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My Weird Relationship With Waste

I’m no hoarder—look, no dead cats!—but I do have a messed up relationship with waste management.

Things are easier said than done, or so the old adage goes, and we couldn't agree more. That's why we do The GOOD 30-Day Challenge (#30DaysofGOOD), a monthly attempt to live better. Our challenge for July? Waste less.

Compulsive hoarders refuse to discard their trash because they can’t bear to part with the tiniest little personal effect. I have the opposite feeling about stuff—even thinking about the mass of waste products that accumulate as a result of my lifestyle every week puts me on edge. I’m no hoarder—look, no dead cats!—but I do have a messed up relationship with waste management. Addressing my trash means taking stock of the way I eat, drink, and blot my lips. I just want that stuff gone—I don’t even want to feel the weight of the plastic bag under my hand.

In theory, GOOD's July challenge—to produce just one paper grocery bag of trash per week—is right up my alley. In practice, it means taking a really tough look at every little piece of trash I create in my daily life. And that gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Public consumption. A few weeks ago, I was walking down a street in Los Angeles with a just-finished bottle of water. I scoured the landscape for a receptacle in which to dispose of it. I hunted down a couple of side streets, leaned around light poles. Couldn’t find a can. So I announced what I believed to be only other option: Shamefully ditching the bottle over a fence in a nearby construction site. My boyfriend suggested that, instead, I hand the bottle over to an employee of the bar we were preparing to enter. I did it, but I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling of human waste exchanging hands.

Weight. When I was living with my boyfriend, trash removal was under his purview. I preferred scrubbing dirty dishes (the scraps are washed out of sight down the drain) and scooping cat poop (her waste, not mine) to lugging several bags of human product out from under its discreet lid and into the light of day. The discarding of trash is the final step in putting your consumption far, far out of your mind, and something about the uncomfortable weight and bulkiness of the bags grates on me. Why is there so much pasta in here? Something’s leaking—is that maple syrup? Did I even eat maple syrup this week? When? Oh God—yes.

Contents. It’s worse now that I’m living on my own. At least before, my trash was intermingled with another person’s, and it was easier to dissociate my own behavior with the waste piling up on the curb. Now, it’s all me. I’ve come to terms with lugging my own trash, but I’m always a little nervous that another member of my group house will catch a glimpse of the remains of one of my more shameful consumption habits. The cheese rind with teeth marks—that’s pretty fucking weird. The receipt for the Martha Stewart wall calendar—Why did I pay $10 for that?

Noise. So yes, I time my trip from trash can to dumpster when I’m pretty sure that no one else is around. But even if I manage to remove my trash without being seen, the act of gathering the trash together can pose an issue. That clinking and scratching—I know that’s the sound of one too many bottles of wheat beer co-mingling with the dusty remains of a pack of cherry sour straws. I don't want to know what it sounds like to anyone else.

Recycling. That’s just uncomfortable. Categorizing my waste between the recyclable (bottles, cans, newspaper) and the irredeemable (why are there so many paper towels in here—how could I have possibly used this many paper towels) forces me to stare directly into the heart of darkness.

Procrastination. From time to time, I hoard. A little bit! When there’s no good time to slip the trash out, the bags can start to pile up, making me even more anxious about the next trip. Why is she carrying so much trash out? How could one person create so much trash? I like to think that if I died in there, nobody would be forced to come in and exhume the place with a mask and a shovel, but I suppose it depends on how long it takes to find my body.

I think this month's challenge may help me resolve some of my issues: I'm already getting used to confronting every little sugar packet and banana peel, and watching everyone else in my office collect and lug their trash with them helps to normalize the situation a little bit. I'm never going to be truly comfortable with all the waste I produce, and that's a good thing: The more I cut down on my trash, the better I'll feel about throwing it away.

Photo by brad montgomery, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

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