Sunday, May 25, 2008

Trimming My Waste Line


I've slimmed down quite a bit in the last 12 months. Well, not me so much. You don't think you lose weight by eating oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, do you? But my trash and recycling bins are positively svelte. We have bi-monthly curbside pick up for recyclables but only take it out monthly. My family of four throws off so little trash that it would take us a month or more to fill our 32 gallon garbage can.

Trimming trash has been one of the easiest ecologically-minded change we've made. In many cases, it's just a matter of putting an item previously thought of as "trash" or "recycling" into a different bin or bag. Here are the more obvious ones:
  • compost
  • use reusable containers for food, juice and water
  • make our own yogurt, jam, bread, butter and such
  • buy milk and cream in reusable glass bottles
  • use towels instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper
  • buy in bulk using reusable Ziploc bags or netted produce bags
  • use a Diva Cup
  • buy the biggest size available
  • plant from seed when possible and, when planting from plastic nursery pot (which, in my area, are not recyclable), take them to a local nursery for reuse; our nurseries will use 1 gallon and up size but schools will use the smaller ones
  • reuse all plastic bags (e.g., for mulch, dry cleaning - tie a knot in the bottom) to line kitchen garbage can
  • buy products with little or no packaging (e.g., shampoo bar soap, farmers' market bar soap, this dental floss)
  • use the Preserve toothbrush and return it for recycling
  • buy 7th Generation toilet paper from Amazon and avoid the plastic (thanks Fake Plastic Fish!) - bonus, the kids will play for days in the big cardboard box it comes in
  • use every last drop of a product
  • reuse wrapping paper, ribbons, rubber bands, glass jars
  • cancel magazine subscriptions
  • get off junk mail lists by calling or emailing every company that sends us an item of junk mail
  • use back side of paper for printing, kids' drawings
  • save items for reuse in school craft projects
  • keep plastic or other utensils in a plastic bag in your purse/backpack/car and use them on the rare occasions you go out for ice cream, frozen yogurt, fast food, etc.
  • bring our own reusable container for restaurant leftovers or, if as I often forget, wrap it in a napkin or ask for a piece of aluminum foil
  • donate to thrift stores
  • repair items - especially when hole or break is small
  • reuse fabric items that are beyond repair for rags - now you don't need the paper towels!
  • try to freecycle (or list as free on Craigslist) anything before tossing it; we had 4 freecyclers wanting our broken refrigerator even though we disclosed the problems
  • buy less stuff
Here are a few of the less-obvious ones that I've picked up over the last year:

1) Crappy Plastic Toys: You know the ones - your kid brings them home from a pinata or in a goodie bag, maybe they were handed out at Halloween. I periodically gather the unbroken ones from various crevices in my home and put them all in a bag. Once the bag is full, we take it to my sons' dentist office where the toys are added to their treasure box. The dentist doesn't have to buy new toys as often, the toys we have don't end up as landfill fodder and, best yet, they are out of my house.

2) Shipping Boxes and Packing Material: Whenever we get anything shipped to us, I put the box and shipping material in the garage. Once they reach a certain number, or I'm tired of stepping over them, I list them on freecycle or Craigslist. Typically, they are taken within a couple of days by someone who is moving or an Ebayer.

3) Strawberry Baskets, Egg Cartons: I always save my strawberry baskets, the cardboard flats they come in, egg cartons and similar containers and return them to the farmer I got them from at the farmers' market. The last time I brought in my strawberry baskets and cardboard flats, the farmer gushed what a big difference it makes, financially, for them to be able to reuse all of these items and knocked a buck off of my price.

4) Empty Wine Bottles: I must thank a reader for this for this tip. We save our wine bottles and, once we reach 2 dozen or more, list them on freecycle or Craigslist for projects or home brewing. It takes a bit longer to unload these but you bypass the recycling center and the energy expended transporting and recycling bottles. Don't forget to recycle your wine corks here.

Take my word for it. It's a lot less painful than giving up oatmeal chocolate chip cookies?

UPDATE: Make sure to read the comments for more great ideas!

18 comments:

Heather @ SGF said...

Great ideas! We do much of that too but never thought about #2 o #4. Thanks, Green Bean!

Chile said...

Great list, Green Bean. And definitely easier than givin' up the cookies. Although...I'm working on a possible challenge for next month and it might involve those cookies. Hey! Why are you running away?

Green Plan(t) said...

You have some great ideas here, many I hadn't even considered! I just did a 101 Things in 1001 Days challenge specifically for "greening", with one whole section on waste, and there are many of your suggestions that I could use. Thank you!

Joyce said...

I like your list! We do a lot of this, but there were a few things in there I hadn't thought of.

Green Bean said...

