Thursday, January 29, 2009

Talking Trash

According to GOOD magazine, each American throws away 5 pounds of trash per day. That, coupled with industrial waste, generates 251 MILLION TONS of trash each year. You can watch the video here.

So it got me thinking about the things I throw away. I am currently living at home with my mother, and between the two of us, we barely generate any trash whatsoever. Garbage collection is tomorrow and there is nothing to be taken out this week. Sure, we have a half-full bag in the kitchen, and sure, there are bags filled to varying half-degrees elsewhere in the house, but that represents one week where we will not contribute a thing to a landfill.

Last week, there was one bag. I noticed it because, the night before, I was going to take the trash out to the curb, but there was nothing to go out! The next morning, before she left for work, she took the mostly-filled bag of kitchen trash out. And that was it.

As the video points out, one third of all household trash is packaging waste. My introduction to the idea of wasteful packaging came early. Grocery shopping with my father, as a child still in elementary school, meant helping to pick out the ingredients that would make up lunch during the school week. My brother and I always wanted the little bags of chips— you know the ones— that come in "individually-sized" bags, packed into a box of nine. Oh, the allure of Cheetos and Doritos and Lays potato chips when you're 10 years old. Occasionally, my mom or dad would buy them, but usually any request at the store was met with a stern lecture on the dangers and prevalence of "wasteful packaging." To this day, when I hear that phrase, I can imagine my father standing in the snack aisle of Meijer.

Of course, as each and every bag of chips mentions, "contents may settle during shipping." What that basically means is that you're getting a plastic bag filled about halfway with chips, and the other half with air and lots of snazzy graphics. As a kid, all I wanted was the damn Fritos. But I realize now that his mini-lectures settled somewhere within my psyche, and have emerged into my life in a big way.

My mom and I shop at our local food co-op [click there for the co-op directory, to find one near you]. We try to buy locally grown and produced food as much as possible, shop at a local farmers market during the growing season, reuse paper bags and take our own when we shop. I suppose those few things are the main reasons that we don't generate much trash in a week. Maybe those things are what make us an aberration, removing us from the American norm. I'm not sure, because as I often say, I have a hard time telling if everyone lives like me [they don't] or if I live in some kind of lifestyle bubble, surrounded by a lot of other people who conduct their lives in a similar way. Maybe another thing that sets us apart is that we very rarely consume fast food. Many eco-minded people will point out that fast food wrappers, from the paper around a burger to the little packets of ketchup to the bag it comes in, are designed to travel a few feet from the counter, be opened, and then be thrown away. By eliminating that kind of consumption, you eliminate that kind of waste.

Of course I buy fast food every now and then, but I limit it as much as possible. Of course I buy things that are done up in unnecessary packaging. In this society, it's unavoidable. But there are easy ways to reduce your refuse. If you don't need a bag to carry that gift card you bought, don't take one. Tell the salesperson you can just carry it. And if you do end up with a couple bags or boxes or something, reuse them. Recycle the cardboard, recycle the packing peanuts, save the bubble wrap to use again somehow. I have a collection of bags from clothing stores that drives my mom crazy. When you actually look at the number of bags you receive from day to day, it's startling.

And of course, as I just mentioned, one of the best ways to cut down on waste is to recycle! Where I live, you can recycle all sorts of things. Aluminum, newspaper, clear and brown glass, #1 and #2 plastic [still hoping for more!], "junk mail" and mixed paper, magazines, paperboard [yes, I recycle all my toilet paper rolls. what of it?], phone directories, batteries, shoes, cardboard, paper bags, cell phones, electronics... even fishing line!! I also collect green glass which can be recycled in Ann Arbor, an hour from here. If I'm going to make a trip there, I might as well recycle that too! Fruit and veggie peelings get tossed out back, into the garden. Old clothes are donated or turned into rags. There are so many ways to reduce waste! And it takes a minimal amount of effort, really.

I also believe that, in a world overrun with landfills and rife with environmental problems, there is just no excuse not to.

So back to our trash can that will be staying in the garage tomorrow, all alone. I'm proud that tomorrow, the only "refuse" from my home will be a bin full of recyclables. Ours may be the only house on the street without a trash can outside.


gaz said...

cool post. did you know you can compost your toilet roll tubes too, as well as your cardboard egg cartons.
we're a family of 5 and we have just under a full black bag of refuse a week - the rest we recycle/compost. we put out a full bag of paper and a full bag of plastic every fortnight. to think that for years all this was going to landfill makes you feel pretty... rubbish.
keep it green...

Yels said...

Yes, we recycle our boxboard too! And actually, we buy eggs from a local farmer so we return the egg cartons to her when we're done, so that they can be reused. Same with the glass milk bottles we get from a local dairy.

an.t. said...

We are astounded by the amount of trash that our neighbors with small children generate. We only put trash out every other week, as we recycle, compost and try to make responsible packaging choices. Still, it's frustrating to the heaps of trash generated on just our street.

an.t. said...

...*to see*...that is!