More than a year since I emptied my garbage

June 14, 2018 by Joshua
in Nature

More delicious, more convenient, more social, more food, more satisfaction, less money, less preparation time, more joy.


Avoiding packaging.

Avoiding packing by at least 90% has reduced my garbage to where I empty it less than once per year.

Me holding a year of garbage

Me holding a year of garbage

Think you can’t do it?

I’m not special. Anyone can do the same.

It took a while to transition—going from emptying garbage weekly to biweekly, to monthly, and so on to annually. It was hard, not impossible, and it improved my life at every step, same as it will with you. I’m aiming for biannually next time.

I empty recycling 2 or 3 times per year, since it pollutes too, nearly as much as landfill garbage.

Reducing consumption reduces pollution a lot more.

And it tastes better, saves money, saves time, and connects me with friends, family, and farmers more.

EDIT: While many respond by saying they feel inspired and find ways to accelerate their waste reduction path, many respond with how they have family, have to travel, or whatever makes them special snowflakes, uniquely helpless. Obviously, I made things work for my life not anyone else’s, so others would make things work for their lives, or you for yours.

Bea Johnson’s videos, her page, and conversation on my podcast show a family of four producing less garbage than I do. She became a role model for me, though I only learned about her after making this video.

EDIT 2: I didn’t empty the garbage that day. I ended up emptying it in September, about 16 months after starting the load.

Here’s the video:

Today is June 14. I still haven’t emptied the garbage since I haven’t had much to add to the bag.

Here’s the opposite of the video:

Plastic on the beach

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18 responses on “More than a year since I emptied my garbage

  1. Okay, so like what’d you do? If you only talk about what you’ve done and not how you’ve done it, you’re not inspiring anyone or changing anything, you’re just bragging.

    • I posted what would have been valuable to me before I did it — mainly that reducing waste this much was possible and how to make it happen, which is just to decide to avoid food packaging for a week. Everything else resulted from sticking with it. I believe that making that decision and sticking with it is the best way to learn how to do it.

      I hold off on sharing specifics because I’ve found that when I share them with people, almost everyone responds by pointing out some difference that justifies why it wouldn’t work for them, like they’re just looking for excuses. For example, if I say how I started shopping at farmers markets, they’ll say there are none near them and stop trying or even thinking

      But I made choices that work in my life based on my community, tastes, etc. If they chose to avoid packaging, they’d make choices that would work in their life.

      I’m glad you called it bragging since it implies you value reducing waste too. If you do, I’m happy to help. I just don’t want to walk into the trap of feeding people’s apparent desire to make excuses.

      It sounds like the message that would have helped me most isn’t what would help you most. I don’t know if there are shortcuts to learning to shop and cook unpackaged foods, but if you ask specific questions, I’m happy to help.

      Can you be more specific than “what’d you do?”

      • Hey Josh,

        First, I’d like to apologize my tone in my comment — I’ve been in a bad mood generally lately and it was rude. Thank you for responding with grace and class.

        As to the content of your comment: now that I’ve sat with your post for a few days I’ve started thinking more and more about reducing waste in my daily life. Like, I bought a snack today of chocolate milk and a bag of chips from the store, and as I was eating it, I *saw* that packaging waste, as though for the first time. I’ve been paying more attention to the bags at the grocery store, and not just the shopping bags — the produce and bulk bags are even worse than those. So your post got me really thinking, and I guess thinking that it is indeed possible to eventually get extremely low-waste like you have.

        I do value reducing waste; thanks again for turning my negative comment into something positive! And I understand that trap — I’ve fallen into it myself, or not said things because I was afraid I’d fall into it. I genuinely would like to hear more about specific things I can do to radically reduce my waste. Right now, I save my glass jars, but that’s about it, lol. I have some cloth shopping bags but forget to take them into the store; I’m sure *remembering* would help. And we do have a Farmer’s Market here; I just need to *go* more often. And I just bought some kitchen towels to use instead of paper towels, but I haven’t started really using them yet. So I know a few things, but I’d love to hear more, especially if you have any tips vis-a-vis getting into the habit. — Like, how do you buy bulk foods, and from where? Do you know if Whole Foods, etc. will allow you to bring in your own jars, or maybe I could reuse their plastic containers? — Do you have tips on being brave in refusing plastic bags from, say, farmer’s market stands? — Do you buy soaps and detergents in huge industrial containers and decant them into reusable ones for everyday use, or do you make your own, or something else? And I’d love to just hear some other things you do that reduce waste so I can see what’d work for me that I’ve not thought of! (If you don’t mind)

