill it up, so I was very proud of myself.
    Then I had to move and now I’m living in an shared flat in a small town, where I have fewer possibilities to shop zero waste (e.g. no bulk store, but there is one to be opened in june, hurray!) so I’m definitely producing more trash than before. But in august, I’ll have to move again and I’m planning to reinstall my trash jar in the new flat to monitor my trash in the new surroundings.
    For me, it’s more of a control if I’m doing the best I can to reduce the trash I have influence of than to show off. I perfectly know that there is not every bit of trash in there that has been caused by myself, be it a paper tissue that I got at the bakery although I asked not to get one, be it the huge amount of "grey trash" I cause by buying things that were delivered to the (bulk) store packaged in some way or whose ingrediences have been packaged when they came to the restaurant or… or… or…
    For me the trash jar is a reminder to do the best I – personally – can, not to compair myself to anyone else (Although I have to admit I sometimes show off a little bit, because I’m still quite proud of what I have achieved compared to previous times).

    After all I totally understand your thoughts, especially when the media focus on the jar so much that they forget the idea that stands behind it all.

    Greetings from Germany,

    1. Pip, your English is flawless. No need to apologize! I love that you’re so proud of it – you should be! I guess, I feel strange about it because my journey is on a pedestal and I get constant criticizing about how the jar isn’t the big picture. (Which, I am aware of.) I don’t know. Thank you for sharing your perspective! You should be really proud of yourself. I’m proud of you too!!

  4. It’s all about discovering what’s possible, sharing that with a receptive audience, and internalizing it. Several years ago I limited my shopping to 1 wearable thing a month. To some people that seemed like too little, to others too much. What I got from the exercise was 1) establishing a habit of buying less. 2) a better understanding of need vs want. 3) sharing my project/priorities with others. Now several years on I know I will never buy too much again. Just won’t.

  5. I see the value in a trash jar for a short term experiment or as an introductory tool for new zero wasters (I’m not zero waste myself, but definitely making small changes every day to reduce my waste!) As a long term thing, I just don’t think it’s made sense. If you’ve learned what you needed to from it, then the jar’s work is done.

    1. No one is zero waste, that’s the point. The trash jar is proof of waste. If there were no such thing as rubbish bins and we each of us had to keep our waste that would quickly lead to waste reduction. So I’m thinking I’m in favor of the trash jar. Is it waste before it’s put in the bin? Wouldn’t it be great if in the future some of those things could be recycled and removed from the trash jar.

  6. I think the image of the jar is a great marketing tool for zero waste. It has value. But this article has much more value. I am nearing a year of changing the way I consume. In reality, I will probably always produce much more than a jars worth of trash (I have two children and two animals). I think the honesty you express will make a much bigger difference than the jar. A lot of people feel they need to be all in or not in at all. If they can’t be completely zero waste than why bother. Articles like this let people know that no one’s life is an instagram account. That trying your best and making change is enough or a least the road to enough. Thank you. As always, you are refreshing.

  7. I think the trash jar is excellent as a zerowaste icon. But what is also interesting I think, is the amount of things that go to the recycling bin. That’s also a big thing: how to avoid recyclable things! It isn’t waste for the jar, but much more difficult to avoid in the beginning of a zerowaste lifestyle.

  8. I really like your blog because you are honest. You have tried all these DIY products but you also tell us if they worked and why or if they didn’t work for you. You don’t just say "Use them, they are all amazing."
    This post also is very refreshing. It’s hard to read this kind of things when you go in the Zero Waste world. You are very conscious of what is really happening and I think that is important if we want to make real changes. You are transparent and people will see that. People will get inspired.
    Thank you for this.

  9. Love this post, thank you! Always appreciate your zero-waste for real life perspective (i.e. It’s still worth doing even if it’s not perfect!) I don’t think the trash jar is for me- since it’s not a real reflection of trash produced- but I’m glad it’s inspiring to others!

  10. I really appreciate the honesty I find on your blog. It’s quite refreshing and has helped me look at the small steps I’m making towards zero waste in a positive light instead of focusing on everything I’m not doing.

  11. I had wondered how you did this as I find it impossible to fit everything that is waste into a small glass jar. Thanks for being upfront about this.

  12. Thank you for writing about this. I definitely feel bittersweet about showcasing minuscule amounts of trash. I do think it’s an impressive and inspiring visual, but it can also deter some would-be zero wasters b/c it can seem unrealistic (it did to our family for many years). It’s such an amazing and commendable achievement; however, I wish that years ago I hadn’t been fixated on the shock/awe of that tiny amount of trash and instead learned how realistic it is for our family to produce less waste. Your post brings up so many good points. Again, thank you!

  13. To be honest, Trash is for Tossers trash jar intimidated me and made me feel overwhelemed when I first started my waste reduction journey. I almost felt like giving up because I was holding myself to this impossible standard way too quickly. Then I found your blog and felt much more at ease and happy with what I was acheiving in little steps. 🙂 I love every post of yours! Keep it up!

  14. This is something I have though about a lot. For example, if I choose to buy a product in a humongous bulk bag instead of from the bulk bin, it may produce the same amount of trash, but it wouldn’t feel as glamorous or "shock and awe" as coming home with no waste at all. The point is being more aware, not trying to have a house with absolutely no packaging.

