What’s in Your Garbage?

People ask all the time in person and on social media “How do I get started on Zero Waste?” I see others usually respond with advice to add something, like get a reusable coffee cup or buy mesh produce bags or start storing your food in canning jars. But I think that’s slicing the bread before it’s baked. How do we know what their needs are, where their waste is coming from? Don’t get me wrong, there are things people can get to help reduce their waste, but part of zero waste is only getting the things you really need. I believe people are asking the question on how to start zero waste because THEY THEMSELVES don’t know what their needs are.

So how do you figure that out?

Deming’s Model of Continuous Improvement

Deming’s Cycle of Continuous Improvement

I come from a background of Leadership, Group Dynamics, and Change Theory. Don’t worry, I’m not going to geek out too much here, but I want to share a great cycle for making change, any change, in any area, evaluating whether it’s working or not, and making adjustments. It’s really helpful in the area of implementing Zero Waste.

W. Edwards Deming created the Plan, Do, Study, Act process as a way to incorporate critical thinking to improve process. It is a way for quality improvement of processes. And it allows for continuous quality improvement as you cycle through the model in a circular route over and over, like a coil of a spring.


In this phase, you identify the problem, think about what the issues might be, how you might get to the desired results, and decide how to test it out.


In the Do phase, you try the process you developed in the Planning stage, often a test run on a small scale. You gather data during this time.


This phase, often called Check, evaluates the data to see if your plan moved you in the direction you wanted to go, and how well. During this time you look for areas of improvement, things you can do to improve your results.


Next, choose the best solution from the data you studied and implement.

And then repeat the process.

Coil of Continuous Improvement

So basically you get a coil of PDSA to PDSA to PDSA as needed to continuously improve your process.

Relating Deming’s Model to Zero Waste

So my response to anyone asking how to start Zero Waste is really to implement a process of Plan, Do, Study, Act, and repeat, starting with your garbage and working back to the source of your waste stream. In non-Geek-speak…determine What’s in Your Garbage!

Here’s how we implemented this at our house

Plan: We suspected that we could do better in reducing our waste stream, that we bring unnecessary waste into our household. Our plan is to collect our garbage and recycling for a month and then dump it out and look at it to see what we put into our trash and recycling. This way we specifically see what we have and how we could reduce.

Do: Enact our plan. We collect our trash and recycling for a calendar month.

Study: We dump our collected garbage and recycling out onto the garage floor, sort it, and see what we have collected. This way we see what’s accumulated and what’s really contributing the most to our waste stream.

Act: From our trash study, we look for learning opportunities.

Plan: We look for alternatives to employ that would reduce specific contributors to our waste stream and choose the best solution to enact for the next month. And the process repeats.

What it looks like

Our Garbage January 2019

Our January 2019 Garbage

Here’s where you get to know a lot about us! And, hopefully, you see we are real people working to reduce our waste and are not perfect! We aren’t down to a single glass jar of trash for a year, in fact we aren’t down to that for a month, but we are making great strides in reducing our waste stream, which is the important part. We aren’t ZERO, but we are moving toward ZERO on the continuum from where we were.

What’s notable in our January 2019 Trash:

  • HVAC filter. We have 4 of these a year.
  • Plastic window films from billing envelopes. All of our bills come with two of these, one for the mailing envelope, one for the return. They aren’t recyclable.
  • 1 wad of foil Christmas wrapping paper. We got a gift from a family member who didn’t know about our zero waste plan. Foil wrapping paper is not recyclable.
  • Velvet hanger. The metal hook broke off and wasn’t repairable. We bought these before going zero waste and they break easily. When it’s time to replace them, we will replace them with more durable and sustainable options.
  • Toiletry containers. We are using up items that come in non-recyclable or non-reusable containers that we’ve acquired prior to zero waste. Still having trouble finding sunscreen options in zero waste containers. Looking for larger size containers for sunscreen to minimize number of tubes going into the trash.
  • Plastic clam shell packaging for herbs and berries. I was working as a recipe tester that required I use exact ingredients in the testing process. The herbs and berries required were not in season and I could only find in plastic packaging.
  • Medical eye wipes. Alan suffers from dry eye syndrome and was advised to use some over-the-counter eye wipes every day. They come individually wrapped in foil lined paper pouches.
  • Plastic packaging for batteries. Needed to replace batteries in flashlights and a lighted Christmas decoration.
  • Plastic packaging for new swim goggles.
  • Vegetable stickers and ties. Related to recipe testing, purchased items not in season and could only find with stickers and ties.
  • Single-use Mustard packet. Was in packed lunch provided at the Washington State Environmental Lobby day.
  • Plastic cough drop bag. Used up cough drops.

