Huntington Beach Councilman Joe Carchio spent a week walking around with a plastic bag where he kept all the trash he produced, from coffee cups to food wraps and empty bottles.
It wasn't because he couldn't find a trash can to drop it in, but because he wanted to get an idea of the impact he has on the environment and see if there's room to improve his habits.
"I think the most important thing that I've taken away was how much trash you accumulate individually," Carchio said. "You don't realize that because you're not carrying it around all the time."
Carchio took part of the Sustainability News & Entertainment Radio Trash on Your Back five-day challenge from April 23 to 27.
The show, which airs Saturday and Sunday on the East Coast, began two years ago and focuses on ways to save the environment through experiential learning, said host Diana Dehm, who lives in Huntington Beach and on the East Coast and does the show on-site and remotely.
Trash on Your Back was the show's first experiential program, she said.
About 20 people from around eight states participated in the challenge, including Matt Bogoshian, a senior policy counsel for theU.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Jim McGrath, chief executive of Green Schools National Network.
On the last day of the challenge, the Huntington Beach participants met at the pier with the results. Sue Gordon from Rainbow Environmental Services helped separate recyclable and non-recyclable trash, and Huntington Beach High School sustainability teacher Greg Goran helped the team weigh the trash, Dehm said.
By carrying the trash bag all week, Carchio said, he realized that there are items and habits he could eliminate, like extra coffee cups.
"Say you had a Starbucks coffee and then you threw the cup away, and then you go back to Starbucks to get another coffee and then again to get a third coffee," he said. "Well, there's no reason to use three cups."
Realizing how much trash he had in his bag, Carchio couldn't imagine how much trash is accumulated by everyone.
About 4.4 pounds of trash per capita were generated each day in 2010 in the U.S., with only 1.5 pounds of that composted or recycled, according to Dehm.
In 2008, the U.S. spent $11.9 billion sending trash to landfills, she said. Cutting the trash by half could save $6 billion a year.
The participants joined in a conference call Monday and discussed their experiences on the radio show.
"It was enjoyable for me because I learned a lot about personal responsibility," Carchio said. "It has to start with you, if you're going to make a difference."
For Huntington Beach, it's even more important for everyone to be conscious of their habits, he noted.
"Our beaches are the jewel of our community," Carchio said. "This is our livelihood. This is how we make our money. If those beaches are not clean, no one is going to come here."