  15. There is another point that probably needs mentioning at some point. Very little of what we put in out recycling bin actually gets recycled. Depending on where you live, most likely more than half of the plastic that is recyclable is actually tossed in a landfill. And much of the glass. So, we may feel good about putting something in the recycle bin instead of the trash, but we should be reducing what we put in the Ed told bin as well. Worth looking into? Sorry – that’s a downer too…

  16. That’s funny because my husband and I had this discussion recently. I thought that the jar trash was inspirational, he thought that its a deterrent for people and unrealistic approach. We never did the jar and we have been zero waste for 3 years + now. Same as another comment says, over the years , we realized that some items are smarter to buy in larger quantities. Best example, we use to bring my glass container to the meat counter to buy chicken and freeze it. Now we realized that the chicken they give us at the counter already comes in a larger crate lined with… a plastic bag… (of course!)
    Instead of asking every week for a few chicken breasts and having the bar code sticker glued in top of the jar- which we had to clean and throw the tag away every time- we decided to go for the box ?. The whole thing! And we manage the plastic liner ourselves (its number 4 and we know where to go to get it recycled rather then having the butcher throw it away in is trashcan).
    In short, it "looked" better at first to bring the jars but in the big picture, we contributed to putting a big plastic liner in the trash (as the grocery), now by buying the whole thing and freeze it, we at least know that we dispose of this plastic properly and we don’t generate extra printed labels. That plastic liner wouldn’t even fit I a mason jar!… but ultimately, in the big picture, it was still the smartest choice.
    I think there is many way to be inspirational, some have found the mason jar way, but I think you can be more creative and do it your own way, as you have been doing with this blog already! 🙂

  17. Great points. I don’t have a jar, and that’s because I probably wouldn’t even fit one day’s trash in there. Not because I haven’t reduced it a lot, or because I don’t try, but because I don’t have a bulk store or access to outdoor space, so I still produce food scraps and some food packaging. The ‘my trash fits in a jar’ thing can make everyone else feel bad, even though they’re doing 10x more than the average person. It’s also quite misleading as you say. Unless you put everything in there, it’s just a cute Instagram-able symbol. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be proud if your trash does fit in there – it’s a serious achievement. It’s also very helpful to audit the contents of your bin to work out your next steps.

  18. I’m confused about the jar label thing. If you take them off the jar they can’t go in the recycle, if you recycle them with the jar they can? Why? I’ve always put them in the recycle because I thought they were recyclable.

    1. The labels themselves are not recyclable. If they are still stuck to the jars when the jars get recycled, the labels end up being incinerated during the recycling process.

  19. You have summed up perfectly the issues I have with some of the zero waste rhetoric.

    Buying your food from the bulk bins doesn’t mean you create zero waste, it means you create less waste, in your home. The food was still packaged before it got in the bulk bin and you have no idea how many plastic bags it takes to fill a bin.

    Alienating people who buy you a gift because it has packaging creates unnecessary stress in relationships.

    And finally having a mini nervous breakdown about being given a straw or a plastic bag is the height of wallowing in first world problems.

    Life happens, be kind, do you best – don’t trash your life and the lives of of those around you by being an asshole about zero waste.

  20. A very important message. Thank you for sharing. I think the take away message here isn’t negativity or dispair, but that we should take the energy from the guilt over the straw we didn’t ask for and put it towards more meaningful action. Whether it be promoting and supporting scientific studies which share our common goal, education, supporting the genuine eco brands etc.

  21. Wonderful post with a strong message. I think it’s still an incredible marker to show how far you have come, and should be shown with pride. Consider how much more waste is created by people not attempting the zero waste life. Rejoice in your trash jar. Even if reality is a little skewed. It’s that little reminder and inspiration to the rest of us that we can greatly reduce our waste!

  22. Such a great post. I have mixed opinions of the trash jar too. There is no way I could fit all my waste into a jar – unless I divorced my husband and gave him custody of the kids – LOL. However, it is a great reminder that it can be done. After less than a year, even without my husband on board we’re down to maybe one office sized trash can every month or two – and I told myself that was good enough for now.

    Like a few other commenters, there are also a few areas I just gave up attempting to reduce ‘my’ trash and focused on the overall waste. After several times of watching the deli counter unwrap the cheese, throw away a huge wad of plastic wrap, cut the cheese (sometimes layering it with extra plastic between each slice) and wrap it back up in another huge wad of plastic wrap I decided stop bringing my own containers. I now either buy the 2 pound block or the pre-sliced ziploc-type baggies – both of which I wash and give to my mother to use for doggie bags since her retirement community requires that the waste be bagged. (She also gets anything else I can’t recycle in the plastic film recycling – like the chip bags my husband won’t give up…)

    Thanks again for all the inspiration!

  23. Oh, this article is so good, and so needed! I don’t think that’s how people thought of it in the beginning, but it’s certainly what it’s become. I remember reading in an article "I choose the fruit that doesn’t have stickers on so that I don’t end up with the stickers". How does that help reduce waste? Do farmers suddenly say "All this sticker-less fruit is sold out! People want more fruit and less stickers!"? Nope. It doesn’t reduce anything.

    I like how you look at the big picture, and I think your Grandma would be proud of that, regardless of your wording 😉

    1. That article was probably me. Lol. I do look for sticker free produce when at the grocery store. I don’t spend a lot of time, but if I spot one I grab it! Lol. Just because I find them annoying.