Lessons learned

  • We want to have an electronic filter installed that we can simply rinse and replace quarterly. It’s on the to-do list, have bids, and are budgeting for it.
  • Signing up for paperless billing would reduce stack of plastic envelope windows.
  • Find better options for toiletries that are more zero waste.
  • Make cotton eye wipes instead of buying the recommended ones. The commercial pads are cotton soaked in a saline solution.
  • Recipe testing creating plastic trash. Perhaps it isn’t a good match. Buying seasonally and locally reduces this.
  • Take my own lunch instead of getting a provided lunch. I wrongly assumed a lunch at the Environmental Lobby Day would be plastic-free. No more assumptions, take charge of my own food.

Our Recycling January 2019

Our January 2019 Recycling

What’s notable in our January 2019 Recycling:

  • Plastic bags from bulk bin clearance. A local grocery store was switching out their bulk bin supplies and had them for 50% off in a clearance area. When I inquired about it, they were going to be throwing all this food away if it wasn’t purchased by the end of that day, so I bought all of the items we’d normally use (flax seed, nuts, rice, etc.) to prevent food waste. Bags will go to plastic bag recycling container at grocery store.
  • Beer and mineral water bottles. We celebrated our family Christmas New Years Day and had these for family members. Broke a mason jar.
  • Plastic bottles/containers. Clients had been asking about Just Egg and we wanted to see if it would work for vegan Dutch Babies for our Christmas brunch, so I bought some to evaluate it. Alan prefers Aveda shampoo and hand/body soap over all others; we’ve not found a suitable replacement for him. To counter that waste, he buys the largest bottles available to refill dispensers. Tylenol bottle, doesn’t come in any other container. Shaving cream came in plastic tub.
  •  Tofu and soy milk tetra pak containers. Recipe testing required. Our garbage service has a recycling program for them, unlike many.
  • Food cans. Recipe testing.
  • Aluminum foil: Made large meal for our family Christmas for 17 people. Didn’t have enough cookie sheets to cover baking dishes, so used aluminum foil. Reused what I could.
  • Misc. metal: Bottle caps, extra pieces from a wall-mounted clothes drying rack we didn’t need, corroded mason jar ring from submerging apple cores to ferment vinegar, etc.
  • Shiny paper from mail/newspaper. Not usable in our home compost.

Lessons Learned

  • Buying bulk items in plastic bags was a one-off due to desire to prevent food waste. I will continue to use mesh bags and jars in normal situations.
  • Fill our growler with beer for parties or have our son-in-law continue to bring his bottles of home brew–he takes his bottles back to brew more beer in.
  • Just Egg didn’t do it for us. Don’t buy again.
  • Look for shaving cream in recyclable metal tube or try a different brand of solid shaving soap not in plastic.
  • Recipe testing creating plastic trash. Perhaps it isn’t a good match. Get a soy milk maker to make our own soy milk and tofu out of the 25 pound paper sack of soy beans we have.
  • Continue to work on reducing junk mail which causes of much of the shiny paper. Note, keeping shiny paper in the recycling bin outside caused it to get moldy and is now garbage (recycling centers can’t process moldy paper). Keep shiny paper inside garage until we have enough recycling to set out for pickup. Alan wants to continue getting newspaper in paper form. Will pause paper while he travels.

It really is that easy. We’re looking forward March 1st when we can repeat re-evaluate and see how our process improved from this Plan, Do, Study, and Act cycle. To see how this process worked for us and what our February garbage and recycling accumulation was, read the follow up blog post, What’s in Your Garbage? A Follow Up.

What do you think? Are you ready to really see What’s in Your Garbage in order to start/improve your Zero Waste goals? Let me know how it goes for you, what you discover, changes you make from using this process. Comment here or post in the Trimazing! Vegan Lifestyle & Health Coaching Facebook Community. I’m excited to learn from all of you!

Do you like this post?  Please share....

Leave a Comment

If you liked this post, you might like one of these:

Subscribe to the Trimazing Blog

Receive occasional blog posts in your email inbox.

Subscribe to the Trimazing Blog

Receive occasional blog posts in your email inbox.