Getting to Zero Waste: Q4 Results and Year 1 Summary

For the past year, I’ve been trying to minimize the amount of garbage, paper, plastic and glass leaving my home and heading for the landfill or recycling center.  While I’ve long been a re-user and recycler further down the waste stream, this has been my attempt at reducing my footprint from the point of consumption.

In the first quarter of the year (January-March), I realized I was a long way from zero waste. Although, at an average of 0.79 lbs of trash per day, I was also a long way off from the average American household, which disposes of 4.4 lbs of trash per day!

In the second quarter (April-June), with the first quarter serving as a mental benchmark, I started thinking about the things I bring into my home which then need to go back out almost immediately through the trash.  I made a small daily dent in my trash, getting it down to 0.66 lbs per day.

I made significant improvements in the third quarter (July-September) by eating less fast food, reading newspapers in public places and leaving them there, using glassware at coffee shops and the co-op, etc. In this quarter, I achieved my initial goal of getting below 0.50 lbs per day: 0.48 lbs per day in Q3!

I then recalibrated my goal and wondered if I could cut my waste in half, from the beginning of this experiment to the end of Q4. Could I go from 0.79 lbs per day to less than 0.395?

With much anticipation at the scale and calculator, in the fourth quarter of 2013 (October-December), I tossed out:

  • 7 lbs of paper
  • 15 lbs of trash
  • 9 lbs of plastic & glass
  • 31 total lbs of trash = 0.37 lbs / day

I did it!  I cut my daily trash in half over the course of a year!

To compare the quarters, it looks like this:


  • Q1: 0.32 lbs / day
  • Q2: 0.25
  • Q3: 0.15
  • Q4: 0.08


  • Q1: 0.27 lbs / day
  • Q2: 0.31
  • Q3: 0.23
  • Q4: 0.18

Plastic & Glass

  • Q1: 0.20 lbs / day
  • Q2: 0.10
  • Q3: 0.10
  • Q4: 0.11


  • Q1: 0.79 lbs / day
  • Q2: 0.66
  • Q3: 0.48
  • Q4: 0.37

If I stay at this level of waste, I’ll be sending 135.05 lbs of waste to the landfill or recycling center each year.  That’s well below the average American waste weight of 1,606 lbs per year and also 153.3 lbs per year less than I was sending off at the beginning of 2013.

And while my ideal is to get to zero waste, I don’t know if that’s entirely possible.  Well…of course it is, but maybe it’s more accurate to say that I don’t know if I’d be able to take the next steps to entirely remove myself from the waste stream.

I’ve detailed waste-reduction tactics in previous zero waste posts, but my next steps might be:

  • Avoiding packaged food.
  • Seeking out alternatives to plastic packaging, such as foods or products not in any packaging or in glass packaging that’s returnable.
  • Minimizing junk mail. I started using Paper Karma, at the suggestion of friend and blog reader Stacie Jacques, and it has definitely helped.

This year of getting down to zero waste has been really eye-opening. I’m more mindful, less wasteful and I think I’m even eating healthier because of this experiment!

And that’s what it’s about for me: being mindful of what I bring into my life and what I offload onto the environment.  The numbers, charts and tracking are just the fun bonus!


Photo credit: Wesley Fryer

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