Adam and Amy Korst, a married couple from Dallas, Ore., produced about three pounds of trash in the past 12 months—less than the average American produces in a single day.
How? By purging their lives of plastic and buying only materials they could reuse or recycle. What little they have amassed since starting this junk-free journey on July 6, 2009—including broken light bulbs, rubber gloves and the lining from a box of Cracker Jack—fits inside a shoebox.
WW spoke with Amy Korst, a 26-year-old high-school teacher, about her garbage, why she had to give up potato chips to accomplish her goal and what she did when her Aunt Flo came to visit. (Hint: It involves something called a DivaCup—"The perfect gift for ladies heading to Burning Man," according to Facebook.)
WW: What inspired you to take on this daunting project?
Amy Korst: First would be the statistic I started hearing that the average American produces 4 1/2 pounds of garbage a day. That seemed really unacceptable to me.
How did people react when you told them about your quest?
By and large people reacted pretty well. We certainly did run into a couple people—co-workers, extended relatives—who think this is a total waste of time.
What was the hardest trash to get rid of?
Bathroom trash has definitely been hardest for us to get rid of. We both wear contact lenses. There are certain medicines, daily vitamins, floss, toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products.
Don't tell me you found a way to reuse your tampons.
I actually used a product called the DivaCup, which is a reusable feminine hygiene product. It's a little silicone cup that folds and you insert it and it catches the menstrual cycle. You take it out once a day and rinse it out and reuse it. It was one of those changes that I really didn't want to make. That was one of my hang-ups when it came to starting this project. But I started using it and it's something I like enough that I'll continue using it even though we're done with our project.
Tell us about the trash you did produce.
We moved into a new house last summer, and light bulbs in the new house started burning out. So I have a lot of light bulbs. We bought a box of Cracker Jack. I swear when I was growing up they used to have no lining, but now they have this foil plastic bag that holds the popcorn, so we have the lining. I have a hospital bracelet. We have a dog squeaky toy that we ran over with the lawn mower.
Where did the rubber gloves in your shoebox come from?
We did a beach clean-up. I've done this before, and I know that they give you rubber gloves and I could have brought my own gloves that are reusable. But I just didn't think about it.
How did this affect you financially? Did you see a significant reduction in your expenses?
We're buying drastically less. However, we're buying bottles of juice in glass and we are shopping more at Whole Foods. So we're buying more expensive groceries. And that's a choice we've made. You can certainly live trash-free and it can reduce your expenses because you're not buying as much. But if you choose to buy not just trash-free products but environmentally friendly, local, organic products, then the bill can certainly go up.
What do you miss that you had to cut out of your life?
Junk food. The other thing that I really find frustrating is I like to cook with ethnic ingredients, and I can't buy a lot of the ingredients I need without making trash.
What's something WW readers can do today to go trash-free?
I think that my mantra has been all year, when you go shopping, look at your options and buy the option that is the most recyclable. And that's a super easy change right there. It always makes sense to buy something in as big of a size as is possible because you're avoiding packaging. So I'd say buy bulk. And I'd say stop buying single-serve items period.
Who produced more trash? You or your husband?
I would say probably me, because of the bathroom trash I use. Adam uses an electric razor and I do not. So I have a few razor cartridges in our shoebox. I do take birth-control pills. And those come with the packaging around it, so I have 12 months of that in the trash. So, I would say me—but not by a lot.
Are you going to continue this?
Yes we are. I don't know if I anticipated that when we started the project.... There's no way I could go back to throwing something in the trash that I knew was recyclable or could be used in a different way.
Read all about the Korsts' trash-free year and find green living tips at greengarbageproject.com.