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How much trash do you make?

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You might not think you make a lot of trash, but there's an easy way to find out. Carry it with you for a day! It takes courage, but it's a cool experiement. If you do it with your friends or family, you won't be alone. Get an adult's permission first, and then try this simple experiment.

What you need

  1. An easy to carry bag with handles. A plastic bag from your local market should work, but you can also put it inside an backpack to make it easier to carry. Do not use paper. You will want to prevent leaks. A plastic kitchen trash bag would be okay too.
  2. Our worksheet. You can print it here.
  3. A scale.
  4. Some newspaper or an old sheet or towel or another big bag to line the floor at the end of your experiment.
  5. Rubber gloves. You can also use a pair of cotton or knit gloves, just expect to wash them afterwards. If you have no gloves, you can tie two other plastic market bags around your hands and arms.

What you should do

  1. Place your empty bag beside your bed when you go to sleep. You will need it right when you wake up.
  2. When you wake up, take the bag with you everywhere you go. We mean everywhere: to the bathroom, to meals, to school, to activities, to play, and to do chores.
  3. Every time you go to throw something in the trash, throw it in your bag instead. That means everything: paper, wrappers, food, other bags, broken toys, EVERYTHING.
  4. There are some exceptions:
    • You don't need to include things that you would normally recycle. Recycle those as you usually do.
    • If you are throwing out anything made of glass, please just set it aside in a safe place. Don't carry it with you. You can add it to your trash bag at the end of the day.
    • Don't throw liquids in your bag unless they are securely inside of a sealed plastic bottle. Liquids should be poured down a sink drain. You wouldn't throw these in the trash anyway? Would you? 
    • If you walk your dog, please clean up any poop, but feel free to toss that in the first trash can you see. You can factor that in later.
  5. At the end of the day, that means right before you go to sleep, get your worksheet. Sit down outside, or on a floor that can be cleaned. Cover your work area with your old sheet or towels, or newspaper, or bag. Put on the gloves or otherwise cover your hands. Gather up any trash that you set aside, like the glass mentioned above. If you walked your dog, follow the instructions on the worksheet for factoring in Fido's poop.
    • Weigh your bag. How much trash in pounds did you make? Multiply that number by 150,000. That's Fort Lauderdale's approximate population. How much trash would our city make in one day if everyone made as much trash as you?
    • Analyze your trash
      • Could you have re-used anything in your bag? Or given it to someone else to reuse? This could include things like working toys, old clothes, school or art supplies, containers and even other bags. Take out those items that could be reused, weigh them and set them aside.
      • Look again. Are you sure there's nothing else that could be reused. Can you use you old art projects as cards or wrapping paper? Could an old sock with no match be a a good dust rag? Think hard and be creative. Take those items out. Add them to your reuse pile and weigh it again.
      • Does your trash include things that could be recycled, like metal cans, paper and cardboard, glass or plastic containers? Take those out, weigh them separately, and put them aside.
      • Now you're probably getting down to the end, and some of the trash might be pretty gross. Does your bag include uneaten food? Think about why. Did your lunch or snacks include things you don't like to eat? Did you take too much food for any meal? Did you throw away food that could be used, like the end of a cucumber or half a banana? If you can, weigh your food waste.
      • If your bag includes any plant materials like leaves and flowers. Take those out and set them aside. They can be thrown in your family's yard waste cart if you have one, or they can be chopped up for mulch around plants.
    • What's left? There shouldn't be much! You might have dirty napkins and tissues, an old worn out toothbrush, a chip bag, or other things that cannot be reused, recycled or composted. Maybe you have nothing left at all!
    • If you do have things left, ask yourself: Could I have avoided this trash? Really think. Could you have used one tissue instead of grabbing a bunch? Could you have purchased a large bag of chips and taken out your serving, instead of buying single serving bags? When you make decisions like these, you are practicing the first "R"-- reduce! And that's the most important one. Preventing trash before it happens. On your worksheet, make yourself some notes about how you could reduce your trash by changing your buying and usage habits.
    • Weigh your bag now. How much trash do you have?  Multiply that number by 150,000. Do you see the difference a little bit of trash can make?

Are you ready for the next step? Now that you know what's in your trash, try the Zero Waste Challenge.

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