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December 17, 2010 / MrsH

Reducing Trash

Our fair city implemented a new trash and recycling collection program last month.  As part of it, they provided each household with a 96 gallon recycling barrel, and a 64 gallon trash barrel.  Both are large, far larger than any trash barrel we’ve ever bought at the home improvement store!  Today is more about trash and less about recycling, because the new trash rules caused true consternation among the neighbors.  You see, we can now no longer leave bins out that overflowing, or leave pieces of furniture or extra trashbags out on the curb.  Everything has to fit inside the barrel, with the lid shut.  This is a significant change for those of us who had become spoiled, both by trashing whatever we felt like it at any given moment, as well as by the now-lost trashpicking opportunities!

Complaints were rife in all city forums: “but we have children!” “How can we be expected to fit everything?” “What will I do when I buy a new couch?”  “You mean we have to take our trash to donate now?”  “What if it doesn’t fit?”  “We have a large family, you know!!”  We’re a family of five and have yet to fill our barrels.  In fact, the trash barrel hasn’t been more than half full yet.  We generate 1-2 bags of trash a week, and even that feels like far more than I’m comfortable with.  The following suggestions are things we have slowly gravitated towards.  We did not wake up one day and do the entire list, and there are still things that we could do but don’t.  The best way I’ve found of reducing trash is to just start somewhere.  Sometimes the problem can seem so overwhelming until we just start, and now a few years later we produce less than half the trash of our neighbors with fewer children. Here’s what we do to reduce our total amount of trash, even while raising three young ones:

  1. Reduce what comes in. The less goes in, the less goes out, pretty simple.
  2. Get stuff used so you don’t have any packaging to throw away.  If you actually need something, try to get it used.  Good sources are Goodwill, Salvation Army, other thrift stores, Freecycle, Craigslist, city-wide clothing swaps, and various local list-servs.
  3. Use cloth for as much as is feasible for your family.  Hand towels.  Dish towels.  Washcloths.  Napkins.  Dishcloths.  Rags.  Diapers.  One day, I bet we’ll be using cloth feminine and bathroom products.  Yikes.  We currently throw just about anything in the wash, though if it’s extra-dirty (think diapers and some rags) it gets an extra rinse before washing.
  4. Use cloth shopping bags. Ok true confessions: we don’t.  Yet.  They’re on my Christmas wishlist.  Anyone have suggestions for ones that are particularly useful and durable?  For now, we send our plastic bags to the library where they are used on rainy days.  We also use them for carting used cloth diapers around.
  5. Purchase the Larger Size.  Large bottles of juice rather than individual boxes (true confession: we still use some juice-boxes and milk-cartons.  What is a good alternative for school-lunches?).  Avoid individual servings.  We have a whole bunch of 1-cup size tupperware for snacks on the go, and carry water bottles around all the time.  We usually cut our own cheese into chunks or slices so we can get large hunks of cheese (cheaper too!).  We make our own yogurt in the crockpot, but even when we still bought it we got the bigger containers and then divided that into the smaller tuperwares.
  6. Repair your belongings.  I recently spent an hour patching pants.  We paid the dry-cleaner to sew buttons on when my sewing machine was broken, it was only a couple of bucks.  A coat of paint can fix many furniture flaws.  An old fleece sheet with polar bears serves as our tree-skirt.  We try to buy toys that are either repairable or can be used even if a piece is missing or broken.  But I must say, toys are what we get rid of most often for being broken.
  7. Choose reusable options at the grocery store. Get the peanut-butter in a glass jar that you can then reuse for just about anything.  Cook from scratch more.  Let your cucumber roll around the cart without using a plastic baggie.   When you get oranges in one of those little nets, save the net and use it the next time you get produce (instead of a plastic bag.  True confession: I don’t get oranges in nets so haven’t used this yet).
  8. Donate instead of trash.  The veterans will even come pick it up from the front porch, talk about convenient!  But we also donate children’s stuff to our city-wide swap, books to the Friends of the Library, and clothes to those big collection boxes in some parking lots.  We rarely get rid of furniture, but the same places were we get stuff, we can usually get rid of it too.
  9. Recycle as much as possible.  Our city will take glass, cans, paper and plastics.  And that is a great start if you aren’t already doing it.  City Hall accepts batteries and Whole Foods accepts plastic bags, cellphones, keys, and corks.  A couple at our church collects chip-bags, candy-wrappers, zip-loc bags, and juice-pouches and recycles them through terracycle.  It’s been an easy program to start and maintain, and many of the church’s kids have set up recycling bags for these items in their classrooms at school as well, broadening the impact.

Those are the main things we currently do to keep our trash-piles low(er).  In the new year I plan to stop using plastic grocery bags and ramp up our collection for terracycle.  I’m also on the hunt for the perfect (for us) whole wheat bread recipe to avoid the plastic-wrapped bread that’s then stuck into a bag.  It’ll also be cheaper.  Lastly, we plan to convert our now unusable trash barrels (the old ones) into compost bins.  What do you do to reduce your trash?

For other (more radical?) resources on reducing trash check out No Impact Man, and the Rubbish Free Year, or do a  quick google search!

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