Heather: Glad you picked up a few ideas! I gleaned a few from the list you had up last week. I think these kinds of lists are usefully not only to folks just embarking on a lighter lifestyle but to people who've already traveled a ways down that path. We can always learn more from each other.

Chile: Um, did I tell you that I'm busy in June. I mean REALLLLLY busy. Way to busy for any sorts of challenges, at least the kind that affect my cookie quota. Besides, I've been biking quite a bit more, my girl. I need sustenance.

Green Plan(t): So glad to be able to add to your list!

Joyce: As I said with Heather, I think we can always pick up a new idea or two from each other and I love it when folks share theirs. :)

Chile said...

Green Bean, no excuses will be accepted.

ruralaspirations said...

wow. So, our family of four plus one bachelor in the basement suite puts out only 1/2 can every week (we have a 2 can limit). We do send out a huge amount of recycling however. Anyways, I thought we were doing pretty good but you gave some wonderful tips. And THANK YOU for the amazon tip and the Preserve product line (I've been agonizing about shaving lately).

arduous said...

GB, my third book for "Be a Bookworm" was recommended by Beany, and DOOD is it good!

It's "Rubbish" by William Rathje and Cullen Murphy and if you haven't read it, you really should!

What it has really convinced me of is the necessity for citywide composting programs. Admittedly, the figures from the book are old (it was written in 1992) but it states that in 1992, edible and inedible food debris constitutes 1/5 of household garbage waste!!

Anyway, since I know you have an unhealthy fascination with garbage (just like me) I thought you would like to add it to your ever-growing list. ;)

Green Bean said...

Chile: I'm now going to pretend that I don't see your comment. I'm not sure you want to come between me and a cookie. It needs to be done, true, but it won't be pretty.

RI: It sounds like you guys are doing awesome. I love these kinds of lists bc I can almost always pick up a tip or two. As to recycling, our cans/bottles/plastic are pretty good but paper is still abysmal. The tough part is all the stuff that is sent home from school and such.

Arduous: Awesome!!! I so am going to read that book. I still haven't finished Garbage Land either. I don't know if you remember but my city is trying to pass through a food scrap composting program with curbside pick up. Seeing your figures, that would be huge. I'll add that to my list. Thakns for the rec.

Chile said...

You know, you could just go in and delete the comment entirely, Green Bean. And choose the option "delete forever" so you could erase it entirely from your consciousness. You could do this, but then you'd be letting the cookie win.

kendra said...

As I read this my husband pulled up our recycling container, tomorrow is recycling day. We also usually only fill it full about once a month. And even though we have a family of four and one in diapers we have one of the tiny garbage cans which we rarely fill (thanks in large part to cloth napkins and cloth diapers).

So that Burt's Bees Shampoo Soap really works, eh? I'll have to give it a shot! My husband has been trying to get me to jump on the Dr. Bronners as shampoo wagon, and I just can't. It leaves my hair feeling so icky.

Green Bean said...

Something to think about, Chile. I can beat pretty much everything but a cookie. Let me ponder.

Kendra: really, it does work. It leaves my hair cleaner than liquid shampoo ever did but it is a different feeling - literally squeaky clean. I've not tried the Bonners but it is similar to the Liggett shampoo bar.

eco 'burban mom said...

Thanks for the tip on the wine bottles! I hadn't thought of that one. Some lucky crafter out there is going to get a lot of bottles! I have 4 kids you know, that qualifies for a bottle now and then. More now than then though... :o)

kale for sale said...

Couple of additions for this great list. I take back the jam and almond butter jars I buy from farmers at the market. They're thrilled. I also buy heirloom seedlings from folks at the market and return their pots to them. Again, smiles all around. Thanks for the freecycle idea on wine bottles and corks. That's a new one for me.

Green Bean said...

EBM: Only a bottle more now than then? I've got two and that's what we do. I'd hate to think how much wine I'd drink if I added another pair of boys! ;-)

Kale: Awesome idea! Now why didn't I think of those? Oh yeah, because it's so important for all of us to share these types of ideas. Two heads - or 14 - are always better than one. Thanks for sharing.

Chile said...

The gauntlet has been thrown, Green Bean. Dare you pick it up?

Beany said...

As arduous says...Rubbish is excellent. It really tackles some pre-conceived notions of the composition of a landfill. Its a really, really good read. And trimming any and all waste is the step to preventing it from winding up in a landfill or in an incinerator or in some poor Mexican's backyard. I do wonder what the composition of consumer waste is now however compared with the early 90s.

And eat all the cookies you want...we need all the energy we can muster for the post carbon world.

Green Bean said...

Beany, thanks. I will definitely check out Rubbish. And don't worry . . . nothing is coming between me and my cookie. It's as Arduous says. I'm good, not perfect.

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