How Much Garbage Does Your Family Make in a Week?

Americans make 200 million tons of garbage each year -- how much is your family making? What can your family do to make less garbage?

Lesson Summary
Over a one week period, all family members will save the garbage they make. At the end of one week, the family will sort the week's garbage and determine waste reduction strategies.

Key Concept
Over-packaging, disposable products, uneaten food, and reusing or recycling can all contribute to a family's weekly garbage. Little things such as using durable goods like cloth dish towels rather than paper towels, or recycling aluminum cans, or composting food waste can greatly reduce the amount of garbage that is landfill/incinerator bound and can become part of a daily routine. All family members take responsibility by saving their garbage, analyzing it, and developing ideas on how they can make less garbage as well as begin to be more environmentally conscious shopper.

After completing the waste audit, families will be able to:

  • identify components of their weekly "garbage"
  • recognize that everyone makes garbage and that a little made everyday adds up
  • determine alternatives to making landfill/incinerator bound garbage
  • recognize that a little effort adds up to a big reduction in the amount of garbage made
  • implement waste reduction techniques in their homes

    bathroom scale
    one large plastic trash can with a tight fitting lid for collecting food, food contaminated paper, and wet paper waste
    one large trash can for all the dry "garbage"
    one small plastic bag for each family member
    gloves for one adult


    1. Have all family members make a prediction about how much garbage your family makes in a week.
    2. All family members need to be briefed on the rules of the week-long garbage collection. Everything that would normally be thrown away is saved and taken home. This includes any food that may normally be put in sink garbage disposals. Kleenex and toilet paper should not be collected because of sanitary reasons.
    3. Each family member will carry a small plastic bag to save his or her garbage when away from home.
    4. At the end of each day, family members will empty their individual bags into either the dry garbage can or food waste (wet) garbage can.
    5. After one week, have one family member stand on the bathroom scale and record his or her weight. Next have the same person stand on the scale holding the dry garbage can. Record the weight. Subtract the amounts to get the amount of dry garbage your family made in one week.
    6. Repeat the process with the wet garbage can. Record the weight of the wet garbage for one week.
    7. Add the dry garbage weight and the wet garbage weight. This is the total amount of garbage made in one week by your family.
    8. Smell the two cans. How do they smell? Is one particularly smelly? Which one? Why?
    9. Have an adult family member use gloves to sort through the dry garbage. Are there things that should not have been bought in the first place (for example, items with excess packaging or disposable items)? What alternatives are there to using these products? How much of a difference would it have made to the amount of garbage your family generated if these products had not been used?
    10. Are there things that could be reused. Remove those things and decide how you will reuse. Re-weight the dry garbage can. What's the difference?
    11. Following the rules of your city's recycling program (curbside or drop-off), have the adult take out all the recycleables (could be glass, metals, plastics, paper, cardboard, etc. depending on your recycling program). Now re-weigh the dry garbage can. What is the difference in weight?
    12. Compare the original weight of the dry garbage can with the weight after removing items to be reused or recycled. How much of a difference did this make?
    13. Take a look at the wet waste. How much of it is vegetable or fruit waste? How much garbage could be prevented if you composted?

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