Waste is an epidemic in modern society. In the U.S. the average person makes 4 lbs. of trash each day. Americans produce over 200 million tons of trash each year that is contributing to environmental degradation. Not only do landfills produce harmful methane and carbon dioxide gases, waste can seep through the ground and can contaminate drinking water. Not to mention that landfills smell! Americans are also inefficient when it comes to water use. The average American uses 80-100 gallons of water per day (USGS). Multiply that by over 300 million people living in the US, it becomes a devastatingly large number. The natural resources and our environment will be in jeopardy if Americans continue to have such a large ecological footprint. That is why we decided to dedicate a few weeks to monitoring our waste and find ways to reduce our footprint.
In our Waste Free Project, we made a competition on who could use the least amount of waste. We looked at the amount of trash that we used which included solid and food waste and our water waste which included showers, laundry, and flushing. Also, we kept record of the number of bottles and cans that were consumed. To keep track on monitoring our waste, we did a control week followed by a zero waste week. We wanted to see how much waste we normally used and then take into effect how we can reduce waste. In our control week, Brendan Campbell used the most amount of trash with 3.8 lbs and was able to reduce it over a pound. For our water waste, Daniel used the most with 240.6 gallons, but ended up using the least amount of water in the waste free week.
We defined the waste we monitored to include: trash, solid and food; water, flushing, laundry, and showering; and lastly recyclables, cans, plastic and glass bottles. We did not monitor such as: greenhouse gases, paper waste, other plastics, hazardous waste, water from sinks, and water from dishes. We monitored for one week for 5 days, November 30th to December 4th. This preliminary monitoring period was to create base data of how much each person wasted without making any effort to change their behaviors. We then monitored a week of purposely trying to reduce all types of waste, which was December 7th – 11th.
We monitored all three types of waste by measuring and counting. Trash was collected at the end of each week and was weighed using a standard body scale. Brendan would stand on the scale holding the full trash cans and would be weighed, he then dumped the trash out of the can and was weighed again. The difference was then accounted for as trash weight. Food waste was estimated each week, there was not a suitable storage solution for old food. Water waste was measure in gallons wasted. We figured out how much water each load of laundry used by investigating the type of washing machine we had. We also used the model of the toilet and shower head to research water use of each. Laundry was 40 gallons per load, toilets were 3.2 gallons per flush, and the shower heads used 7.2 gallons per minute. Recyclables were collected at the end of each week and counted up.
In order to reduce our amount of trash, we had to find ways to reduce trash. In order to reduce food waste, we limited the amount of food throughout the week in order to not waste any. When we picked out food, we picked small amounts at first because we knew we would eat it all. It’s better to get multiple plates of food with small portions instead of getting a big plate and wasting food. Reading a compost could be useful as well, but we had nowhere to establish this for our project. We also tried to cut out the amount of plastic we used. We eliminated the use of paper plates and plastic silverware unless it was the only thing we had. We focused on using regular plates and silverware because living in a fraternity house, were not the only ones living there and we wouldn’t waste a dishwasher load by only having a few plates. We also made sure to reuse plastic bags that we obtained throughout the week. We did not want to throw them away and create more waste.
For water, we had multiple ways to conserve and use as less water as possible. For showers, we looked at different ways to reduce water used in showers. For every minute in the shower, it uses 7.2 gallons per minute. Brendan decided to only turn the gallon bucket to wash off but did not work too well. He already takes quick showers, so it was not a problem to switch back.
Since we all have to do laundry, we limited the number of loads we could do to one load a person. The washers use about 40 gallons of water for each load. Normally we each do two loads at a time, but we had to find a way to limit the number of clothes we used throughout the week. This was hard for us to do, but it also gave us less work to do for our chores. When it came to bathroom use, we all decided to flush when we went number two in the bathroom. With over twenty-five people in our house, our toilets always get flushed. If we did not flush, that is three less people flushing the toilets. Flushing a toilet uses about 5 gallons of water per flush. For drinking water, we decided to use refillable water bottles to monitor how much water we drank as well as not using disposable cups. We drank our water from the sink, and we used water from leftover water bottles to brush our teeth.
