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5 Ways to Get Closer to Your Garbage

When you throw something in the trash, it's easy to think that it stops being your problem -- your friendly neighborhood sanitation workers take it away, and that's that. Well, until the Garbage Apocalypse of 2062, when GarbageNet becomes self-aware and decides to eliminate all humans. Wait, that's a whole other blog post....

GarbageNet jokes aside, we thought you'd appreciate some tips to get closer to your garbage so you can embrace it, learn about it, and reduce it!

1. Carry Your Garbage With You

Some staff members at frog design have taken up a trash challenge: participants must keep all the trash they produce within five feet of them at all times. Exceptions: participants may recycle, compost, donate, incinerate, and flush. The experiment mercifully lasts only two weeks, and staffers taking the challenge write about it on the Trash Talk blog, explaining their personal struggles with non-recyclable, non-compostable trash. It's interesting to read how limited life becomes when these folks have to think about every little piece of trash -- because it's literally weighing them down! Eating out, shopping, and other daily activities become serious challenges with real consequences. Read this introduction to learn more.

2. Install a Composting Toilet

Composting ToiletYou can avoid flushing human waste into the sewer (or your septic system) by installing a composting toilet. These toilets take the, uh, "waste products" and break them down over time into compost and soil. Modern units can be odor-free, and many store the waste in a remote tank that rarely needs attention or maintenance -- think of it like an ultramodern outhouse. But beware, Wikipedia lists an entire section on "Possible health risks and aesthetic issues!"

Possible "aesthetic issues" aside, composting toilets are one way you can dramatically reduce sewage waste and cut down on water use, while producing useful compost and soil. You can learn more by watching this interminable infomercial or reading the Wikipedia entry. See also: humanure.

3. Freecycle Your Stuff

FreecycleInstead of throwing out perfectly decent stuff, why not give it away via the internet? Freecycle communities exist around the world for just this purpose -- using Yahoo! Groups, members post offers of free stuff. If you want the stuff, contact the member privately and make arrangements to and pick it up. Stuff ranges from household items to clothes, toys, computers, even literal garbage that might be recyclable by the right person. The Freecycle approach differs from the Craigslist "free stuff by the curb" section because there's a real community involved, and because of the direct member interaction you're never going to drive across town (wasting gas) only to discover that someone else beat you to the free stuff. Here's a sample posting from my hometown group:

Offer: Santa

I have a santa doll that stands about 12" high. Wearing golds, creams and tapestry cream, red, and green jacket. Still have the $20 price tag on it. I don't know how I ended up with it, but I'm not much into Santa.

Six hours after the post went up, Santa found a new home.

4. Take a Superfun Visit to a Superfund Site

Superfund SiteThe Superfund pays for cleanup of some of the most polluted sites in the United States -- these are places where no other party could be found to pay for the work. Superfund sites are pretty much everywhere, and some are surprisingly scenic (though beware: many are extremely toxic). There's a particularly lovely Superfund site in North Portland, Oregon, by the Willamette River. Blogger Mary Wheeler walks her dog there and shares her experiences in My Dog Walk on the Wild Side. See also: Lyza Danger Gardner's photography of the same site.

5. Visit the Garbage Museum

This one's for the kids. Specifically, the kids who live near Stratford, Connecticut -- home of The Garbage Museum. Here's what the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority has to say about the educational (and kinda fun-sounding) exhibits at The Garbage Museum:

TrashosaurusThe Garbage Museum ... offers visitors an opportunity to meet Trash-o-saurus, a dinosaur made from a ton of trash, which is how much trash an average person throws away in a year! Guests may walk through a giant compost pile, meet resident compost worms and discover how much energy savings is derived from recycling. Watch what happens to recyclables in a "sky-box" view of the tipping and sorting process. From the mezzanine walkway, visitors can follow glass and plastic containers, cans and newspapers through the sorting process and on to the end of the line where items are crushed and baled for shipping to processors, who turn them into products.

Read all about one class's visit to the Garbage Museum, including lots of photos. See also: the CRRA Trash Museum in Hartford, Connecticut.

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7 Fast Facts About Animal Farting
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Anyone who’s had a pet can testify that dogs and cats occasionally get gassy, letting rip noxious farts and then innocently looking up as if to say “Who, me?” You may not have considered the full breadth of animal life passing gas in the world, though—and not just mammals. In a new book, ecologist Nick Caruso and zoologist Dani Rabaiotti detail the farting habits (or lack thereof) of 80 different animals. Here are seven weird animal farting facts we learned from Does It Fart?.

1. FOR ONE FISH, FARTING IS AN EMERGENCY.

A black-and-white illustration of a fish floating upside down on the surface of the water
Ethan Kocak

The diet of the Bolson pupfish, a freshwater fish found in northern Mexico, can lead to dangerous levels of gas. The pupfish feeds on algae, and it can inadvertently eat the gas bubbles that algae produces in warm temperatures. The air inflates the fish’s intestines and distends its belly, messing with its equilibrium and making it difficult to swim. Even if it tries to bury itself in sediment at the bottom of a pool, as Bolson pupfish are wont to do, the air causes the fish to rise to the surface, where it’s at risk of being eaten by a bird. If the fish doesn’t fart, it will likely die, either from predation or because its intestines rupture under the pressure of the trapped gas.

