Give The Gift Of A Trash-Free New Year

by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

The holiday season is usually full of peace, love and joy.  The post-holiday season, however, is always full of trashcans overflowing with torn wrapping paper, cardboard boxes and plastic packaging.  If this orgy of post-holiday garbage is one end of a spectrum, Rose Brown of Charlottesville, Virginia, is the other.  She has dumped only two bags of trash since 2008!

Given the scope of our planet’s trash problem, it’s easy to feel that our individual attempts at change are insignificant.  In the United States, each of us produces an average of 4.5 pounds of garbage every day, according to Environmental Protection Agency data.  But Rose Brown proves that one person can make a difference… and she’s even enjoying the creative challenge of living trash-free in a disposable society.


As someone whose profession is to measure the health of watersheds, Rose was intimately familiar with the impacts of trash and the pollution it causes, even when “properly managed.”  But she had an epiphany as she toted her trash to the curb in December 2008:  even though her trash was anonymous when it arrived at the landfill, she could no longer ignore her responsibility in creating it.

So, Rose simply resolved not to produce any trash in 2009.  Not less, mind you, but ANY!

As you might expect, keeping this resolution has been life changing.  It has changed everything from how she shops (with her own bags and containers), to what she buys (bulk foods and shampoo in bars rather than plastic containers), to how she eats out (with her own cup and utensils).  Rose avoids generating waste where she can, and where she can’t she looks for options that create recyclable or compostable waste.

At the end of 2009, Rose had produced just 8 ounces of trash.  That’s a half-pound in one year, compared to the average person’s 1,642 pounds!

Most of us, including myself, won’t go to Rose’s extremes.  But she sets a great example for taking personal responsibility, and showing the rest of us what’s possible with enough commitment, determination and planning.

Are you thinking about your choices and trending toward a trash-free lifestyle?  Or are you blithely generating more and more waste and pollution?  Rose proves that with some changes in purchasing and thoughtful choices, one person really can significantly reduce the amount of trash they send to the landfill.  If enough of us follow her example, the difference will be huge!

Try starting with your holiday trash this year.  First, avoid buying presents with excess packaging and plastic. Second, recycle as much of the wrapping paper and packaging as you can.  Third, if you have a shiny new toy that makes something else obsolete, don’t just throw the old one away – find out how to donate it, recycle it, or “freecycle” it (by letting someone else take it for free).

Make your own New Year’s resolution.  It doesn’t have to be zero garbage, but how about 25 or 50 percent less garbage? Find out more about what can be recycled and how at the Recycling NJ website (, and join the “freecycle” movement (

For more inspiration and ideas, read the full story on Rose Brown – including more on the challenges of living trash free – at

And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at or contact me at, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.

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