What Size Trash Can Should You Get?

published Mar 8, 2018
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(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

According to 2016 stats from the EPA, the average American produces about 4.4 pounds of trash a day, and the average family of four produces 17.4 pounds. At first it was a surprise to me that kids create just as much waste as adults do, but then I remembered all the diapers, single-serve applesauce packets, and “art” they bring home from school … the kids may be worse than I am! That being said, I feel like we might be on the low side of average: We recycle and compost diligently, buy relatively few things pre-packaged, and usually remember to bring our reusable bags to the grocery store. With all that, we (a family of four) have a 45-liter (12.5-gallon) trash can that we empty about once a week.

Of course, figuring out the best size trash can for you is about more than just how much trash you produce. It’s about your habits, tolerance, and space requirements. Here are the factors to consider in order to choose the best size trash can for you.

1. What kind of space you have

Most importantly, the trash can needs to fit into your kitchen. And the spot you have available — whether it’s in a cabinet, against a wall, or sandwiched wherever you find space — will be the first determining factor. If you’ve just moved someplace or are upgrading, make sure you know where the trash can will go and measure the spot first before you make any purchases. That being said, most people don’t want the trash can to be the focal point of the kitchen, so you don’t necessarily want to buy the biggest one you can.

2. Your shopping habits

If you buy a lot of packaged foods, single-serve, or individually-wrapped items, or foods that generally come wrapped, you’re going to have more trash and recycling. You’ll have more trash after eating delivery than making your own food, since everything has to be transported in spill-proof packaging. Even if it’s not food-related, most of our household trash goes into the big trash can in the kitchen, so if you’re a shopper or someone who likes to grab a coffee or juice to go, you’ll need a bigger can than some other people.

3. Your waste-disposal habits

Are you diligent about recycling? Do you compost your fruit and veggie scraps? Can you compost your meat scraps, too? The more you can separate your trash, the less waste will go into the can (of course, you’ll need receptacles for those items also). And the fewer food scraps you put in there, the less likely it is to smell bad or attract critters, so you can usually go a little longer before emptying the trash.

4. Your sensitivity to smell

Some people just can’t stand the

smell of trash


4 Smart Tricks for Better-Smelling Garbage

5. Your trash-emptying habits

Many of the cleaning and pest control pros I’ve interviewed over the years recommend that you throw out your trash daily, but I have never been that kind of person. I like to wait until it is absolutely full to the brim before I empty it. (Plus, if I wait long enough, my husband will do it.) If you empty your trash daily, you could get a much smaller can. If you’re going about a week, you probably need more space. But if you find you are consistently emptying the trash when it’s half-full, the one you’re using might be too big for you.

So what size is right for you? It’s the size that fits in your space and gets just about full by the time you’re ready to take it out. If you find you’re always emptying the trash when it’s half-full, try going to a smaller can. If your can fills up so quickly, you can’t keep up with taking it out (and you have space for a bigger can), get a bigger one. If you have no clue and are truly interested in right-sizing your trash can, go the bullet journal route and track your trash habits for a month, then see where you can make improvements. You’ll be able to make a small behavior change (like freezing food scraps as mentioned above) to make your current trash can work better for you. Only you can find the right size trash can for you.

Please share in the comments below what size can you use, and how often you take it out — anyone who’s read this far definitely wants to know!