THE ZERO WASTE CHALLENGE

The sound of the County trash truck on the last day of April reminded Bob and Camille that they had not hauled their trash can to the street in four weeks.  But they weren’t worried about getting their trash to the curb; they were excited about staging it for a photo with the rest of their generated waste for April.

 

Bob and Camille with their 4 pounds of trash (in front) and 86 pounds of recyclables from April.  Shaun Stenshol, Zero Waste Challenge winner with his tiny, one-pound bag of trash in front and 99 pounds of recyclables.

The Armantrouts had been participating in a Zero Waste Challenge instigated by Shaun Stenshol, president of Maui Recycling Service.  “We had been talking about a ‘Plastic Free Month’ and I thought, ‘Why not take it a step further and aim for a Waste-Free month?”  Shaun explained.  Both households were already composting all their food waste and recycling most of their other trash.

Zero Waste really means Zero Landfill.  According to the Grass Roots Recycling Network, “Zero Waste maximizes recycling, minimizes waste, reduces consumption and ensures that products are made to be reused, repaired or recycled back into nature or the marketplace.”  Shaun, Bob and Camille would love to see Maui join Australia, New Zealand, and Toronto in their commitment to achieving Zero Waste.

Bob stressed the importance of sustainability.  The goal of this experiment was to produce new practices for both households as opposed to winning the challenge one month for the smallest amount of trash.  They couldn't cheat by eating out because they had agreed to bring home all disposable containers from outside meals.  The changes they made this month would have to be changes they could sustain over time.  Suppressing consumption for one month would have been wrong because it would have caught up with them in another month.

That’s why Bob went ahead and bought a new scanner in April.  “I thought about waiting until after the challenge, but decided to go ahead and get it.”  He said.  When he got the scanner home, Bob discovered that it was packaged with two blocks of Styrofoam which could not be recycled or composted.  This Styrofoam doubled their contribution to the landfill.  Bob plans to contact Hewlett Packard and encourage them to use recyclable packaging in the future. 

At the end of the month, the Armantrouts had generated 86 pounds or 7.4 cubic feet of  waste that couldn’t be composted.  “Imagine if we had to bury this in our front yard every month!”  Said Camille.  Fortunately, they will be able to recycle all but 4 of those 86 pounds.  Four pounds for two people sounds pretty good, but Shaun won the challenge.  His total came to 100 pounds, but only 1 pound of that will end up in the landfill.  He recycled 99% compared to our 95.4% of total generated waste stream by weight.  These figures would be much different if both households hadn’t composted all food waste and paper products.

This exercise allowed them to pinpoint stress points in their personal waste disposal system.  The big offenders were beer bottles and non-recyclable plastic.  “Even though the beer bottles are recyclable they constituted 35% of our waste stream by weight.”  Camille explained, “Nearly all of what we sent to the landfill was non-recyclable plastic such as dairy containers and Styrofoam.”

MATERIAL

POUNDS

CUBIC FEET

PERCENTAGES

by Weight

by Volume

glass

53

3.60

62%

49%

plastic

4

1.30

5%

18%

tin/aluminum

2

0.40

2%

5%

cardboard

5

0.40

6%

5%

mixed paper

18

0.40

21%

5%

trash

4

1.30

5%

18%

TOTAL

86

7.40

100%

100%

Beer bottles

30.5

2.25

35%

30%

Styrofoam

1

0.70

1%

9%

The Armantrouts will continue to avoid plastic packaging and use their compost bins as much as possible.  Bob has ordered beer making equipment to help reduce the amount of glass they generate and Camille promises to begin making her own yogurt.  In a few months, this household may be able to cut their total waste in half.  Composting has already cut their trash down by about 30 pounds or 5 cubic feet per month.

For more information on Zero Waste, visit Grass Roots Recycling Network's Zero Waste Page or contact Shaun Stenshol or Bob & Camille via email.

Camille Armantrout, Maui 2002

The Author with her household trash from April, 2002