  24. Thanks KK for your voice and helping us all to a better lifestyle 🙂
    I think the trash jar has the primary benefit of helping people to be CONSCIOUS of the waste that they are producing/buying/allowing. That seems to be point of this blog as well! So I would say it is not bulls#!t, per se, and needs to be thought of as means to raise awareness of our wasteful lifestyles. You NEEDED the jar to reach the place you are today with your zero-waste journey – the diary, inner dialog, the ability to differentiate what is wasteful in your everyday – to grow and become better at sifting through all the real bulls#!t in this world…the WASTE!

  25. I live zero waste and I don’t keep a trash jar. I’ve always felt like people who should keep trash jars are people whose jobs are to spread sustainability. It’s an excellent prop to show people who aren’t zero waste of how little trash you can produce in your home. I did keep a trash jar for the first month of my zero waste journey, just to show me what kind of trash I was producing. But now I just toss the trash I produce in the municipal trash bins.

  26. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for writing it! I think being transparent and not letting the zero waste become just some cool, trendy thing to do is important. What I do is we use a office trash can in the kitchen so that we aren’t hiding and forgetting our trash. This way we become aware of the items we use that aren’t recyclable and think about how we can potentially change that (some can’t). One must do what fits their goals and lifestyle while thinking about how one can change for the better.

  27. I’ve seen trash jars being posted by many bloggers and honestly, I wasn’t convinced nor inspired to do the same. Although I believed that having a trash jar was effective until I saw this post. Now I see the bigger picture of having a trash jar and probably what you pointed out here was the reason why I didn’t feel like doing it. However, I still respect those who do it and they should continue if they feel that it is effective for them.

  28. Thank you so much for your honesty; I can’t stress enough how much this resonated with me! <3

    The first encounter I had with a trash jar was when I saw Trash is for Tossers’ Instagram. I was impressed, but overwhelmed. I’m a perfectionist, and at my worst, am able to convince myself that if I can’t do it perfectly, I shouldn’t bother at all. As I learned more about the world of waste and issues like plastic pollution, fast fashion, and the economics of recycling, I began my so-called journey to reducing my consumption. Slowly but surely, I’ve started buying cheese from a deli in my own container, refusing plastic straws, making my own yogurt, granola bars, and veggie burgers, but I don’t think I will ever keep a trash jar. I’ve worked to identify my problem areas via waste audit, and I think for me personally, that was a more enlightening and informative experience. For one, I was able to see all the waste I produced (over the course of two weeks), including things I put in the recycling and backyard compost (and when actually resource recovery rates are so low, and most of the material gets shipped overseas, recycling is definitely not the answer!), and all my gross garbage, I got a full picture of how and what I consume. For one, I had an insane amount of empty cat food cans…!

    I really admire zero waste bloggers (above all for their dedication!), and there is a place for the trash jar, but I won’t be keeping one no matter how much or little waste I produce. I’ve spoken to several friends and family members who have stated that the jar is a real deterrent for them (it took a lot of convincing my mum that she was not a bad person if she couldn’t fit all her garbage in a jar), and if what we want to create is real and widespread change, we need to get everyone on board. My philosophy is that we celebrate our (and others’) successes on our path to waste reduction, don’t sweat the small stuff and the things we cannot control, and think about how our own efforts fit into the big picture.

    (Sorry for the essay!!!)

  29. I’m neither intimidated nor "impressed" by your trash jar, or those jars of others on this crusade. It’s not a competition – lol! I am INSPIRED, however.

    I’m only 1 month in on the zero-waste journey and have been keeping a jar in my kitchen as a challenge and visual inspiration to keep myself going. As your blog post states, the jar is a representation of landfill waste that enters your HOME. Mine too. When I see the jar, I feel a sense of pride. Personal pride, not in an egotistical way, but in a happy "I’m doing the right thing (for me and my ideals)" sort of way. The jar is keeping me focused. We all know the rest of the conventional world is tossing trash left and right nearly every second of the day, so I need to be reminded of my mission.

    I’m still cycling through a lot of landfill trash and recycling from "my previous life." I really look forward to reusing my trash can as a big kitchen compost bin. It hurts every time I have to throw something in the trash can. My trash jar marks any NEW landfill trash after beginning my journey.

    I think you should do what feels right ultimately, but I don’t think you should feel ashamed of your jar! Nor should it be labeled as bullshit! Perhaps it should just be labeled as "household trash."

    Maybe you could start a picture diary of unavoidable trash items which are dealt with outside of the home (those drink straws for example). Fashion a post around those so your readers get a fuller picture…. I recently traveled by plane with my three year old to visit a sick relative out of state. While I had intended to embrace the zero-waste practice 100% of the trip, it just didn’t happen. I even ate out of a styrofoam container from a take out meal my cousin arranged, so we could eat dinner with my aunt in her care facility. I was disheartened by the waste produced from that meal, but in the moment I had to prioritize my CONNECTION with my family over my crusade.

    As for trickle down waste, well, yes…that’s part of the equation. I don’t think it should dissuade one from using a household waste jar, however. People wishing to challenge the jar with commentary about all the waste produced elsewhere may be looking for an excuse to not put in real effort towards "zero-waste." It’s not 0 waste. It’s effort, commitment, thoughtful conversation, AWARENESS, simplifying…..etc. etc….

