We have been concentrating on reducing our household waste for the last two months. There wasn’t a particular event that sparked our desire to be more “green,” although a conversation with my friend BigDubb about one-use plastic bags was definitely a big part of developing our household challenge: throw away only one bag of trash a week. Everything else needed to be recycled or reused.
Here’s how we’ve done so far, and maybe you can take up the challenge.
Sedagive? and I live with three adult dogs and her two children live with us every other week. Sedagive? is working full-time as Home Defender, and someone is in the house almost 24 hours a day.
We buy a lot of things online; from Amazon in particular but in general we try to get as much as we can from e-tailers as possible. I am not suggesting this is more or less Earth-friendly than going to a local business, I’m just pointing this out as a household factoid.
Most of our food comes from Costco. We buy meat, fruit, and vegetables from them in bulk. Target’s grocery section and a local farmer’s market round out the rest of our suppliers.
We pay for recycling, which comes to the house twice a month. We are given a 68-gallon plastic recycling bin with wheels. The recycling truck is operated by a single person, who uses a remote control arm to grab the big bin and fling our recycling into their truck. This means that adding a box of cardboard boxes to the curb is a no-no; the driver won’t get out of the truck. This is an interesting change from our recycling in Virginia, where one gent would hop out and toss any additional material into the truck.
Our trash / recycling provider, Allied Waste, started accepting plastic items with numbers 3 – 7. Until January of this year, they just accepted 1 – 2. This is a big deal, but another big addition is taking some items made from recycled plastics but traditionally not accepted, such as butter / margarine tubs. They still won’t officially take pizza boxes, but we throw them in anyway.
We also put every paper product we can into the recycling bin. This pretty much means anything devoid of human waste. We also use cotton towels to do the majority of our cleanup tasks instead of paper towels.
Reduce disposed waste by avoiding product packaging
Intricate, beautiful product packaging has become an art form. Companies like Apple, GoPro, and many others design such engaging product packaging that the act of “unboxing,” or opening a product, has become a phenomenon.
That’s nice and all, but all of that shit winds up going into the trash as soon as the afterglow wears off. It bothers me that my GoPro Hero 2 came in a box inside of a box inside of a box, which in turn was inside of a shipping box. I appreciate the aesthetic and the need to protect the product, but damn … what a waste of materials. I wonder how much additional energy is spent harvesting / refining the packaging materials, constructing the packaging, and shipping the additional weight of the over-packaging.
So, when we buy products we try to buy things in bulk that reduce the amount of product packaging. This is especially easy for items we know we are going to use eventually, like meat, bread, or coffee. Shopping at Costco helps a lot, but be careful here, too — sometimes buying a four-pack of Widgets in bulk at Costco sometimes means you just get four individually packaged bags of Widgets, not four times the quantity in a single container.
Sedagive? has been using reusable nylon shopping bags lately to reduce the number of paper and single-use plastic bags that come into the house. For the most part this has been successful. I know some of our friends use cloth bags to reduce the impact of making these bags, but I feel like they are more prone to absorbing leaks and may transfer moisture to your goods when shopping on a rainy day.
The nylon bags are also helpful at reducing packaging waste coming into the home when shopping at Costco. Otherwise, Costco is happy to send you home with a big ass cardboard box from a product sold in their store. This is nice from a reuse perspective, but I’d rather reduce the amount of waste coming out of our house as much as possible.
Reducing junk mail and paper versions of periodicals
Almost all of our media waste is due to junk mail and crappy regional circulars. We’ve done our best to be put on lists to avoid junk mail, but we still get a lot of useless mail every day. We also get copies of the local and regional newspapers that we don’t read and immediately go into the recycling bin.
We subscribe to a few periodicals such as Men’s Health. I’m still getting the dead tree versions, but some periodicals offer digital-only versions. The unfortunate situation is that these electronic copies are often priced higher than the physical media ones. A year’s worth of Men’s Health cost $3 a year due a promotional rate, for example.
Nevertheless, do your best to reduce the amount of physical media that comes into your home.
Four legged food disposals
What I’m about to say may piss off some folks, but we have reduced our household waste by sharing our pre-cooked leftovers with our dogs. We switched our dogs to a raw diet about two weeks ago, and before that we started preparing them by feeding parts of fruits and vegetables we normally wouldn’t eat. For example, the technique I use to slice an apple leaves a rectangular shape with the seeds in the middle. I cut out the part with the seeds (they’re not good for dogs to eat) and then slice up the remainder, which goes into the mouths of three tail-wagging pooches. Seems like a small thing to do, but we eat a fair amount of fruit and vegetables here and it goes a long way over time to reducing waste. Try this with carrots, celery, pears, apples, etc. Mixed greens that are a little too wilted for us are wolfed down by our domesticated canines.
Make it easy to recycle
We have a bigger recycling bin in the kitchen, but we’ve taken steps to make it as easy to recycle in the house as possible. I have a separate bin in my office. It may seem like a cop-out to walk the twenty feet or so to put envelopes and junk mail in the kitchen bin, but don’t give yourself any excuse to put stuff in the trash.
Try to put things in the recycling bin as part of your unboxing process. Before we tried the one bag a week challenge I would frequently toss an entire piece of packaging into the trash if the plastic container was non-recyclable. Now I separate any recyclable materials such as the cardboard product card, warranty / product information, etc and put those in the recycling bin as soon as possible. It may seem inconsequential to recycle a folded-up product pamphlet, but you’ll be surprised.
The small things add up to smaller waste
We wind up throwing out five 13 bags of trash a month. That’s one bag of trash a week, plus a miscellaneous bag that accumulates due to smaller trash bins in bathrooms, the craft area, and my office. The two kids have a minimal impact on our waste generation because they consume the same items we do, and most of the containers used for these items can be recycled. Our objective is to put as little stuff into the landfill as possible. Reducing the amount of stuff we put in the recycle bin is a longer-term goal.
Things we’re not doing, and our household’s future
We pondered the idea of composting for awhile. We did some research and decided to not compost our waste for three major reasons:
- We’re renting our home, and I don’t want to build a traditional compost heap like I had when I was a child and lived on a farm.
- Enclosed / in-house compost systems seem sub-optimal based on my research. We’d like to reduce waste as much as possible, but we had to be honest with ourselves about our commitment to maintaining a compost enclosure. I’d also read that in-home compost technologies are convenient but may stink up the house, generate a lot of noise, or be a pain in the ass to deal with.
- We don’t have much use for compost. This is a sad truth that mostly stems from our renter status but also from the lack of arable land and a very short (by my standards) growing season in Minnesota. If we grew more of our own food it might change our mind about composting.
If you compost, or are contemplating composting, then this is an additional way to reduce household waste. I think composting also fuels buying products you can compost. This may reduce the amount of packaged, processed snacks you buy, which in turn reduces packaging. Double win.
Will you accept the challenge?
This post turned out being a lot longer than I expected, but I wanted to extend the same challenge to you that we took on for ourselves. Can you toss just one bag of trash a week? Try my strategies out and give it a try. If you come up with some tips of your own, we’d love to try them.
Good luck, and toss less in the can!