I (a single person, me, myself) fill and dispose a 30 liter bin every couple of days, and I feel uncomfortable with it, but I don't have a benchmark. What I want to know is considered normal waste generation per capita; if you can narrow it to recyclable, organic and inorganic, that'd be lovely.

I have the conception, that to have a neutral carbon footprint inorganic, non-recyclable waste should be 0, is that right?

  • I take about 1-2 weeks to fill a trash bin that size, but I'm not exactly a "normal" person. I wouldn't be too surprised if you're close to the average for the USA. No clue about Australia. Commented May 1, 2013 at 15:59

3 Answers 3


Unfortunately, knowing what is normal waste generation per capita isn't going to help you much when it comes to being sustainable.

To put it simply, the current reality is that it's normal to be unsustainable. That needs to change.

There are two things most people can do to heavily reduce waste without too much effort, depending on their situation:

  1. Compost your compostables
  2. Recycle your recyclables

These actions not only reduce waste, but also make more efficient use of the land used for landfill (which is expensive, when done properly), as well as reducing smell and leachate problems.

Unfortunately, it's also a reality that most recycling isn't carbon neutral. In New Zealand, our plastic is picked up by diesel trucks, and with various intermediate steps, is later shipped to China where it's recycled. Glass is ground up and used as road aggregate, which may even be worse than just piling it up somewhere (we could at least use it for glass later that way).

I'm in a household of 3, and we tend to fill a rubbish bag about every 2 weeks. We go one step further than the above, and bury our meat scraps (which are not compostable in your average composting system). Things that tend to fill it up are polystyrene foam, used tissues, and plastic packaging. Reducing purchases of products containing those things will be our next step.

Overall, my philosophy is that it's more important to be a positive example to others (to change what's normal) than it is to become an extremist myself. If I lived in a monastery somewhere living off the land, I might be 100% sustainable, but I wouldn't be mixing with others to set a visible example. That's why I'm on an unsustainable computer right now writing this post instead of using the time walking to a special store that will sell me some food without packaging.

  • I'll echo your benchmark: our family of four fills about one 30L bin per week. To the original poster: look at what is in your bin to figure out what you need to change - is it food scraps or is it packaging from a heavy purchasing habit? Or is it packaging from prepared food? Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 20:09
  • I should say that our usage is well below average: enough to get a newspaper article written about our family a few years ago. Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 20:10

I would be more concerned with what you are throwing out than the amount of it. Some activities have inherently more waste than others. Some waste is can be re-purposed or reused instead of going to a landfill. So instead of worrying if you are generating too much waste, work to reduce the waste you are generating.

Old clothes - Those that no longer fit anyone but that are in good shape can be donated. Those that fit but have holes can be mended and used as work cloths. Those beyond mending may be suitable to be cut up and used as rags.

Scrap Wood - Especially used lumber in good shape should be saved and reused. Create a pile of scrap lumber and use the wood from that pile for projects before getting new lumber.

Plastics - It is practically impossible to purchasing anything today that has no plastic content. Try to restrict purchases to items that at least use recyclable plastic. re-purpose before recycling. Then Recycle what you can. Make note of any plastic you have to throw away so that you can avoid those products in the future.

Organic and Food waste. - Ideally this is the majority of your waste and most of it is used for composting. Most of this waste should be things like peelings, shells, and cuttoffs. If you are discarding/composting large amounts of leftover food then you are preparing to much food for each meal. Work to create right sized meals and/or eat the left overs before they spoil.

Paper and Cardboard. Not all created equally. Paper that has not been glued is more recyclable than paper that has. This is especially true with magazines that have a glued binding. You can cut the pages off of the binding to improve the amount that will be recyclable. Avoid laminated paper and (laminated)cardboard. This is virtually useless when recycling. Try and limit your purchases to items that are packaged in reusable or recyclable packaging.

  • +1. But I'm interested in your statement: cardboard and laminated paper are useless when recycling. I have not heard about it. Any reason/explanation behind the statement ? Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 22:18
  • @StephaneRolland - The laminate makes a chemical binding with the paper that makes it impractical to separate the plastic laminate from the paper. I have heard of places that shred it to really fine power and use it as filler but most of your laminated paper that goes to the recycling plant ends up at a landfill somewhere. I also updated the answer to make it clear I was talking about laminated cardboard.
    – user141
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 12:40

I have the conception, that to have a neutral carbon footprint inorganic, non-recyclable waste should be 0, is that right?

I think that is right but it is very hard to do in the modern world. For comparison, when I am by myself I fill a 30L garbage can every two weeks (or maybe a little less time), and probably generate a similar amount of recyclables, and that is without composting. This is because I prepare most of my food myself from scratch and tend not to utilize many canned foods, etc. One important aspect here is a general emphasis on avoiding lots of packaging and a lot of disposable goods.

A second important strategy I have is to take kitchen odds and ends, and things that can't be eaten (like bones) and remove them before serving, throwing them in a bag in the freezer to be used for making stock. I am often amazed at how much would otherwise get thrown out that ends up essentially being eaten.

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