I’ve talked a few times about how important it is to me to reduce the amount of waste we produce. I’ve read numerous books on the subject, too. And you know what? No matter how “easy” those authors say it is to live a “zero waste lifestyle,” they’re WRONG. It’s really hard. At least it is where I live.
But I try. And I think we do okay (if my neighbors’ full garbage cans every week are any indication, anyway). We go through, on average, one plastic grocery bag two to three times a week in waste. By limiting our waste, we’re not only contributing less to the landfill (a passion of mine), but also saving the money on garbage service – we don’t have it at all. Because we go through so little waste, we just take our bags to the grocery store and dump them in the public waste bins. And when we do get a surplus of large trash items, we borrow my dad’s truck and take a load to the “transfer center” for a small fee.
So how do we keep our waste low? There are three basic steps.
First, buy things with no packaging whenever possible. Spices, pasta, rice, flour, sugar… all bought in bulk. I use my own cloth bags for those items. As a bonus, the store gives me a half credit (3 cents) off for each of those bags I use. When packaging is necessary, choose packaging that is either small (I love the new way our store packs boneless, skinless chicken breasts – in vacuum packed bags rather than on Styrofoam trays) or paper. For us, we burn the paper garbage in our fireplace. In the winter, this helps us to start our fires easily; in the summer, it reduces our waste to ash which is smaller than packaging.
Second, recycle. Curbside recycling is available in most areas as an add on to garbage service. Since we don’t have garbage service, we don’t have curbside recycling. So we take our recyclables to the recycling center ourselves. It’s completely free. When we can’t get over there (which has been recently, since we’re car free at the moment), our neighbors let us buddy up on their recycling bins since they rarely fill them up anyway.
Third, compost. This one’s so easy. All you need is a place in your backyard for a large, covered garbage can. Kitchen scraps and some paper can all go in there, as well as the grass when you mow your lawn. I keep a small paper bag on my kitchen counter (think the mushroom sacks at the grocery store) and fill it up with vegetable scraps. When it’s full, we take it out, and the whole thing – bag and all – goes right into the bin. Easy peasy. So long as you don’t add things like branches to your compost, it will degrade really quickly and you’ll have a wonderful fertilizer for your garden. (We learned about the branches thing the hard way; we ended up taking some to the landfill because they were preventing our compost from decomposing at all for a really long time.)
I’m not going to pretend that these things are reasonable solutions for everyone, especially the limiting packaging thing and the composting thing. They take a bit of dedication, and it can be hard. But they’re not impossible.
How do you limit your waste?