2. MANATEES USE FARTS AS A SWIMMING TECHNIQUE.

The Bolson pupfish isn't the only animal that needs healthy farts to maneuver underwater. Buoyancy is vital for swimming manatees, and they rely on digestive gas to keep them afloat. The West Indian manatee has pouches in its intestines where it can store farty gasses. When they have a lot of gas stored up, they’re naturally more buoyant, floating to the surface of the water. When they fart out that gas, they sink. Unfortunately, that means that a manatee’s ability to fart is vital to its well-being. When a manatee is constipated and can’t pass gas properly, it can lose the ability to swim properly and end up floating around with its tail above its head.

3. TERMITE FARTS ARE A SIGNIFICANT SOURCE OF GLOBAL EMISSIONS.

A black-and-white illustration of a termite farting
Ethan Kocak

They’re not as bad as cars or cows, but termites fart a lot, and because they are so numerous, that results in a lot of methane. Each termite only lets rip about half a microgram of methane gas a day, but every termite colony is made up of millions of individuals, and termites live all over the world. All told, the insects produce somewhere between 5 and 19 percent of global methane emissions per year.

4. FERRETS ARE SURPRISED BY THEIR OWN FARTS.

Ferrets are quite the fart machines. They not only let ‘em rip while pooping—which they do every few hours on a normal day—but they get particularly gassy when they’re stressed. The pungent smells are often news to their creators, though. According to the book, “owners often report a confused look on their pet’s face in the direction of their backside after they audibly pass gas.” And you don't want your ferret to get really scared: Their fear response involves screaming, puffing up, and simultaneous farting and pooping.

5. A BEADED LACEWING’S FARTS CAN BE DEADLY.

A black-and-white illustration of a beaded lacewing standing triumphantly over a prone termite
Ethan Kocak

A winged insect known as the beaded lacewing carries a powerful weapon within its butt, what Caruso and Rabaiotti call “one of the very few genuinely fatal farts known to science.” As a hunting strategy, Lomamyia latipennis larvae release a potent fart containing the chemical allomone, paralyzing and killing their termite prey.

6. WHALE FARTS MAKE QUITE THE SPLASH.

A black-and-white illustration of a whale farting above water while a woman on a boat speeds behind it
Ethan Kocak

As befits their size, whales produce some of biggest farts on the planet. A blue whale’s digestive system can hold up to a ton of food in its multiple stomach chambers, and there are plenty of bacteria in that system waiting to break that food down. This, of course, leads to farts. While not many whale farts have been caught on camera, scientists have witnessed them—and report them to be “incredibly pungent,” as Rabaiotti and Caruso tell it.

7. NOT ALL ANIMALS FART.

Octopuses don’t fart, nor do other sea creatures like soft-shell clams or sea anemones. Birds don’t, either. Meanwhile, sloths may be the only mammal that doesn’t fart, according to the book (although the case for bat farts is pretty tenuous). Having a belly full of trapped gas is dangerous for a sloth. If things are working normally, the methane produced by their gut bacteria is absorbed into their bloodstream and eventually breathed out.

The woodlouse has an odd way of getting rid of gas, too, though it’s technically not flatulence. Instead of peeing, woodlice excrete ammonia through their exoskeleton, with bursts of these full-body “farts” lasting up to an hour at a time.

The cover of 'Does It Fart?'
Hachette Books

Does It Fart? is available for $15 from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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Can You Really Lose Weight by Pooping? It Depends on What You Eat
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If you’re obsessed with either your scale or your bowel movements, you’ve probably wondered: How much of my weight is just poop? A teenage cousin of mine once spent an entire restaurant dinner arguing that he could lose up to 3 pounds if you just gave him a few minutes to sit on the toilet. As you might imagine, he was wrong. But not by that much, according to Thrillist, a site that’s been truly dominating the poop science beat lately.

You can indeed see the effects of a truly satisfying bowel movement reflected on your bathroom scale. (Wash your hands first, please.) But how much your feces weigh depends heavily on your diet. The more fiber you eat, the heavier your poop. Unfortunately, even the most impressive fecal achievement won't tip the scales much.

In 1992, researchers studying the effect of fiber intake on colon cancer risk wrote that the daily movements of poopers across the world could vary anywhere from 2.5 ounces to 1 pound. In their sample of 220 Brits, the median daily poop weighed around 3.7 ounces. A dietary intake of around 18 grams of dietary fiber a day typically resulted in a 5.3-ounce turd, which the researchers say is enough to lower the risk of bowel cancer.

A Western diet probably isn’t going to help you achieve your poop potential, mass-wise. According to one estimate, industrialized populations only eat about 15 grams of fiber per day thanks to processed foods. (Aside from ruining your bragging rights for biggest poop, this also wreaks havoc on your microbiome.) That's why those British poops observed in the study didn't even come close to 1 pound.

Poop isn’t the only thing passing through your digestive tract that has some volume to it. Surprisingly, your fabulous flatulence can be quantified, too, and it doesn’t even take a crazy-sensitive machine to do so. In a 1991 study, volunteers plied with baked beans were hooked up to plastic fart-capturing bags using rectal catheters. The researchers found that the average person farts around 24 ounces of gas a day. The average fart involved around 3 ounces of gas.

This doesn’t mean that either pooping or farting is a solid weight-loss strategy. If you’re hoping to slim down, losing a pound of poop won’t improve the way your jeans fit. Certainly your 24 ounces of gas won't. But to satisfy pure scientific curiosity, sure, break out that scale before and after you do your business. At least you'll be able to see if your fiber intake is up to snuff.

[h/t Thrillist]

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