  30. Hi there! First post I’ve read from your blog and let me say THANK YOU!
    Because this is exactly what I’ve been thinking and feeling so long as I even heard of Zero Waste.
    Here, in Portugal, it’s still hard to keep up so, those of us that are willing, take it one little tiny step at a time… And those jars don’t help at all! They make the goals so much harder…so much about the object and not the life we choose to live.
    But it feels nice to know that perhaps I’m not not that far away from my initial goals. I just have to go easy on me and take the best step I can take from now on.
    Thanks! 🙂

  31. Thank you for such an honest post!

    I am new to zero waste and feel like I’m being thwarted at every attempt. I brought my reusable jar to a coffee shop and watched them make my drink in a plastic cup before pouring it into my jar. At my local sandwich shop, the girl at the counter gave me plasticware with my meal. I told her I was all set, since I had my trusty spork with me. In response, despite the fact that the plasticware was completely unused and had only been touched on the handles by her, she threw it out. At the grocery store yesterday, I had purchased more goods than could fit in my reusable bag. Despite clearly asking both the cashier and the bagger not to put the extra items in plastic bags, while I was looking away they managed to double-bag my items in plastic. This doesn’t even touch on all the times a water glass shows up to my table with a plastic straw already in it.

    I have written to the stores to express my frustration with the unnecessary waste and to suggest possible alternatives (such as asking if the customer actually wants a bag, spoon, straw, etc.), but it is still so disheartening. I will continue to do my best to become zero waste (I’m just starting out on this journey), but efforts need to be made at the institutional and governmental level to have a real impact. Do you have any links to organizations or sites that are working to reduce waste at a larger scale?

    Thanks for your great blog.

  32. Really enjoyed this post and honesty. I think the main positivity that can come out of keeping track of your trash like that is as you say in the end, to continue seeking solutions for those little things!

  33. Oh yeah, the fun of trying to reduce your trash is insane in our "disposable" everything world. I’m lazy, I’ll admit it, so my progress has been slow. :/ However, even a lazy person can buy a water bottle, save Popsicle sticks to use as garden labels instead of buying plastic, use metal utensils rather than taking the plastic ones, buy a set of bamboo, steel or titanium chopsticks, compost kitchen scraps (hint: use paper to keep it from being too wet!), etc…

    More reason to go glass/metal, BPA "free" means they replaced it with something else. Such as BPS. In the end, that "BPA Free" plastic jar is probably more toxic than if it contained BPA.

    Then on top of that you may feel inclined to lean toward recycled paper products. Problem is, they use BPA coated paper, like receipts, in the recycling and it ends up in the end product. Those can be paper bags, napkins, paper towels, TP, etc…

    So then you think, paper bags are bad so lets go "reusable"… well those are often plastic, often not cleanable and have a worse footprint than just using plastic bags and recycling them (btw our local group that makes sleeping mats out of them for the homeless is awesome). My mother, who loves to quilt, solved this issue by using cloth and sometimes old jeans. However, if you do this or buy nice and cleanable bags, loop the cart strap or have a way to tie the bags to the cart as her’s were stolen right out of the cart when she wasn’t paying attention. 🙁

  34. I loved this post. I went zero-waste two years ago and although I am 99% there, there’s also a life to live. I’ve actually found by being slightly lenient with myself in times where waste was out of my control, it inspires myself and the people around me to try harder next time. Pretending you don’t create any waste outside "the jar" is a lie and one that makes people intimidated to try zero waste. It’s all about a process that ultimately, no matter what stage you’re at, results in reduction and a more mindful society.

  35. Thanks so much for your honesty! I think you’re absolutely right to focus on the bigger picture. As someone who’s just starting out, it helps to know that someone like you, who has made so much progress, still struggles with the occassional unwanted plastic fork. It’s such a huge, deep rooted issue.

  36. I loved this post…I knew they were bullshit! My problem with them is that it doesn’t keep resources real for people changing their life. SO much is our of your control and I wasn’t finding actual real helpful tips on when it’s hard because then a blogger would have to admit that not all trash goes in the jar.

    And I would try so hard and then think the problem is with ME when I get a straw or I travel and TSA takes away my mason jar (it’s happened!), or you say no to a receipt (but you see it get printed and thrown away anyways). Stepping away from the jar allows us to explore the more difficult areas of living sustainably and, in my opinion, affect more change.

    Thanks for this!

  37. I just love reading your blogs, and it is really helpful while I try to figure out how to live a zero-waste lifestyle with my parents in suburbia. There are always little failures and your blog is a real encourager.

  38. This issue reminds me of calorie counting. For some, meticulously journaling and planning meals is motivating and empowering, and a trash jar can be a similar tool. It’s a tangible reminder of the journey, a trophy in progress.

    For me, trying to monitor anything beyond feeding my dog twice a day knocks down a maze of mental dominoes. It’s an added chore that gives me such agita that I consider quitting altogether. I’d rather do what comes naturally, making the best decisions I can make in the moment. Screw the journals, and the jar.

  39. Thank you for this. I am starting my Zero Waste journey and this honesty makes it so much more achievable. I started Saving Jars too but I keep most of the labels on it makes it easier for me to mark what is in it. Will keep following you for tips.

  40. Hooray to you! I totally get what you are saying in this post, and I am so pleased that you have said it out loud. Some of the other zero-waste bloggers are so sanctimonius and self-congratulatory, and I find it really off-putting. Being honest and acknowledging upstream waste, and the other things you can’t control -thank you!

