Trash Talk: Are You Up for the Challenge this Earth Day?

Written by Alex Schultz, ERS

Did you know that the United States produced 278 million tons of municipal waste in 2017equivalent to 4.51 pounds per person, per day?

Earth Day is Wednesday, April 22, which makes now a great time to reflect on ways we can make more sustainable choices in our everyday lives. If you’re up for a challenge, join your family, friends, or coworkers in collecting your trash in a sandwich bag, jar, or container for a whole week. The point is to limit your waste production to a small volume and, more importantly, reflect on how much and what kind of trash you actually produce.


  • Use a container you already have – no sense in creating a new piece of waste to collect your waste. The container should be no bigger than a gallon. Think: used freezer bag, empty jar, Tupperware, etc. Transparent containers are ideal so you can actually see what you collect.
  • Anything that would go into a trash can goes into your container! That means product packaging, cleaning wipes, take out containers, produce stickers, contact lenses, food wrappers, broken pens – anything and everything that you find yourself going to throw away.
  • If you can divert it (repurpose, compost, recycle), it doesn’t have to go in your container. (Note that recycling is still a fairly wasteful process, but that’s a topic for another day. But recycling is better than tossing straight to a landfill. Recycle responsibly, though – check those plastics!)
  • Collect your trash for one whole week. Document your progress, struggles, and takeaways!
  • You are most likely staying home right now, but if you have a good reason to leave, bring your container with you and collect any trash you create on the go. Trash tossed outside the home is particularly easy to forget about – think condiment packets, plastic utensils, receipts, flyers.
  • If there are multiple people in your household, encourage everyone to participate! You could take on the challenge as a team, or have a competition amongst yourselves where everyone gets their own container.

Most importantly, remember that the goal here is to reflect on our habits. If you fill up your container, take note of why and grab another so that you can see a full week’s worth of trash together. Taking an honest look at the waste we create is the best way to understand how we can improve.