There is a saying, "You can't manage what you don't measure." And this includes trash. Many communities are evaluating—and thousands have implemented—pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) programs to force people to pay attention to what goes in the garbage versus what's reused, recycled, donated, or composted. The communities that have implemented PAYT programs are seeing 40 to 50 percent trash reduction. This suggests that even if you aren’t motivated by paying the least amount of money possible for your garbage, we all have room to reduce our trash by similar amounts.
There are several ways to track your trash—simple or intricate. The simple route involves counting the bags of trash you create per week (excluding recycling). Is it 1, 5, or 10? Just being aware of what you’re creating can influence your behavior and lead to a reduction in your output.
To better understand what is in those trash bags, set up labeled bins in your garage or on your porch (if you don’t have either, do this tracking on a pad of paper). You’ll want one for the kitchen, another for outside, a third for kids, and a fourth for parents (including home office).
When you take the garbage out, place it into the corresponding bins. You’ll have an instant read on where the majority of your trash is coming from. Next, identify ways to cut back—if kitchen and yard waste is voluminous, composting can help. If the kids aren’t recycling paper, this can easily be addressed. And so on.