  41. I’m surprised other zero wasters felt pressure to do a trash jar. I’ve been making my way into the zero waste life style for about 6 months now and I never felt other zero wasters stressed how important the trash jar was, actually I read and watched 100’s of YouTube videos and I felt the opposite. Many of them promoted slowly converting into the lifestyle over obsessing on how much trash you produce. Most people also stated not to punish yourself for making a mistake. If the trash jar motivates some peopl, great but always go the path that is best for yourself.

  42. Love This! I have always hated that the whole movement seems based on unobtainable standards. I wish people would stop calling it zero waste as well. But I really love that you called out the trash jar.

  43. I struggle with seeing "the jar" as a vision of zerowaste. It’s exclusive, not inclusive and puts up barriers. I also see that little jar and think "what aren’t they putting in there" or "these people must not be homeowners" because there is some stuff that just needs to be tossed.

  44. Wow, simply wow for you being such honest and brave and thanks for letting other people know that ‘being not perfect is not a fail because perfect is almost impossible even for the bloggers’. This is amazing, and makes more sense!

    I still would think a trash jar is good for both bloggers and other people, for some of the famous bloggers the first sight ‘wow’ definitely worked to attract more people to view and inspired a lot of them including me. For non-bloggers like me, keep trash in a jar (or a much bigger container) for a while before sending to landfill can help me justify how much waste I am producing and how much reduced with the effort I put so far.
    Finally still have to say that I am so glad I read the trash jar articles first to get the inspiration and started to research about zero waste lifestyle because of that. But after jumping into the society this article kindly reminds me the very basic reason of being zero waste. So thank you both very much

  45. I love your article, and I think you should keep your "diary." I am still working on my family getting on board (teenagers and husband), so we are still generating more trash than I would wish. We also live far from a bulk store. I have though, come up with some creative re-uses, and keep working on replacements for our waste stream products.

    I live near a high school and the amount of trash I pick up near my sidewalk is alone enough to fill a jar! Some of that gets recycled, but there are lots of chip bags and other things. But I see your jar as a visible commitment. And I see it as a tipping point. It is not perfect, as you say, but tipping points don’t work that way. The more we refuse bags and non-recyclable products, the more manufacturers adjust their products to suit their customers.

  46. I love your honesty thank you! I’d say keep your diary. Feels like more of an accountability practice for you now since you’ve been living zero waste for some time now. Thank you for the inspiration!

  47. Absolutely love this post. It’s like as if celebrities commit: "i get pimples" too or I had botox because I’m getting old and am scared about it"
    It helpes us who are trying to transition into zero waste that it’s okay if we "fail" and that you do too. Also love the dick comparison, i think you’re grandma will agree 😉

  48. Thank you SO much for writing this post. I think the trash jar is only a marketing scam! It gives people extreme expectations and when they realize it is impossible to meet them they feel like they failed (this was my first take on zero waste). And some other bloggers I’ve seen never mention their recyclables, the upstream waste, the time the server brought a to go container or threw the receipt in before you could say no. I agree it’s meant to be empowering but I feel like it’s extreme and untruthful. So THANK YOU for shedding light on it!

  49. Cheers to honesty. I think the trash jars are just as bogus as you say in your post. I’ve asked some questions or seen other people post questions to others who maintain their trash jar who have been answered with silence. Thank you for being so open. It’s hard to be completely zero waste, no matter how dedicated you are, it’s not always up to you, as you say. Others may inadvertently "help" you create waste.

  50. Wow. I just randomly ended up reading this post after clicking a link on Pinterest– and you really summed up exactly what I’ve been thinking when looking at those trash jars. I think it actually scares people away from reducing their waste, since it seems totally unachievable for most people. When really, we should be encouraging people to take whatever small steps they can to reduce waste.
    Great post! I’m so glad I found your blog. 🙂

  51. This was a helpful post. I think the biggest objection i have to trash jars has to do with upstream waste, specifically restaurants. Someone’s served chicken picata on a washable plate and they ask for no straw, they act like there was no personal waste here! So, the chicken just walked into the yard and got butchered there? No, most likely it came trucked or flown in, refrigerated, from 500+ miles away, and wrapped in plastic on a styrofoam plate, just like at the grocery store. How is that not the responsibility of the diner, if it’s their responsibility if they buy that same chicken breast at the grocery store? Externalizing garbage is trendy, but it’s bullsh*t.

  52. This is very helpful. I just started my zero waste life and I tried the jar, but of course I just can’t put some things there. This is only my third week so I thought I should focus on lessening what I can put in the jar, make it a habit, and THEN I can focus on those I can’t put in the jar and lessening them. As long as we are working on contributing less waste, that’s very helpful.

  53. I appreciate this post a lot, I think it’s so important to not make zero waste come across as unapproachable or insincere. I have found that having the jar makes me think twice before purchasing something with packaging because I’ll have to fit it in there. It’s more to keep me on track rather than to show everyone just how zero waste I am. There are some things that are more difficult to bring home and put in the jar (like the occasional usage of a paper towel in the bathroom at work — I usually air dry my hands but if I’m running late for a meeting and have a carry my computer, it’s unrealistic and I’m not going to carry the paper towel to the meeting with me). So it doesn’t 100% represent my waste, but it’s been really helpful for me personally.

