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4 Pounds of Waste

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Did you know that the average North American creates four pounds of waste a day? That is 64 tons of waste in a lifetime if you live to be 77 years old.

Just to give you a little perspective, one ton of waste is the size of a football field six feet deep in compacted waste. It’s ridiculous how much waste we create!

I am a crazy recycler. I bring my soft plastic—the stuff the city doesn’t pick up—to a depot to be recycled. I even dispose of broken appliances responsibly. But I still make about one pound of waste a week.

If I go out to eat then the waste from the restaurant is part of my contribution as well.

It’s a problem.

What I would like to share with you is an experiment I am doing for all of 2018.

I have decided to not buy anything new.

I am allowed to buy food, toothpaste, and shampoo, but nothing new that is not consumable. The packaging alone on new stuff is crazy, and the amount of energy and waste needed to make new things is intense.

When I was a kid, my dad was the fix-it man. If it was broken, he would attend to it. He had a workbench full of everything you could imagine: small baby food jars filled with screws and nuts, ropes, and little ties. We never threw things out unless we had done our best to fix them and couldn’t.

Dad was also a farmer, so of course, we composted everything we could. And we had big gardens in our back yard.

I never thought about these things as being good for the environment; it just seemed like that was how things were done.

Then I moved out. (This was way before composting was trendy, and they didn’t collect waste for recycling back then.)

I was living as a student, and we made a lot of garbage: pizza boxes, take-out food containers, IKEA furniture. Daily trips to Winners and HomeSense to decorate our new home.

It was amazing to buy new things—new sheets, new pots, and pans! I felt like I was equipping my life as an adult.

Then I would move and sell everything or give it to thrift stores.

And then I’d do it again at my new place. New furniture, new sheets, new pillows, iPods, computers, TVs, you name it. It was so exciting to have these shiny new things in my house—real dopamine hit.

I finally realized that that good feeling, for me, lasts about a day.

When I went shopping, it felt good to bring something home. If I was having a bad day, I felt better when I went to the store and bought something … a pair of pants or a new suitcase. (I have bought a lot of suitcases over the years. They break or they are not the right size. And bags. Love bags.)

It seemed never-ending.

But every so often I would remember that from a really young age I lived in a household that didn’t buy a lot of things new. No one talked about waste; it just felt right. Living this way was probably motivated by not having enough money, but it was also a question of “Do we actually need this?”

And when I arrived in Korea—the first day I arrived, in fact—I noticed that every house had a composting bin outside. When learned that the city collected food scraps, I was so excited. My first Korean word was umshik seregi tong: food garbage bag.

I think that ever since I was a young girl, I have had an inherent connection with the waste or the carbon footprint that I make. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been a huge garbage creator—it’s just that I think about it. It is part of what I believe in.

We consume so much in this world, and we waste a lot.

Back to my year-long experiment…

In 2018, I am not buying anything new. “New” means anything that is packaged and created from new materials. If I need anything, I will either go to a thrift store or a pawn shop.

It’s been fun so far!

A couple of weeks ago I needed a spatula because the handle had snapped on mine. So, I went to Value Village and found an amazing spatula. It was better than I could have found in a regular store. And it was only $5.

Several weeks ago I was having a party and I didn’t have a sound system, and I really wanted those Bose Color Link speakers. I went into a pawn shop and they had about nine of them. I got one for under $100. Only a year old and barely used. (They usually cost about $189.) These came with no box, no styrofoam packaging, no need for crazy scissor-action to get them out.

It feels good to do this.

I know that in 2019 I will need to buy new underwear. I don’t really feel good about buying used underwear. LOL!

I may also need a new pair of shoes.

I’m curious if you would be interested in doing this with me. If you are, let me know when you start and how it’s going.

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