Assessing the True cost of Trash



One of the largest costs of a household is trash.  I am amazed by the amount of trash sitting out front of houses on collection day. Where does all this stuff come from week after week?

For every household in my community that pays to have their garbage hauled away, out of sight, they are parting with $325 per year. Now depending on how you look at that figure it can be low or high. To the household budget it is high but when we consider the environmental costs that figure that allows us to send unwanted items to be buried in the ground, hidden from our sight, the cost is too low.

When we talk about the cost of our trash we rarely add up the entire costs. To calculate the total cost of getting rid of waste you have to add the cost of renting or purchasing the can, the bags purchased to stuff trash into so it’s easy to carry to the curb.  We need to have receptacles to hold our trash while it’s in our kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms. We might even pay a little more for a pretty waste container pushing the costs up further.   These are minor costs in the grand scheme of things.

The biggest cost of our trash is the cost of those items we bought that led to that trash.

  • Wrapping from processed foods
  • Pizza boxes
  • Fast food wrappers
  • Packaging from electronics
  • Clothes and shoes
  • Food waste
  • Soda and juice bottles
  • Take away containers such as coffee cups, to name just a few

The list goes on. Take a look at what is in your trash can, how much of that was necessary? For those items you decide weren’t necessary add the cost of purchasing them to the cost of what you normally think of as your garbage costs and see if that number shocks you. When you see multiple cans per household each week take a moment to ask yourself how much shopping led to that amount of garbage?

Part of being a minimalist is considering the amount of waste I produce and doing what I can to reduce it.

Growing up  trash was a big issue in our home. The idea of having mini trash cans all over the house was considered ugly and unnecessary. Our home was on the small side even for that period at slightly under 900 sq feet. It was assumed we were perfectly capable of carrying any trash into the kitchen to dispose of it. Then again we didn’t eat in other rooms like we do today. We had three small bedrooms, one bathroom a kitchen/dining room combination and a living room.  We had one small trash can in the bathroom under the sink and one in the kitchen.  Our total garbage for a household of three was half a paper grocery sack.

This was before recycling! We didn’t feel deprived. Our home was filled with home-baked cookies, breads and other treats. We  had the standard meat-potato-vegetable dinners and even had an occasional soda, but back then they were bought in glass bottles that were returned to the store to be washed and reused by the manufacturer.

When I saw my trash bags stretching to their limits it was easy to look back at my childhood and see what I was doing differently from my childhood to help me cut back.  We still didn’t have recycling but there were significant differences in what came into my childhood home versus my adult home.

  • School papers.  Schools print and send home way more paper than in previous decades.
  • Junk Mail.  Marketers didn’t stuff your mailboxes with flyers and offers a couple of decades ago.
  • Packaging grew. As products became smaller manufacturers wanted those product to be noticeable. Take a DVD or a video game. Those discs don’t need big boxes but that’s what they are packaged in to get your attention.
  • Processed food and take out.  We didn’t eat processed foods regularly so we didn’t have all the wrappers and containers households have today.  Pizza deliveries and take out were unknown to us in my childhood.  Take out coffees, sandwiches on the go, and bottled water were all basically unheard of so these items never made it into our homes and our trash bags.
  • We shopped once a week and stuck to a list.  Budgets and lists were important as was not wasting time running to the store more than once a week.  When you shop less you are tempted less often to pick up that extra item.
  • Online shopping didn’t exist.  While online shopping has made my life easier, living in an area with few options for even basic needs, placing frequent online orders results in more packaging to then dispose of.

These are just some of the ways our garbage has grown. There are things you can do.

  • Stop junk mail.  Sign up for the Do Not Mail List
  • Limit the amount of online shopping you do and request shipments are held until all items can be shipped together
  • Return to a whole food diet. Shop where a butcher will cut and wrap your meats, farmers’ markets, and bulk food stores. I’m not saying you can’t have treats but make your own cookies instead of buying cookies with a lot of packaging and reduce the number of times a month you order out, it’s cheaper too.
  • Limit errands. See how many days you can go without stopping at a store.
  • Talk to your child’s teachers.  This is probably the hardest step to accomplish. Schools are so rigid today that curriculum and materials are set long before your child enters a classroom. Yet if enough parents speak out your voice might make a difference.
  • Other actions. Past generations made do by repairing and mending. They didn’t get rid of furniture or even clothes because they were tired of it. If you feel the need to replace items that are still functional consider passing them on instead of setting them out for trash collection.


Every household will have unique challenges but if we examine what is in the trash bag each week we will notice ways we can cut back. An added bonus is that as our garbage bags shrink in size our bank account will grow with our savings.



  1. I’ve had passing thoughts about this topic but then the garbage truck comes and I can ignore it again. Out of sight out of mind, right? But it is something worth while to consider as a minimalist. Online shopping is a big one for me, every time a package arrives I am amazed by the excessive materials used. Good post.


    • Hello. Garbage seems to grab my attention. Each week I look out and see any where from two to four big cans sitting outside of homes. It reminds me of the ship of trash that sailed around the Atlantic Ocean looking for any state to accept New York’s floating trash.

      Online shopping is an issue I believe we are all going to have to face one day. I can justify online purchases by saying the mailman would come through my neighborhood anyway, but then I open the package and all those packing materials have to be dealt with.


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