Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Reducing Garbage, Part 1

A while back, someone on a list I'm on asked for tips on reducing garbage. I've been meaning to write about it for awhile, and every now and then a new idea pops into my head and I jot it down somewhere. It's amazing how little garbage you can produce, once you really become aware of what you throw away and start working on reducing it. We get the smallest can that our garbage company gives out, and we've shared it with our renter and the family across the street and had room left over. One thing you can start doing is becoming aware of what you're throwing away. You don't have to dig through the trash, but just look at it when you toss something else in and think about whether that thing could be eliminated, substituted, recycled, or composted. I'm sure this is far from a comprehensive list, but here's a few ideas at least...

1) Compost: One of the first steps you can take is to stop throwing away food scraps. Compost piles can range from big wire-enclosed areas, to small portable worm bins. Turning your food scraps into gardening soil is a great first step at garbage reduction. Resources for Composting and Worm Bins abound on the internet, and in many cases in your local community. There's even a worm bin specifically designed to turn your pet waste into usable compost, thus keeping it out of the landfill as well.

2) Return to Cloth: Perhaps the easiest thing to remove from your garbage is anything disposable - napkins, paper towels, baby wipes, kleenex, diapers, etc. These used to be the main culprits, but the past few years have seen a veritable explosion in the disposable market, with everything from bibs to facial washcloths, to Swiffer mops being produced just to be used once and thrown away. One of the easiest ways to stop throwing this kind of stuff in the trash is simply to stop buying it. Once I stopped buying paper napkins, I had to have something else in place to use. I started adding to my small supply of cloth napkins (and actually I used washcloths for awhile until I had a big enough stash). I found that if I had a roll of paper towels or a paper napkin handy, it was easy to reach for them. Without them around, you simply don't use them. I do keep a roll of paper towels in the garage for use in times of desperate measures (the cat just barfed on the carpet, that kind of thing), but I haven't bought a new roll since we moved into this house 8 years ago, so they last a long time that way. Cloth diapers, handkerchiefs, washcloths, mop covers, napkins, and bibs are long-lasting and relatively easy to toss in the washing machine (even the diapers weren't as icky and intimidating as I thought they'd be before having babies).

3) Look For Less Packaging: Often we don't have the option of buying something with less packaging - it seems like you need a pair of gardening shears and an expert safe-cracker just to get into the packaging for your basic CD these days. But often we have an option to buy something with less packaging or substitute something reusable. Rechargeable batteries for instance, not only save you from having to dispose of toxic batteries, but also all the packaging that they come in. Buying meat locally means that it comes straight from the butcher wrapped in white paper, instead of resting on styrofoam trays. Buying produce locally avoids those nasty plastic clamshells that are becoming popular in places like Trader Joe's, and if you can swing it to get stuff like milk and eggs from a local source, you can also eliminate egg and milk cartons from your garbage stream and re-use glass bottles instead. Even if you don't have a direct source, there are still local dairies that use and re-use glass bottles (usually with a deposit).

4) Borrow, Barter, Buy Used: If you need to buy something, you can think about whether or not it's something you can borrow, or barter for, or buy used first. Not buying stuff new eliminates packaging, transportation, and possibly having to deal with the remains of whatever you've bought. If you think about it, there's usually no reason for every person on the block to have a hedge trimmer, or a particular best-selling book, or even a pickup truck. Sharing with neighbors or friends is a bonus to all (including the environment). Our chicken tractor is on its way to the 3rd family we've lent it to. Our power-washer has made the rounds of every deck and fence in the neighborhood, and we've borrowed our neighbor's truck or trailer when we needed to haul something. Our daughter is clothed entirely in wonderful hand-me-downs from the neighbor girl down the street, and the clothes keep right on flowing from her to a smaller friend a few blocks away. Thinking outside the box when it comes to consumer goods is also a great way to boost your budget, while reducing your impact on your garbage can and the earth.

1 comment:

OpenHeart said...

Thanks for the tips. They're all things I know, but it helps to be reminded now and then. It's so easy to reach for the paper towel instead of a cloth rag.

I enjoy reading your blog, though I've never left a comment before. Some of your thoughts and ideas have been helpful to me as I try to take steps toward living more sustainably.

(I also do triathlons, so I've been reading that blog too.)