The winner of reducing the most amount of trash during our zero waste week is Mike with 1.2 pounds of trash. Coming in third was Brendan with 2.1 pounds; Brendan also started with 3.8 and had the biggest amount of change from the first study from the control week. Dan came in second place with 1.5 pounds of trash in his zero waste week. During this time we all thought of different things to do to reduce the amount of trash we produce in a week. Mike said some of the things that helped him reduce trash was that he cut back on water bottles and reused cups to fill water up by the sink in the bathrooms. Also Mike said he would throw trash away in Brendan’s trash can since it is a bigger trash can then everyone else’s. In our group we all came together and said that the trash portion of our zero waste week was the toughest to do, because you don’t realize how much trash you do go through a day.
The winner for the person who used the least amount of water in a weeks’ time is Dan with 70.8 gallons. Dan said only taking four showers for three and half minutes was probably the biggest way he reduced the most water out of Brendan and Mike. Brendan came in second place with 74.3 gallons of water used in our zero waste week. In last place was Mike with 74.5 gallons of water. Brendan and mike were very close with this competition, but the deciding factor was
Mike taking five showers instead of taking 4 like Brendan did. The showers were the toughest part of our project on the water waste side. The method that Brendan used was he would turn the showers on only when I had to rinse all the soap and shampoo off of my body, only using about 5 gallons of water. Dan would try to take showers under 2 min and only using around 8 gallons of water. And lastly Mike would fill up a two gallon bucket every time I need to wash all the soap off of me. I am using between 4 to 6 gallons of water. Out of both the studies on the waste and the water each person in the group reduced a good amount in each area of study.
This Project was a little challenging for all of us because you don’t really realize how much trash you actually use on a normal bases. During this time we were actually getting people in our Fraternity house interested and getting people to think more cautious about trying to save water and reduce the amount of trash you through away. We went through some tough obstacles to try and find out the best ways to save water and reduce trash, but at the same time it was a lot of fun for all of us. We got to be creative in ways never would have thought if we were not doing this project on saving water and reducing waste. Also it was cool being able to create an Instagram page to document all the trash we saved throughout or zero waste week. So in the end of our project we were all able to accomplish the task we had at hand and we are better off as more cautious environmentalist students.
Our “waste-free” lifestyle competition was a fun way to approach the issues of over-consumption and poor waste management problems. During this week we researched different ways for individuals to be better stewards of the earth by reducing their ecological footprint. We found out that the methods to change were not difficult, but changing behavior is. Taking shorter showers was the easiest behavior to change. Setting a timer helped reduce the time in the shower and significantly reduced water waste. But there were other predetermined measurements that were hard to get around. Gallons per flush and gallons per laundry load were preset limitations. We could have gone weeks without washing our clothes at the expense of becoming smelly and unsanitary. We could have also decided not to flush, no matter what was left behind. These two limitations were difficult to overcome, the only way to reduce water usage would be to improve the water efficiency of our washing machines and toilets. Another difficulty we faced was trash from food packaging. A lot of the snacks we enjoy come in plastic wrapping. The only option to reduce this trash was to not eat wrapped snacks or food. But almost everything has some sort of packaging on it unless it came straight from a farm.
Businesses make products with wrapping and packaging to keep products fresh in an inexpensive way. This behavior adds a large amount of waste. In France there are grocery stores that are almost entirely waste free, products are held in reusable containers and customers are expected to only bring reusable containers to fill up.
Often during the waste free week would forget and fall back into bad behaviors and accidentally throw out a plate of food. It was interesting to think about the issue on a larger scale but practice it on a small scale; it was more of a game to beat the other guys. If governments gave subsidies or more grant money to cities or states with less waste per capita, efforts to reduce waste would sky rocket. It is difficult for the EPA or environmental nongovernment groups to demand people to change behaviors. There would be more effort to reduce waste if people and municipalities were incentivized. It may take years before society gets more conscious about the byproducts of our consumption behaviors, but hopefully our project will inspire people to rethink their behaviors.