Thursday, December 13, 2007

Trash talk

For 10 days I’ve been avoiding garbage cans, discreetly tucking scraps and wrappers in my pockets, and then into my own, personal trash bag. It’s my way of experiencing the Trash Challenge. And although I intended to follow through for the 2-week trial, I’ve seen enough already to know what changes I must make.
It’s not as repulsive as it may sound. In fact, I would bet no one knew what was in that canvas bag beneath my desk. There was no smell—just a bulkiness that grew despite my efforts.

First, some changes were made in our every day basics.
Cloth napkins replaced paper napkins. Maybe not a good choice for barbecued chicken, but for most dinners, I’m not that messy.
And, no more eating a snack off paper towels—grab a plate! It may take longer to clean it up, but it’s the higher road to take.
Food scraps?…Somebody must eat it, so if it’s not right for the compost pile, maybe a possum or skunk will be thrilled with a small treat.
In the habit of grabbing a handful of napkins with that fast food?…Only take 21 if you plan to use 21. (Am I the only one with leftover napkins under every car seat and in the glove box?)

The next thing I did was check the website of my garbage company to see exactly what they would accept as recyclables. Being able to toss a box or jar or can or bottle into their large red bin was wonderful. In fact, I was able to be rid of the majority of packaging this way.
What do I wish they would take from me?….Styrofoam!

Uh oh,…kitty litter—ugh. Clay litter, as I learned, not only takes a lot of room in landfills, its manufacturing process requires it to be scooped out of pits 30-40 feet below the surface of the earth—essentially mined.
So, to satisfy my need to make a more sensitive choice, we’ve changed to a pine alternative, made from the natural waste product from the lumber industry—and it can be composted when finished!
The remaining clay litter I shoveled into the potholes in our gravel driveway.

Which brings me to mention what is probably the greatest discovery as an alternative to throwing something away : use it for something else!
Envelopes make great shopping lists—write your list on the back and tuck coupons or other reminders inside.
And styrofoam can even be ground up and added to planting soil!

Because the longer you can hang onto it, the longer you prevent it from becoming trash. (And the longer you can put off having to buy something for that purpose.)

Here’s what I ended up with:
Public restroom paper towels (most of my “bulk”)
Lint roller sheets
Popcorn bags (paper)
Hot cocoa packets (metallic paper)
Cupcake wrapper (paper)
Ice cream tub (waxed cardboard)
Plastic Bread bags
Potato chip bag (plastic)
Cookie package wrapper (plastic)
Egg noodle bag (plastic)
Cheese slice wrappers (plastic)(good grief, these things are annoying)
Granola bar wrappers (plastic)
Candy wrappers (plastic)
Styrofoam egg carton

Paper napkins (from eating out)
Single serving butter tubs (from eating out)
Styrofoam coffee cups

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Mungo said...

This was very interesting! I might just follow your advice and try this myself...



Chris said...

Great post! Thanks for the good info, I know my lifestyle can use some changes.

MojoMan said...

What would happen if you gutted and remodeled your kitchen? Would you carry all that around with you?

I often worry that some recycling is more wasteful than throwing something in the trash. How much energy and water is used to wash the linen napkins, or wash out the peanut butter jar before we put it in the recycling bun?

If some people would see the crumpled napkins from the coffee shop I put with the new ones on the kitchen table, their suspicions about me would be confirmed.

nina said...

Mojoman, you bring up exactly how I "weighed" these acts.

Since we already wash a load of clothes, adding 2 napkins each week is negligible. Same with the washing of a jar before it's tossed into the bin--the water is there, just used for an additional piece.

We're pretty miserly all around--warm leftovers cool on the counter before going into the fridge, and a hot basin of dishwater isn't flushed down the drain until cooled.

But I found by doing this, an increased awareness of each automatic action.
It's the question we must ask each time : is this the best I can do?

nina said...

One more thing.

Having land to work with makes this easier.
We actually did some remodeling of an outbuilding a few years ago.
My husband broke up the concrete pad with a sledge hammer and stacked the 4" thick pieces 5 courses high, 120 feet in length at the edge of our pond--they look remarkably like manufactured edging pavers.
The metal roofing was given to a neighbor for repairs of their chicken coop.
Reclaimable wood was used to construct scaffolding which we keep in the barn for the many repairs we seem to have!
And, old, nasty wood was used to make maple syrup in the spring.

If you saw what we have in our barn...

Mary said...

Nina, I kind of giggled at the notion to throw table scraps out for the skunks and possum, but then I remembered you live on a farm! LOL!

You have lots of good suggestions and reminds me of how wasteful we are, i.e. I'm guilty of taking 30 paper napkins instead of 3.

If I were to do what you are doing, I would need to focus on it 24-7 as I'm a creature of habit and handle trash without thinking about it. Paper, plastic, glass go into our recycling bins. I don't even realize excess waste.

You have an excellent idea, here.

Endment said...

Fascinating Post!
We haven't tried keeping it with us :) but we have changed our habits enough that we only take in one bag of trash each month the rest is recycled (I must confess some goes to a recycling center since I have no idea how to make use of it. Although we do try to compost scraps - the critters also recycle them.
Great post - needed the reminder

Jennifer said...

I still haven't dared try this... Especially at this time of year! But I passed it on to the other naturalists, one of whom passed it on to a 5th grade class he works with... If they do anything with it, I'll let you know... Oh and... Tag! You're it!

Crayons said...

First of all, bravo to you for even doing this experiment. I hear the dying planet whispering "thank you Nina." I learned a lot from the write-up. It's funny. I've been brewing a post about trash for my art blog. This post inspires me to make it a reality.

vonne said...

We use unbleached paper towels and they break down quite nicely in the compost pile.

RuthieJ said...

Good for you Nina! I've been wondering how this was going for you and I think of you as I'm putting stuff in our wastebasket. :-)
I've been amazed at how much stuff I can re-use when I think about it a little. But I'm also aware of how much people don't seem to be aware of what they're throwing away--especially with what I see in the wastebaskets at work.

nina said...

There's a lot each of us can do to cut back and reuse in our personal lives, but it was frustrating to see how much trash fast food or retailers generate that we become a part of without choices--except perhaps to not overdo.

Julie Zickefoose said...

I love this. It reminds me of the recommendation that CEO's at nuclear power plants be required to take the compacted radioactive waste home with them in their briefcases...
Are you allowed to burn anything under the terms of the experiment? It's my favorite way to get rid of most of the solid waste we generate out here...and yes, we donate to the possums for the decomposables, but not everyone can do that where they live. We recycle everything we can and it's often several weeks between trips to the dumpster for the rest. I've been dealing with every scrap of my trash for 26 years (as long as I've lived without trash pickup) so it's second nature. Bravo to you for doing this and sharing the notion.

nina said...

I'm not sure what you're "allowed" to do, according to Tess Vigeland, but we burn a bit, too. (Especially what we would drop into a paper shredder!)
And, because we try to keep our propane use down by supplementing with a wood-burning stove, I can justify using paper as a fire starter as an alternative to fossil fuels.
When you HAVE to deal with it, you can be very creative. It's been too easy for too long that we've gotten lazy.