Thursday, March 02, 2006

This Post Is Rubbish

I'm reading this book called Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte, in which the author goes about investigating what exactly happens to our garbage after the magical garbage fairies conveniently remove it from our curbsides. It's a pretty interesting book, especially considering that it's about, you know, garbage.

Anyway, as part of her examination of the topic, Royte went through her own kitchen garbage every day, sorted through and cataloged its contents, and weighed it. She found the results a little depressing and it's made me wonder a bit about what my own refuse output looks like. So I decided to find out. Now, there's no way I'm going to go picking through trash, even my own, given that I'm not getting a book deal out of it. But as a sort of experiment, for 24 hours I wrote down everything that I threw into the kitchen trash can. (And, yeah, it's not exactly good scientific methodology, given that the fact that I was thinking about what I was throwing into the trash was bound to bias my results. But I at least tried to keep to my normal patterns.) Like Royte, I stuck to the kitchen garbage, rather than paying attention to the little stuff I threw in various wastebaskets around the house, meaning I missed some papers, a bunch of kleenex, and, I dunno, dental floss and stuff. Also the scoopings from the cat box, which went into a separate bag and right into the outside bin, because, yuck, cat poop. Also not included is anything I threw away at work, where I regularly eat at least one meal.

And -- drumroll please! -- here are the ever-so-fascinating results.


- a tiny piece of unidentified plastic wrapper I found on the floor
- a few pieces of Kitten Chow that either the cats or I spilled on the floor
- four used kleenex
- seven foil tea bag wrappers
- three tea bags (the other four went elsewhere)
- two paper flaps off of Netflix envelopes
- some fluff that detached from a scratching post
- two paper towels
- several of pages of newsprint (the cut-down, two-page free version of a local paper plus several more pages of ads)
- pull-tab from an orange juice carton
- banana peel
- three pieces of junk mail
- three old issues of TV Guide
- an empty box of chocolate Malt-o-Meal, plus about a tablespoon and a half of the Malt-o-Meal powder itself (which wasn't enough to make an actual meal out of)
- instant oatmeal packet
- plastic band that held the lid on a plastic bowl of fruit
- paper napkin
- empty ice cream carton

They say what you throw away potentially says a lot about you. I don't know that this reveals anything particularly interesting about me, other than the fact that I drink absurd amounts of tea (especially when I've had four hours of sleep and desperately need to keep the caffeine flowing) and that I didn't get my first choice of breakfast this morning.

There's also a disturbing amount of paper in there, I admit, which I really ought to be recycling. Sadly, there is no curbside recycling where I live, and it has occurred to me to wonder if the gas I'd burn to take the stuff to somewhere I could recycle it wouldn't damage the environment more than the recycling would help.

What I found really interesting is how often I found myself opening that trash can, and how automatic it was. Indeed, I got home from work last night and was walking around the house doing various little things and thinking about how, yes, I really was going to try writing down everything I tossed out for the next 24 hours, and suddenly stopped dead in the middle of the kitchen when I realized that, while I was thinking this, I had picked up the piece of plastic wrapper, opened the trash can, and dropped it in, apparently without even noticing I was doing it. I'm sure that's got to be a profound metaphor for something.

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