  54. I absolutely love this post! Thank you! I have been feeling like a hypocrite with my jar for the same reasons you mentioned and have been wanting to do away with it. It’s just become such a "glamorous" part of the zero waste lifestyle that I thought I had to have it. I’m doing a presentation in my town next week about zero waste and I’ve been going crazy with feeling guilty about displaying my trash jar and saying "this doesn’t really include some things like x, y, z,… though." . This post has given me the confidence to ditch it and go with the diary instead, and be honest about my journey! I do think tracking waste is important, but like you said, there’s no accurate way to weigh volume or weight especially when you’re a beginner and there’s so many things you didn’t plan for. Love all your posts, by the way! Keep doing what you do! 🙂

  55. Thank you for posting this! Sometimes I get exhausted by trying to be 100% into zero waste lifestyle, and I feel like I fail everytime I don’t fully accomplish it in a day. It’s refreshing to know that we all are struggling a bit and that there’s no reason to feel guilty at all.

  56. I am so far from being zero waste, that I can’t even claim to be part of the movement. However, my intention was never to just have a glass jar of trash. My little family was producing way too much garbage for only the two of us. I have made small changes. I don’t buy paper towels or disposable plates and dinnerware and use washcloths I already had as napkins. I switched to a mentrual cup, and I’m recycling everything I can. I refuse the straws and i take my own bags to the grocery store. I’ve also cut down the amount we eat out. Just those few things has dropped my garbage waste to almost half!! I was shocked. I appreciate this post and the other tips in your blog that can help me to continue forward without the guilt of it doing more. Every little bit helps.

    1. With all the stuff you just listed that you are doing, I don’t know how you can say you AREN’T a part of the movement! Great job, and thank you for all you ARE doing for the earth and future generations.

  57. This post means so much to me. I have been wanting to go zero waste for years but I’ve been so intimidated by the jar. I break glass. I have department events with plastic forks. And no matter how much you don’t want that plastic straw, they happen. Your perspective is so fresh and helpful, and inspires me to not let those things get me down!!! Instead of saying, I could never do this because I’d inconvenience my friends and be super annoying, its about doing your best always and not hating yourself for things out of your control. Its a big system and we can’t take it down with our singular actions, but we can inspire others in a ripple effect.

  58. I totally agree with every word of this. I think a lot of people use the trash jar as their claim to fame, and that makes everyone else (who is doing their best to lower their waste) feel like they’re just not good enough. It shouldn’t be about achieving a set standard, but instead should be about continually working towards a goal of less.
    – Shannon @

  59. I love the honesty even if your turn of phrase did upset your nan. I’m new to zero waste and to know that still even people who have been practicing the zero waste life for a while can still create waste even if it is accidentally is actually nice to hear. I’ve been on other blogs that talk about being zero waste who are preachy and extremely judgemental and it is very very off putting. I love your blog for the fact it’s not any of those things. It’s full of great information especially for newbies like me.

  60. I love this. I know it was posted a while ago. I always thought everything you posted here. I love learning from your experience and I am trying to figure out how to implement more. But what about keeping a picture collage of the waste that is yours vs upstream instead of a physical barrier. Then you would have the memories and more awareness of the upstream? Or how what "purpose" to set to next based on where most of the upstream or trash comes from. On my list: is how to get restaurants not to give my kids plastic cups and not to "just add" straws. They seem to add without asking first so I always ask them if they can ask from now on, or as soon as I get in there I say I’m trying to use as little plastic as possible. It is really frustrating with kids because I will even ask for glass cups for my kids and they still end up with these plastic cups with straws. Working on a solution for this. You give me hope. I am also going to use your printout for my middle school kids next year.

    1. I work at a bar and it’s really just habit to put a straw, even when I request no straws in my own drinks. My boyfriend’s restaurant has switched to biodegradable corn straws at least.

  61. I just discovered your blog and I love this topic! I recently started buying reusable (metal straws, beeswrap, cleaning cloths, menstrual cup, etc.) and honestly couldn’t believe all the trash I was collecting by making the switch! It made me feel like I was failing. Knowing that these visual "wow" factors are only a half-truth makes me feel a lot better. I know some people do the challenge where they have to carry their trash with them, it just seems so flashy and unnecessary. The goal isn’t to make people feel guilty, it’s to encourage them to join the fight for less waste!

  62. Not to be a bad guy, but Singer refuses to note that she uses gas and A LOT of electricity, the most serious waste many of us commit, on her blogging, for which she does not seem to take computer etc waste, the most horrible insult to the sea, into account. Your home waste in NOTHING compared to our e-communication at this moment. See "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," please.

    1. Laptops actually use very little energy compared to most other devices. My Mac has an 86-watt charger but the laptop itself doesn’t actually use 86 watts since it can charge up while I use it (so 86 goes in and less than 86 must be going out). I did a bit of looking around and some people have tested it at 5-30 watts depending on what you’re doing (5 is idle, 30 is heavy processing like startup time). 12 watts was the average for normal use. For some points of comparison, modern fridges use about 150-400 watts and incandescent light bulbs about 40-100 watts. Unless you are already sitting in the dark eating pemmican, I wouldn’t worry about the laptop.

