A lot of zero wasters are familiar with the term “trash jar.” When you go zero waste, one of the goals is to be able to fit all your trash into a tiny little mason jar. Bea Johnson and Lauren Singer can do it, and that’s where the trash jar aesthetic started. But…is it really attainable? And even if it is, is it worth it? I tried to have my own trash jar in the beginning of my journey, but…I’m not afraid to admit this: I failed at the trash jar (and that’s okay). Here’s why.
The trash jar – what is it?
It’s a mason jar you stuff with trash. The idea is to make as little waste as possible – so little, in fact, you can fit inside a jar. Big zero waste bloggers, such as Bea Johnson
(author of Zero Waste Home and arguably the founder of the zero waste movement) and Lauren Singer
, founder of Trash is For Tossers, both have trash jars.
While that’s a nice ideal, and it’s nice to have a visual, it can be pretty daunting to get your trash down to fitting into a measly little jar. Also, there are a few problems with the idea entirely I’ll address in a moment.
Why the trash jar was NOT for me
When I first started this journey, I did keep a trash jar in my room. It sat on top of my bookshelf, and occasionally, I’d add to it. Here and there I’d add a receipt, a cough drop wrapper, maybe some plastic film. Cool.
But after a while, it kind of felt ridiculous. Especially when it came to waste that I’d accidentally, or unintentionally create. For example, one time I went to a party and somehow winded up with a plastic cup. Was I going to hold onto that and put it into the trash jar too? Absolutely not.
And, of course, there are just some things you’re absolutely not going to want to add to a trash jar. Even Lauren Singer admitted she makes acceptations (ahem, condoms being the big one – who the heck is going to let that simmer in a jar?).
Then I started thinking about other stuff: What about all the unseen waste? The stuff we can’t put into jars? The waste upstream?
An example of this is the fact bulk bins aren’t exactly zero waste at all: In order to fill those bins up, the dry or wet goods are usually shipped in big plastic bags or containers. Sometimes they’re made out of paper, but you get the point, right? Nothing is without waste because we don’t live in an entirely circular economy. Yet. *crosses fingers*
With all of this floating around in my head, I kind of just pursed my lips and dumped the trash inside my trash jar out. And while it was painful to put anything into the garbage (and still is) – at least I’m being honest with myself about it.
We live in an imperfect system. We can’t be expected to make no waste what so ever. There’s the accidental waste, and the waste that goes unseen. Truly, there’s no such thing as being absolutely zero waste. But we can get mighty close.
That’s why I failed at the trash jar. That’s why everyone fails at the trash jar. But that’s okay, because it’s not really a failure on us – it’s a failure on the system’s part.
So, should you have a trash jar?
If you’re just starting your journey, you might be tempted to try and keep all your trash inside a jar too. And hey, if you want to try it, go for it. It’s a good learning experience and a good visual.
But I hope you’ll come to understand that zero waste is SO much more than a trash jar. It’s so much more than a pretty aesthetic.
Zero waste is about making better choices and embracing a more circular economy. It’s not about being this perfect, flawless being that manages to put all their waste from the last 5 years into a tiny little jar.
And if you CAN do that, then I applaud you. But, as Anne Marie Bonneau (The Zero Waste Chef) so wisely said, “we don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” I couldn’t agree more.
So don’t worry about the accidental plastic waste you stumble across from time to time. Don’t strive for perfection. Don’t aim for fitting 5 years worth of trash into one jar (or even one year’s worth). Your value as a zero waster is so much greater than that. Just do the best you can do and seek to make the changes that work for you.
Aim for realistic goals instead
My best piece of advice for you: Instead of creating a trash jar, aim for hitting reasonable goals. Tangible things you can achieve. Instead of seeking to count and measure your trash, seek to count your accomplishments.
For example, make a list of all the swaps you want to make and cross them out as you make them.
Here’s an example of what I mean…
Zero waste swaps to make:
- Shampoo bars
- Cloth napkins
- Reusable straw
- Stainless steel water bottle
- Cloth produce bags
Just create a big list of the swaps you want to make, or things you want to accomplish. Here are some zero waste goals to aim for that require little to no spending:
- Join a zero waste facebook group
- Make bread from scratch
- DIY one new thing every month
- Join a community garden
- Talk to one new person about zero waste per month
- Pick up litter when I see it on walks
- Read one new article about zero waste per week
- Join or host a beach cleanup
- Go to the farmers market
- Buy goods from the bulk food store
- Introduce a loved one to zero waste
- Setup a compost bin
These are just a few ideas, but you get the picture. None of this can fit inside a mason jar, and that’s the beauty of it. Zero waste is so much more than a trash jar. It’s about making changes to better our world as a whole. Creating a circular economy, getting involved in your community, getting people thinking.
While individual actions are great, we should always be encouraging one another to get out there and make a difference. The impact you make can never be confined or limited to just a small tiny mason jar. It’s so much vaster than that.
What do you think of the trash jar? Do you feel a similar way about it as I do?
If you’d like more tips on going zero waste, here’s my zero waste beginners guide and 60 tips for beginners.
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