A Single Bag of Trash

Photo by Rubbish Free Year, used with permission

Could you limit your family’s weekly trash to a single grocery-size bag? What about one bag for an entire year?

Matthew and Waveney from Christchurch, New Zealand decided to act on their environmental concern and go one year without sending rubbish to the landfill.

Sounds too hard, right? Their website Rubbish Free Year describes how they accomplished it. They took a complicated issue and made a tangible goal.

With every new purchase, they asked themselves, “Will this item (packaging included) contribute to the landfill?” They avoided buying things that were disposable. They recycled and composted. They reused and made things.

As I read their story, what stood out to me the most was one single question. They had contemplated how they could feel concern but still do very little, and Waveney asked, “Why did we prefer guilt to radical behaviour changes?”

Well, I know the answer. I think we all do. Problems are big, change is hard, and awareness is painful.

But what if you didn’t let that stop you?

Maybe your conviction isn’t environmental. Maybe it’s about relationships or finances or your spiritual life. What would you do if you had no fear? I can’t stop thinking about that.

Read the story at Rubbish Free Year (and of course, you’ll want to see what was in the bag).

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I love this! Nothing like packaging to make me grumpy! – it’s one of my pet topics!!! Why must we pay for all this packaging, carry it around the shop in a cart and then home in our car, and then up the stairs into the house and then pack it away in our cupboards… only to throw it out. We (nine of us) have reduced our garbage to one bag of garbage and one bag of recycling a week, just because I choose to buy products without packaging! Our garbage bag is about to be reduced again as I figure out composting… we don’t have much compost a week – lazy mother I am … don’t peel potatoes or carrots!!! But coffee grinds and eggshells… they certainly don’t need to go into the garbage… So definitely an ongoing project and a bit of a learning curve as you go.

    se7en´s last blog post..Se7en and Problogger’s 31-DBBB Part 5… And Moving On…

    • that’s amazing that cutting down packaging could make that much of a difference. I don’t like excess packaging, but I think I’ll try to avoid it even more now.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I will have to check out their website.

    Environmental stewardship as part of a Biblical philosophy is something I see a great disconnect on. My husband and I just watched wall-e last night and enjoyed the subtle, and not so subtle, message about trash, junk and the like. I find it disturbing that anyone who is mindful about the way that they live is pegged a tree hugging hippy. Their is a significant difference between worshipping the planet and taking care of the resources we have been graciously given by our Creator.

    *stepping off of soapbox now*

    Shannon´s last blog post..Garden Update: Baby Plants

    • “Their is a significant difference between worshipping the planet and taking care of the resources we have been graciously given by our Creator”

      I recently got in on a rather intense discussion about whether or not it was OK to cut down a small tree that had taken hold (volunteered)in a gentleman’s small community garden plot. He wasn’t sure how he felt about cutting it down. Jeez Louise! It’s a GARDEN.
      Anyhoot, I think this is good illustration of the earth worshipping mentality you mention and I agree that there is a lot of real estate between this mentality and responsible stewardship.



      Juliet´s last blog post..10 Things SAHM’s should stop doing right now

  3. if Shannon is stepping down off her soap box, I will step up on it. I completely agree. I don’t worship the planet. I take care of it. I worship my God who provided it.

  4. Very cool – thanks for pointing them out!
    And I like your question…I’ll have to think about that one. My immediate response is that if I had no fear, I’d apply to be on the Amazing Race! HA! Somehow I don’t think that’s what your question was supposed to get at. :)

    Seriously, thanks and congrats and on the tv interviews! How fun!

    Kelli´s last blog post..Guest Blogger

    • Oh that’s funny! Not really the direction I was thinking, but Doug and I would love to be on Amazing Race! We love adventuresome travel, and Doug can be pretty shrewd like Boston Rob. I haven’t seen the show in a long time but I loved the season finale when a woman had to shave her head to win. That was the couple I was rooting for, and it was a tear-jerking moment. Oh yes, that was a good show.

  5. Wow and I thought I was doing well:

    I am very challenged by these zero rubbish folks, thanks for the link.

    renee @ FIMBY´s last blog post..A pretty corner of my home (& an easy how-to)

  6. I have no illusions that we’d truly be able to reduce our refuse so impressively, but moving into our own house has made me much more aware of the trash we are producing. We didn’t have the opportunity to recycle in our apartment complex, but now have our nice big recycling cart which always goes out to the curb full each week. And now that we are recycling I notice that most of the trash we produce is fruit, vegetable and coffee refuse that we can easily compost. So I’ll be starting our compost pile very soon. In our situation there will also be the bonus of saving money. We pay for our trash service based on the size of our trash receptacle. We inherited the largest trash cart from the previous homeowners, but I can exchange it for a smaller cart which we will do once we have an idea of our trash production post-composting. Lower bill, less trash, free compost- sounds good to me!

    Jessica´s last blog post..Homeownership Is Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be (no pun intended)

  7. My latest post is how we have cut down not only on our trash but also the amount we have to recycle. Extremes are interesting but we can each make a big difference with our own small changes. I’m looking forward to reading their story. Thanks.

    Nina´s last blog post..Toward less recycling

  8. Thanks for the link. I spent quite a bit of time on their site before coming back to comment. We just started composting a week or so ago and it’s amazing at the amount of ‘rubbish’ you send out to the trash man each week that could be ‘diverted’ to other/greater uses.