      1. You’re missing the bigger picture. In order to be accessible 24/7, websites have to sit on servers that are running 24/7. Big sites like Facebook and Google require multiple data centers located around the world to run. Each server center is your little laptop scaled up a million fold and they use vast amounts of power to run and massive amounts of water for cooling.

        Then take into consideration the waste generated to create each server and it’s components, to transport that server to the server center, to support the server during it’s lifetime, then to dispose of it when it dies. Then we have to consider all the routers, modems, and devices that make up the internet itself. Those are also running 24/7 to transport the website from the server to your computer.

        So, yeah, the laptop itself is diddly squat, but the waste generated just by accessing the internet every day is probably the most wasteful thing people do every single day and most people don’t even know it.

  63. This is such a real post. I hate it when people have to put a label on something just to make them feel better and if you don’t fit into that label, it’s failure. Shit happens, you’re doing better than most people anyways. People will point their fingers at you and call you a failure, but then shove their fingers into their dorito bags and sip on their bottled water.

  64. As someone who is new to the zero waste movement, I feel this post a lot. I’ve often wondered about how buying in bulk is seen as a completely zero waste activity because as you suggested–it isn’t. You’re pouring lentils out of a plastic container using a plastic handle, not to mention the plastic that likely carted those lentils to the bulk bin.

    The "zero" in zero waste and the trash jars are both too absolute, too harsh, and too constricting or intimidating to new people in the movement. "How can I ever get my trash down to that level?" It shouldn’t be about comparison; the movement should be about empowering others to make better choices. The trash jar is a symbol of extremism that is alienating to people who find conscious consumerism (unjustly) "hippy".

    I definitely don’t judge people for doing the jar thing, and I don’t think people are doing it as a "dick measure" as some below have put it. However, I think it makes "regular", non-zero-wasters look at people like us–who are human, who make mistakes, who don’t ALWAYS make the best zero-waste choice–like we’re super heroes and that they could never do what we do. When, in reality, that’s just not true.

  65. Thank you so much for this honest post Kathryn. I have often wondered about the things you mentioned such as contacts or broken household items that can’t be recycled. I like that you focus on the bigger picture, because I really think that more change will come when companies listen and products are produced differently.

  66. I so appreciate this post.

    As a single student, I got very into the zero waste lifestyle, but after marriage and a child I let it fall by the wayside. I’m getting back to it now (thankfully with a very supportive, if uninformed husband) and I realize it has to be personally sustainable. On a tight budget, in a small town that is by no means zero waste-minded, there are challenges that could only be solved by creating other problems (excess use of petrol, etc). So our zero waste life looks different from someone living in a city with access to zero waste stores and farmers’ markets etc, but the point is – do what you can. Whatever you do is better than doing nothing, and it makes a difference.

  67. I personally love trash jars. I have a family and a dog, and an extended family that does not care AT ALL about respecting our zero waste lifestyle (read: holy plastic/plastic-wrapped toddler gifts batman). Our trash doesn’t remotely fit in a jar, but I find them aspirational and inspirational! I could see how if I were at a different stage in my life that might be attainable. It also inspires me that I’m not the only one going to SUCH LENGTHS to avoid waste. I know it isn’t all avoidable, but avoiding every scrap possible is something that’s so easy to decide I don’t feel like doing that day "eh it’s just one candy wrapper, and the candy is free, and literally no one cares about waste but me so…" It’s like solidarity. I’m not the only crazy trash-avoiding lady. It is worth skipping that one piece of trash today, and it does matter, and laziness isn’t an excuse! Yes I’m an exhausted full-time working Mom keeping up with zero waste, but I’m not alone and it’s not all in vain. Please, keep sending that message! I need to hear that I’m not alone in going to extremes to avoid waste.

  68. Glad to see this. I was prettyinvovled in the zero waste movement for a few years but have deactivated my account last year to take a break. I was exhausted by the movement. I’m so over the mason jar trash can thing. Zero waste is so much more than mason jars and package free shop. It’s a major socioeconomic issue involving systemic racism in addition to environmental concerns. But people like Lauren have found a way to capitalize off of it and make it into a trendy commercialized gig. As a grad student studying conservation and environmental studies I just got really sickened by the misrepresentations in the ZW movement. I think you do an excellent job raising awareness especially on the political spectrum. I like seeing realistic and transparent posts like this. Keep up the great work.

  69. I couldn’t agree more that the trash jar is bullshit! You don’t see how much actually got recycled, the condoms, the medical necessities etc. I’ve been trying to go low waste as much as possible but being on a tight budget means I can’t always pay a markup for food in bulk bins when I could buy things in plastic cheaper and stay in my tight budget. Even buying cheap produce not in a plastic netted bag is getting harder. If you don’t have land you can’t compost because were is the compost going to go if you only have a deck of 15 sqft? How can you afford to make your own makeup when you can’t afford or find the ingredients? I feel like it’s only really do able if you are middle to upperclass or single. With tight budgets under the fed poverty line and people living in food deserts it’s a miracle people have a roof overhead and a plastic bag of rice +beans to eat…

  70. I would personally keep a virtual list on my phone. So i know how to improve but i dont keep the stigma of the actual trash jar.

  71. Not all posts need to be upbeat. You’re not being honest if they’re all just happy, shiny, rainbow filled posts. So thank you for your honesty. This post has made me feel so much better and I will hopefully not feel so pressured to be perfect. (Self-inflicted pressure) However, it is such a huge burden put onto the individual by the producers and suppliers of the basic things we need to survive. Unfortunately at present, I’m not in a situation where I can strive for a zero waste household as I live with the in-laws so I can’t compost, grow my own produce or dictate what the others in my household buy and throw away but I am trying my best. It’s all I can do.