        If you don’t want to get specific on the open ‘net where you can be brigaded, please feel free to send me an email at the account I’ve provided (it’s weird because I’m worried about spam). Thank you, again, for your graciousness and making me think about what I can do to cut down my waste.


        • I appreciate your responding with grace and class too. I took so long to reply because I kept reading what you wrote and wanted to match that class, which takes time.

          Mainly I’m glad to see your acting, reflecting, and, as I read you, growing and changing. I took a while to reach one bag per year (actually 13 months now since I haven’t gotten around to emptying that garbage yet. When it’s all dry, it doesn’t go bad and I don’t accumulate much more in a month). Your experience seeing waste in a new way tells me that you’ll soon find yourself reducing your consumption. A month or so later I bet you will find it hard to believe what you wasted before now.

          For me, I didn’t start trying to radically reduce. I just found that each reduction improved my life. Developing the expectation that reducing improved my life motivated me to find more and more.

          If I go to the store and forget to bring a container for the bulk food, I don’t get what the forgotten container was for. In fact, I did that today. I’ve learned to put spare bags in my big shopping bag (a decades old Eddie Bauer bag I think I used as an undergrad, which would mean I got it in the 90s — I can’t believe people get new bags for shopping when they can keep a bag in rotation for decades).

          For the farmers market, it helped for me to buy a bunch of vegetables I may not have known what to do with and use them until I learned. That switched my trips there from not knowing 80% of what they sold, which makes buying anything risky, to knowing 80%, which makes experimenting with the remaining 20% fun and adventurous. So I recommend buying some random produce each time. This year, for example, I learned about burdock root and its leaves, which I love. I’d never heard of them before.

          For bulk food, I bring old bags and jars and fill them with nuts, seeds, oats, dried legumes, etc. The cashier weighs them at the check out, subtracting the weight of the container (have them weigh it empty on the way in and write the weight on the container).

          I can’t stand Whole Foods since it’s nearly all packaged food so I shop at my local natural food store for bulk.

          For refusing plastic bags, I find polite persistence works, as does them seeing you have a bag if you do. I often say, slightly jokingly, “I’m trying to save the world,” which seems to help them let themselves off the hook. I also think of how each bag will be around 400 years from now. I think of images as in this post —

          I switched to using hand soap to wash dishes. It seems to work fine and I’m still working through a pile of hand soap I’ve had for years. I’ve found lots of videos on how to make grooming stuff from scratch which I’ll probably start doing.

          I’m more active on trying new things from videos with food, especially when I learned how easy and tasty sauerkraut is, so I started fermenting the vegetables I couldn’t finish from each CSA delivery. My next experiment will be making vinegar from scratch since it’s one of the few things I bought in a container in the last year. Making my own will probably taste better and will reduce my waste by one bottle per year, roughly, which is a few percent of my total.

          Summing it all up, I made a project out of it. I look at avoiding waste as I used to look at putting Lego pieces together. I find it fun and challenging. I learn about my values. I learn how society doesn’t always have my interests at heart. I keep redefining impossibility for myself as I do things I used to consider impossible.

          I develop integrity by living by my values even when no one else knows.

          I hope that wasn’t too long a post. I think I still left some questions unanswered but practice will answer them better for yourself than I could.

          I hope it helps. Please keep me updated. I look forward to seeing a picture of a year’s garbage for you fitting in a small bag and how you respond to naysayers, doubters, and other unhappy people ;).

  2. Bravo Mr. Spodek. Let’s disrupt the consumer packaged foods industry in a big way!

  3. my favorite line, “this is the lowest bar you could compare yourself to” — great video + ideas for putting all in perspective, thank you for sharing~

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