What’s In Our Trash Can?

A few weeks ago, while wandering around the library, I found an interesting book.  It was the ‘Zero Waste Lifestyle  – Live Well by Throwing Away Less’, by Amy Korst.  I was intrigued by the title; I already do some simple things like composting and a little recycling, and I wondered how anybody could have ‘zero’ waste.  The premise behind the book is that we send sooo much trash to landfills that doesn’t have to be there.  All that trash in the landfill is either not breaking down, or it is breaking down and turning into harmful gases and liquids and leaking out.  The author challenges the reader to examine their own waste habits, and see what things they could divert away from the fate of the landfill.  Even if you don’t have ‘zero’ waste, maybe you can have a lot LESS waste.

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I’ll be honest, I haven’t finished the book yet.  Not because the book isn’t interesting; rather, it is the opposite.  I read a page and then set the book down to look something up on the internet, related to what I just read.  Or I find a passage that gets me thinking, and I kind of chew on it mentally for a day or so while I go about my daily routine.

One of the first things the author asks you to do is to assess your own trash situation. She recommends weighing your trash to get a base number to compare your waste amounts to later.  I did not want to weigh our trash, but I did think about how many ‘bags’ of trash we go through in a week, between garbage truck pickups.  I know that there are some weeks we take out a big black garbage bag almost everyday.  It’s at least 4-5 bags a week.  Add to that the training pants my son produces, since he is still potty training, trash from the yard and garage, scraps and trash from our basement remodel, and it adds up to a full-to-the-brim curbside bin every week when the truck comes.

With guidance from the book, I have already identified some areas where we can really eliminate stuff from going into the Big Brown Bin.

  • Food Scraps-  With seven people in our home, we have a LOT of food scraps. You would think with our big dog, we wouldn’t waste a lot of food, but you would be surprised.  I can’t just let him finish off that many plates.  For one, it’s just not good for him; that’s a LOT of leftover lunches, and for two, he was a weenie stomach.  I’ve never met a dog that gets intestinal distress from looking at a hot dog.  So, leftovers gone bad, dropped fruit, mushy apples, expired yogurt, you name it, all of that, it is going into the trash.
  • Paper Products That Get Wet- This is paper towels and tissues especially.  However, it can include some kinds of food wrappers made of paper or cardboard that touch food and get wet.
  • Plastic Containers/Plastic Hybrid Bags- Basically, this is what the majority of food comes in.  We buy a lot of single serving food items, and this adds up to a lot of chip and cracker bags.  There are water bottles, soda cups, cheese wrappers, and meat packaging, to name a few.
  • Bathroom Trash-  There are some bathroom trash items we just can’t get around.  No matter how hard-core I want to be, we are NOT getting rid of toilet paper.  Not with all the child-people I live with.  (That is a big HECK-to-the-NO).  On the other hand, a lot of tissues, hair and other disposable items get thrown away in the bathroom.

Since I started assessing the trash, I have been diverting things into other paths.  To be clear, your first and best ways to eliminate waste are the first two out of three R’s.

  • Reduce- Stop buying all the things that need to be thrown away in the first place.  Use your own containers and buy in bulk to eliminate wrappings and containers.  Buying less means less waste.
  • Reuse – Before you throw something out, think of how you can repurpose it and give it new life in your home (or someone else’s).

Then…after that…

  • Recycle –  Most people know about recycling now.  However, you are probably throwing things away that could be recycled.  Paper, cardboard, glass, tin, and many plastics can be reformed into new products.
  • Compost –  This kind of fits into the other areas, but I consider it its own pathway because it is recycling/reusing you can do yourself at your home. Food scraps and other items get turned into lovely fertilizer to boost your flowers and veggies.

Finally, after all that, you may have to throw something away.  After reading about some families that have attacked the zero waste lifestyle with zeal, I am quite in awe of how little trash they can produce with some (significant) effort.  Many of these families have a shoe box, or a jar with the amount of trash they have produced that year.  I am under no illusions that we will only fill a shoe box with trash in a year.  You have to set a goal that is achievable, though challenging, for your family.

So, I figured I would start with working us down to one (singular) garbage bag or less a week.  The first thing I did was restart my worm-compost bin.  I ordered new worms, filled the bin with bedding and started adding scraps.  Ta-da!  Worm poop fertilizer.  Easy peasy. Much to my family’s delight, I am keeping it in the bathroom for now.  Once a day I peek inside and give the worms a little spritz with my sprayer so they stay hydrated.  I have been throwing in food scraps, tea bags, the crumbs from the bottom of cereal bags, banana peels and the like.  Needless to say, the worms are very happy with their end of the arrangement.

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My assistant helps with the vermicompost (worm poop) collection. 

I am also adding to my backyard compost pile like never before.  All the other food scraps besides meat and grease, along with the wet paper/cardboard products go into a bowl to get dumped in the yard.  The downside of this, my pile is clear in the way far back of my yard.  Also, I am a lazy composter, so my pile biodegrades VERY SLOWLY.  I need to water it some, cut pieces smaller, flip it over to get air inside, that would all help.  I am going to work on those things.  I am also in the market for a compost tumbler.  I could have the kids work on turning it for a short while each day, and I’d get compost much, much faster. Plus I could make it much closer to my back door.  I also need to get a compost pail for the kitchen with a filtered lid, to keep it out of sight until I am ready to add it to my pile.

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My recycling has increased by at least double. I called the city and ordered a second recycling bin for free.  This way I can’t use the full recycling bin as an excuse not to recycle everything that can be.  I went on the city’s website and found out that I can recycle more types of plastics than I thought, so that means less plastic in my garbage bin.

I am buying less disposable items already.  My mother-in-law gave me a bunch of large flour-sack towels for cleaning, so I can use less paper towels.  I got out my childhood hankies, to reduce my use of tissues.  I am still looking for solutions for some of my disposable items, so this continues to be a work in progress.

At the end of the first week or so, this is my full trash bag.

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It is almost all plastic bags or some mix of plastic that can’t be recycled.  There are a few paper products in there that my family put into the trash. If I see them quick enough, I grab them out and put them in the compost.  I am working on training them, but it will probably take a few weeks before they remember about the napkins and such.  As for the plastic bags, I don’t know how much I will be able to do about that for a while.  I reuse bags when I can…but the only way to get rid of most of it, is to either make all my own snacks (love this idea, but I am not able to quit my job to have the time to make all our food from scratch) or to buy less single serve bags.  Part of the problem with that is the fact that I have four children between the ages of 12-15 (plus my assistant).  They are essentially a hoard of locusts.  If I bought large bags of chips/cookies/etc…they would devour them in a sitting or two unless I hovered over them monitoring their chip consumption.  I’m enough of a meanie already, making them do chores and stuff (rolls eyes) without being the chip-controller.  The single-serve chip bags SLOW THEM DOWN.  The packaging somewhat regulates the speed at which they go through the stuff.  I will keep looking for ways to reduce this type of waste, possibly when the children graduate from high school and move out.

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A bag from a box of giant pretzels, ready to be reused for ‘something’. 

I have a lot more things to think over on this subject.  For example, do I really want to be the lady that carries a glass straw with her everywhere?  Will my family stage an intervention for me if I get a composting toilet?  Will people think I am interesting or weird when they find out I make my own mascara?  These are deep, thought-provoking issues that I need to work over in my mind.  I still have a ways to go in the book, and I am sure I will dig up some more good articles and ideas on Pinterest before it is all over.  Bear with me, and share your ideas for eliminating or reducing waste in YOUR home in the comments.


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