  72. Thank you so much for this post. For being honest about your journey. This post is encouraging. I do my best at living a sustainable life. I go through the emotions you mentioned. Know that this post has been a positive for me.

  73. Thank you! I watched a news bit about zero waste and her trash jar years ago. I had so many questions! I figured you could only do that if you were single and living alone like she was. Glad to realize that isn’t the case! Me and my family are slowly working towards a more sustainable home but we are a long way from a trash jar! Thanks for the real perspective. We will keep improving as we are able.

  74. I keep track of my trash because it helps me to look at what I’m buying and think about how I can be more sustainable with future purchases. It’s mainly for me… not to show off my jar. So, if you find a benefit in keeping your trash for you (for this or another purpose) then do it. If you don’t, then don’t 😉 Great post, Kathryn!!

  75. Great article,
    I’ve started to reduce my waste a year ago ! And it all started with a bea johnson video on youtube
    A revelation ! Not easy to be perfect, but it’s really a step by step method, to one day produce the least amount of waste..

  76. i dont feel like the trash jar is false advertising… in there you put the trash that cant be composed or recycled and in my opinion that is a great way to pay attention to the “real” waste you are producing. And i feel like in the years to come, your objective could be to maintain that same jar for a longer period of time, challenging yourself and producing periodically less waste. i dont know. i just find it amazing and inspiring. good luck on your journey and i aspire to do the same 🙂

  77. This is what I have always thought of these trash jars. I am far from zero waste but i try very hard to be aware of it and go reuseable as often as possible. But with school aged kids and a busy lifestyle the kitchen is my major downfall. I try to do home baking for lunchboxes but sometimes I get too overwhelmed and end up buying things in plastic containers. Its not easy in this rush rush world. I try to make things instead of buying them (lately I am trying to make some clothes, sewing creates oodles of waste) But these glass jars of all the trash someone has used to me, is chock full of lies because everything you do creates waste you cant even see. One thing I notice almost no one mention is the waste created by owning a car. The impact using and driving a petrol driven car is substantial, and most zero waste trash in a mason jar people dont actually mention if they avoid using cars or not I have noted. The trash jar is intimidating to people like me who are far from perfect but are trying to make little changes to improve my familys habits… I also think the zero waste movement, while definately worthwhile and important, overshadows some more pressing problems such as our endangered bees which isnt getting anything like enough press time (a world without bees is a disaster!). That doesnt stop me trying to do my bit and reduce waste though!

  78. We tried to go zero waste in the office and a lot of things have stuck, namely ditching the plastic water bottles, using bamboo cutlery and straws and bringing food from home instead of buying food out. But we still have a long way to go!

  79. I would look at the trash jar as more of an accountability jar. I think having the jar holds me accountable and reminds me of my goal.

  80. I find it utter bullshit. Thank you for your honesty and for trying. But now, especially, as most American recyclables are deemed "very not" by countries that once accepted them – the "jar" is a joke.

  81. I am intrigued by the trash jar. But honestly, it is not in my family’s reality at the moment. I can say the kitchen is hard for me. I have made progress but our trash can will most likely always be in our life.

  82. Thanks a lot for your honesty, I was really suspicious about this jar because not everything is coming in bulks 😛 and we don’t control many other things as you said.
    But I’m still progressing on my amount of trash, one step at a time 🙂

  83. Just found your blog this evening, and while I’ve really enjoyed your insights bolstered by humor and positivity, I also appreciated the honesty of this post.

    I’ll admit, I could have missed it or maybe it’s mentioned below, but I think the trash jar is extremely useful for establishing a baseline, especially for those of us just now embarking on the zero-waste journey. Maybe it should be viewed as ‘look how far I have come’ rather than ‘look how far I have to go’? Naive, sure, but I just started mine this week incidentally, and it’s already helped me visualize and group ‘problem areas’ that I now know to target. The trash jar is just ‘data’, neither a positive nor a negative thing, as opposed to our actions and attitudes. Just my two cents 🙂

  84. Thanks a lot for tori honesty in your post. What I really don’t like about some of the zero waste bloggers is that they focus on how successful they are with their glamorous perfect looking lifestyle. Every zero waste home item they use looks brand new and beautiful. They don’t share about their mistakes or moments of “failures”. They just tell you how easy it is to achieve zero waste lifestyle and they sound just so fake when they say oh it’s so easy it saves you money and they can’t understand why people can’t just follow such zero waste lifestyle, as if you are an idiot if you fail to do the same as them. The fact is that not everyone has access to an zero waste store that sells grocery in bulk. Talking about making your own diy skincare lotion – some blogger said it’s much cheaper and so easy to do so, well it’s not like everyone can buy the raw materials from a store next door that’s packaging free and they are also not cheap at all. Why they have to make it as if it is super easy for everyone. Why a blogger tries to demonstrate how she does compost, it hurts to see that she uses some totally new paper bag to store the vegetable waste. I’m not saying they are telling lies about their lifestyle, I dislike the perfection they try to create for their own image instead of really sharing their experience how they try and fail to achieve the zero waste lifestyle they are having now.