Friday, July 3, 2009

Garbage Day

When we moved into our house we discovered there were two garbage bins, not one. Not sure where the second one came from. They're the standard, large size cans: 94 gallons. 94 gallons!

Every year, Americans throw away about 230 million tons of "trash." That's about 4.6 pounds per person per day. Less than one-quarter of it is recycled; the rest is incinerated or buried in landfills (according to this site).

There are a lot of different statistics (that don't all agree) about how much we throw away in comparison to other countries, how much of each kind of thing (styrofoam, diapers, paper, etc), and how long it takes things to biodegrade. They're ugly numbers. We really are a wasteful society, and more wasteful than we've ever been before.

It costs Minneapolites about $28 a month for garbage service, and you can knock $7 off that if you recycle. But $21 a month? That seems too cheap to support our addiction to waste. I kind of think it should cost more. It should hurt a little - because garbage hurts us and the environment.

But I know some people can barely afford that amount. We had garbage service cut off for a time when I was growing up. We just couldn't afford everything and garbage service had to go. We managed for some time, though I don't recall how now.

Perhaps it was from that experience, or somewhere else along the line, that I've been able to seriously reduce the amount of garbage I (now we) throw away. Perhaps it's because I don't often go shopping (for non-food items) because I hate spending money. (And many consumer goods come in a lot of packaging.) Perhaps it's because we buy in bulk and reuse a lot of things and recycle as much as we can. Or, it's just a combination of all of these! In any case, I realized we were only throwing away 2 bags of garbage a month! We definitely did not need the 94 gallon cart. So we switched to the smaller, 22 gallon cart.

It's tiny!

So, I offer up, for the blogosphere, ways that we reduce trash:
  • we use towels/washcloths/sponges instead of paper towels
  • we use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins
  • we wash out and reuse plastic baggies and sheets of foil - until they can't be used anymore
  • we recycle as much as we can - we keep a pile of recylables in the bathroom as well, a place where it is easy to toss paper/cardboard into the trash
  • we have a compost bin (and chickens!) for food waste
  • we use cloth grocery bags everywhere: trips to the grocery, farmer's market, Target, clothing shopping, you name it
  • I've been using tall plastic containers (like what yogurt comes in) to make garden markers
  • we buy in bulk as much as we can, bringing in our own containers to refill olive oil, spices, laundry soap, shampoo, pasta, baking supplies, and so on!
  • We try to buy products that don't have a lot of packaging
  • When we want to purchase some new item, we look at craigslist or other resale places first (we're helping someone out, and the packaging is already gone!)
  • I'm thinking about using ice cream containers for growing seedlings in the spring
  • We cook a lot from scratch which means we don't have a lot of prepackaged food containers to toss out

That's a start. I'm sure I may think of more eventually. I think the biggest thing for us is to be really aware of a need versus a want and to think carefully about our purchases. The less things you buy, the less waste.


Tam said...

I can't tell you the satisfaction it brings me when we have 1 small garbage can and 4 overflowing recycling bins.

Karin McAdams said...

Our city is about to start charging for trash (about time!) and issue large, covered recycle bins. They also are giving large and small trash bins, and I am so wishing to have a small one, but now with Echo's dialysis we've gone from one small bag of trash a week to something like five. It's so embarrassing as well as frustrating; I recycle everything I can from that mess.
I'm glad to see that I do everything on your terrific list - I guess the whole thing would be worse if I didn't! It helps that our city just opened up the kinds of plastic we can recycle. I'm always looking for new uses for yogurt containers - I guess I should bite the bullet and make my own, huh.
Oh, and I did just make creme fraiche from scratch. I don't know if you should introduce Jeremy to that; it's incredibly rich and so yummy!

Aimee said...

I can't believe you didn't have to even pay for trash!

That reminded me of two other things I forgot from the list.
- we buy milk and cream in glass jars (I know this isn't available to everyone though). We bring the bottles back to the store and don't have to worry about recycling (or not recycling) other milk containers.

-we make our own yogurt in reusable mason jars - so we don't usually have plastic yogurt containers to deal with (though we haven't made yogurt since getting the house!)

Jessica (your sister) said...

I think the little bit of trash we generated during that time was put in Grandma and Grandpa's trash container. We never had much and they didn't mind. At least that is what I recall because we would always argue about who had to walk there with trash. I eventually made myself scarce and I think we struck a deal where you would take the trash down if I did the dishes. Looking back you got the better end of that deal.

Mom said...

We went without trash pickup for a little over a year, because we just could not afford it. We had a compost pile, a burn barrel, and the little tiny bit of trash we did generate, we took a small bag down once or twice a month to grandparents, but then, i collected it in a bin and took it to the landfill. We canned a lot of stuff, so reused those containers. Froze a lot of stuff, and reused those containers. I didn't buy a lot of prepackaged stuff and made most everything from scratch. so most of the stuff you got on your list, you got from growing up. Remember in Tillamook we had all the different bins for recycling? Like the ones for tin cans, and pop cans of course we took back to the store. I remember that you hated sorting the trash into recycling. and that was before there was recycling at curbside - I had to take it up to the recycling center at the landfill once every few months. It does make a difference, watching what you buy. And not buying gifts from places where there are lots of packaging, and buying from local artists, keeps down the amount of packing waste also! I will say that in Oregon, especially in the Willamette valley, sooo many people use the cloth shopping bags - instead of the plastic or paper. Of course, I still use paper once in awhile so I have quaker wrapping paper! See, there were advantages to growing up the child of someone from the back to the land movement...