340-Squared: Taking Out the Trash - A Monthly Chore?

*This is the second in a new series of posts from NM's cooler half, Kyle.  She's sharing the details on living the good life in a 340-square foot studio apartment. - Cary

What if each and every person was responsible for their own waste?  And every household had a mini landfill and compost pile in their backyard or alley?  

If that were the case -- where we all had to live within sight of our own waste -- I can bet that our consumption habits would immediately and drastically change.  We would think twice about purchases with massive amounts of packaging and our online shopping habits.  Likely the entire packaging industry would be flipped on it's head...a girl can dream, right?

As a student of sustainable design, I’ve learned that one of our greatest opportunities to relieve our planet from the strain of consumerism is to reduce our personal waste output.  

The topic of waste is something I love to think and talk about often with Cary, friends and family.  So those who know me well weren't surprised that my favorite part about moving into my own little studio was that I could now accurately monitor my personal trash output (nerd!). 

When I first moved into my studio, it was my goal to generate only one bag of trash per month. 

Full disclosure: this does not include recycling (which I also try to keep to minimum) nor does it include compost.  

As my first weeks past, I was surprised by how easy it was.  The paper bag under my sink was not filling nearly as quickly as I feared.  I choose paper bags because I inevitably have one in the house from when the times I forget to bring a reusable shopping bag.  They decompose faster and easier than plastic bags and since they stand on their own, I don’t need a bin.

Eww, you keep your trash for an entire month?

As a New Minimalist I don’t really shop for material goods anymore, which means that 95% of the items which cross my threshold are of the food variety.  And since I eat a primarily vegan diet, the plastics that occasionally accompany my food and need to be trashed are not of the mold-inducing variety.  Anything else can go directly into the compost.  

For the bathroom trash bin, I found a cache of extra-large ziplock bags from past travels, so I use those as mini liners.  These provide a tidy way to zip up and throw into the larger bag anything that has collected. 

A painting project put me over one bag of trash during my first month of 460-Squared.

So what about compost?  Doesn’t that smell?  

Yes, yes, it does.  And I live on the 3rd floor of an oddly-designed building (two keys are required to exit the building…to exit!), so I’m not about to bring my compost down to the basement every few days.  

Enter ingenious idea via my boyfriend: why not store your compost in the freezer? 

So I grabbed a plastic bin that I bought bulk spinach in and used that to hold my compost in the freezer.  It was perfect!  That is until my freezer started to overflow with old frozen produce.  Rinsing and reusing the bins was turning into a pain, which meant that I wasn’t taking it out as often, leading to Freezer Overflow Syndrome.  

First compost receptacle = spinach box. A little too funky to rinse and reuse (image via

After some thought, I realized I needed something to hold the compost in that I could also compost.  So I cut the top off a paper bag and, ta-da!  A close-to-perfect compost solution!  Now when it gets full, I grab the entire bag (and hope that it doesn’t melt into compost puddles by the time I reach the basement) and toss it in the compost.  So far so good.

A-ha! Paper bag in the freezer makes for the perfect compost bin.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the norm.  I recently had friends over for a dinner where we cooked fish.  I kept the packaging from the fish separated from my normal trash and took it out the next day with the recycling of (a few too many) wine bottles. 

The 3 Secrets to Making 1 Bag of Trash Work for You:

  1. Don't buy tons of junk.  This first step is really the most important.  In order to not release trash into the world, you have to first decide to not bring trash into your home.
  2. Recycle whenever possible.  Taking the time to rinse and sort recyclables leaving your home can make a huge impact on your waste and take little to no time.  Unsure about what you can recycle?  Learn more from your local government or read this guide
  3. Compost.  This is the trick that really makes it all possible.  It keeps my trash dry and stink free.
  • As a San Francisco resident, I am so lucky to have a weekly municipal compost pick-up (gone are the days in Brooklyn when my roommate and I would carry the compost 7 blocks to a nearby church!).  If you live in SF or many parts of the Bay Area you can click here to learn more.
  • If you do not have municipal compost, search online for farms or organizations who gladly take the nutrient dense discards.  
  • If possible, look for a location that is already along one of your existing weekly routes.  That way drop offs become second nature.  
  • For those of you who live in homes, check with your local garbage service about reducing the size of your garbage bin as you compost more.  Frequently this makes you eligible for a cheaper trash pick-up rate!  

Could you make it a month with one bag of trash?  I'd love to hear about your journey to creating less trash -- tell us about it on Facebook!

My second month's worth of trash. Want to join the 1 Bag challenge?