As my family's garbage output is now officially less than ten percent of the average American's (see sidebar Riot 4 Austerity numbers), I feel like I can finally talk some serious trash. There are tons of ways to taper off your trash: compost, ditch disposables, make your own, buy items with less packaging or better yet don't buy it at all. The list could go on and on but the simplest way is to stretch your resources. In other words, it ain't empty until it's empty.
Several weeks ago I lifted the lid on the bathroom waste can only to discover our toothpaste tube lounging amongst the spent tissue and cotton swabs. Sure, to the Muggle eye, that tube looked empty. I knew better. I rescued it from the waste bin and, squeezing and scrunching, happily brushed my teeth with its contents for another three weeks.*
Like Green Bean Good Fairy, I glide from room to room working my stretching sorcery on various lotions, conditioners and soaps. We have mostly switched to bar soap but, for years, I added a splash of water to liquid soap whenever I refilled a container. We are almost out of face cream. Before delving into what would be the most eco-friendly replacement, however, I decided to do the greenest thing of all and keep using what we had - with some water mixed in. My husband asked me this morning if I've refilled the bottle because it seems to be regenerating itself. ;-) The added benefit is that the water actually makes the thick lotion easier to apply.
As to the conditioner languishing in my shower, that baby has been around since before the dawn of global warming. Like a miracle of biblical proportion, even though I add water every time I use it (every 3rd or 4th shower alternating with the vinegar wash), the creamy consistency remains the same, the bottle just as full.
For other products, I forgo adding water and just use less. A capful of laundry detergent? Why? A 1/4 of a capful (and sometimes none) will get the job done. You don't really need to fill that little bowl full with dishwasher detergent - just a dash.
To what do I owe my mystical powers? Why, to my parents, of course. In the interest of frugality, we would often add a bit of water to a near empty ketchup bottle to use up the dregs. It worked like a charm - unless someone went overboard and the ketchup turned to tomato soup. That was not so tasty on the tater tots.
So with that final warning to not be overly exuberant with the water, I hereby bestow, on you, my powers of alchemy. Go forth and bewitch thy bottles, remembering the simple spell: reducing the refuse makes everything good to the last drop.
*To further reduce wasteful packaging, many people make their own toothpaste. I'm sure this is fine but, after taking my then 4 year old in to have 8 cavities filled in one sitting (we were using store bought toothpaste without fluoride), I'm a bit gun shy to transition the family to homemade toothpaste. We'll stick with a "natural" brand of toothpaste.