    The excess packaging really gets me too, especially the way items are secured to deter theft. It’s just added packaging and more for the landfill.

    Thanks for sharing, I’ll be doing a few ‘zero waste’ Google searches myself to see what more we can do.

    Shanna´s last blog post..What’s in our Garden

  9. awesome! thank you so much for linking to this and blogging about it!

    nicola´s last blog post..best pizza in the universe

  10. Thanks for sharing this story! When we were in the US suburbs over the last two weeks, I was blown away by the trash being generated. A garbage bag add says that the average house fills 3 1/2 of their bags a week. Crazy!

    They forgot to mention that the waste was how much AMERICANS created.

    Katie at makingthishome.com´s last blog post..Flying Over Canyonlands

    • I’m an American, and I have NEVER made this much trash a week in my life! We are in the process of moving out of our old house while friends of ours are moving into it to rent from us, and so we had 7 people for a while – and even then, we filled ONE bag in ONE trashcan, and the bag itself was only thrown out when it needed it. And we always filled our recycle bin as well! I can’t imagine having 3 bags full of trash every week! Then again, maybe they aren’t the pack rats my family is, and they throw out their old ‘stuff’?

  11. Question: I’ve been a long time follower. I love your tips and encouragement to live a better more fulfilling life. I know that you and your family live in an apartment and I was wondering how you manage to recycle and if you had a compost bin, if so how do you organize and manage those things? Our complex doesn’t offer a recycling dumpster and I find it very hard to have storage for trash,recycling,and a compost in our tiny apartment for 3 people. Any advice?

    Thank you, Tassie.

  12. And I thought we were doing well at 1 bag of trash a week. Ours is mostly cat litter, dog pick up duty, and meat wrappers/bones. Otherwise we recycle, compost and feed all other scraps to the dog. If I could find a compostable cat litter that actually worked (i.e. didn’t smell awful and track around the house terribly) I’d be all over it.
    Excellent article – and I’m in awe.

    Liz Jenkins´s last blog post..Sweet Gravy Studio…my new piece of art…love it!

    • Liz – decompostable cat litter…Try wood pellets – the pellets used for a wood pellet stove. Use them, then pour them in your garden or around a tree/hedge. They completely disintegrate. Our local “United Paws” animal shelter uses these for their cat litter boxes and encourages their cat adopters to do the same.

  13. Hi Rachel, I found your site through Repurposeful.
    What an inspiring couple Matthew and Waveney are! I feel so bad because I was following their progress for ages and then something happened and I lost the rss or notifications – I didn’t realise their one year had been and gone.

    We’re doing a similar thing in the UK – me, my husband, our daughter and cat! We’re celebrating our one year during the first week in June.

    I’m not sure how much we have produced this year, but it’s certainly less than 1/4 of a bin.

    I’m loving your site – off to take a good old nose around now and thanks for sharing this story – it’s wonderful :)

    Mrs Green´s last blog post..Starbucks’ Cup Summit: Does the Cost of Recycling Runneth Over?

  14. Trash must be this weekends topic! Friday I was off work and took my son over to his friends house and somehow we got on the subject of trash. I was so shocked at how little my friends knew about the local recycling program. I try to reduce the trash we have in our household but can’t compare to these people.

    Rochelle´s last blog post..Baseball /Softball Fest 2009

  15. ““Why did we prefer guilt to radical behaviour changes?””

    What a challenging question, for so many areas of life! Ack! I’m not so sure I want to ask it. . .

    TulipGirl´s last blog post..Meeting Marco Rubio

  16. We are trying something similar and making progress in our stewardship. Thanks for this wonderful post and inspiration!!

  17. Good for them! That’s AWESOME! With two kids (ages 2 1/2 years old and 2 1/2 months old), I don’t think we could limit our garbage to one trash bag for the whole year.

    BUT I’m sure we could do better than we are doing now. Much better. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Stephanie´s last blog post..THEMED WEEKEND: Father’s Day Gift Guide 2009

  18. We usually have two grocery-bag sized garbage bags for rubbish each week (one for each of the pick-up days)… would be great if we could reduce that even more… always trying, but I believe it would take us a bit of time and more effort to be as successful just like this inspiring New Zealand couple (one bag in 1 year? they are rockstairs!)

    … I like the packaging reduction idea, too! I try to buy as a little as possible, but always our recycling bins are overflowing (milk jugs, glass bottles, etc.) and so, I think that is another area my family needs to work on. Recycling is a great thing, but it is a process that takes energy and usually involves products that were only briefly used (i.e. milk jugs, conditioner bottles, glass jars)… so it would be ever better to reuse or repurpose those containers, or reduce initial consumption, to lessen the amount of products that need to go into the recycling process.

    Jules @ Lovely Las Vegas´s last blog post..Las Vegas: My Favourite Places for Japanese Food

  19. Wow, I’ve bookmarked this to include a link when I discuss reducing waste on my blog. Thank you so much for the link love in your “Good Reads” section. I’m honored!!

    Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship´s last blog post..Mary and Martha Moment: Called to be Good Stewards of the Earth

  20. I actually just found this article on the internet. I find it very hard to believe that they did not have more trash. Used tissues? Old light bulbs? Something that may have broken. Hmmmmmm…..