It’s time to do a personal garbage audit

This year, I took part in the Great Sierra River Cleanup and worked with a team along Highway 36 picking up trash. Each piece of trash we retrieved was charted, which really makes you aware of what is being dumped along the roadways.

There was a multitude of disposable coffee cups from service stations and probably the most picked up item was individual snack packs, such as little chip or cracker bags. I wonder how long it will be before the stretch of highway is cluttered again? While it is reasonable to think some of the garbage flies out an open car window, obviously most is tossed.

Bags and bags of garbage were hauled to a bin at the Lassen County Visitor Center-Westwood Station, which was donated by C&S Waste Solutions. Removing trash from watersheds is an important activity and was well worth the time I spent Saturday, Sept. 16. However, trash dumped along roadways, in recreation areas and on the shores of rivers and lakes is just a portion of the problem. There is too much trash in general. It is estimated that 18,834,000,000 plastic water bottles are dumped in landfills annually, and they can take up to 1,000 years to decompose.

Their production uses a lot of resources as well. I read on thebalance.com that 1.6 million barrels of oil are used each year to produce plastic water bottles.

I recycle, as do many Americans, but is there more we could do? With the aid of the Internet, I did some quick research to find out. Max Wong, a staff writer for wisebread.com, wrote she routinely audits her trash to see where there is waste. She discovered she threw out 5,200 foil tea bag wrappers each year so she switched to loose tea and a metal tea ball to reduce waste.

Brilliant, I thought. Most websites that provide tips on how to cut down on trash suggest eliminating disposable or single-use items such as paper towels, napkins, paper plates and plastic utensils. Wong said she purchased 20 linen napkins, and 12 years later she estimated she kept 26,400 paper napkins out of the landfill. However, an added incentive is the money saved.

She wrote: “I’ve also saved, according to analysis by the Ocean Conservancy, somewhere between $645 and $5,271 that I would have spent on paper napkins in that same period. And that’s a conservative estimate.”

I mentioned the single-serving snack bags along the highway; well, many believe they create more trash. The advice by several columnists writing on this topic via the web is to avoid single-serving packaging and create your own. This includes puddings and fruit cups.

Convenience is a factor in my creation of trash and probably a reason for many people. Do I want to wash rags when I can grab a paper towel for a quick cleanup? We know most parents don’t want to wash a cloth diaper when they can grab a disposable one. Yet 27.4 billion single-use diapers go into landfills annually. Cloth is cheaper as well. When compared with disposable diapers it costs $300 to purchase a supply of cloth diapers versus $1,400 to $2,500 to diaper a baby for 2.5 years in a disposable product depending on the brand.

It may be time to do a personal garbage audit. Not only will you be able to cut back on waste, but the results may have a positive impact on your budget as well.