I’ve been thinking a lot about trash lately. Mostly how much I produce. How many bags go out per week, how full my recycling bin is, stuff like that.
And then I wondered how different my choices would be if I had to pay or be responsible for this trash. I am already paying for its removal, as are you, it’s one of those line items in your “City of…” bill or it’s built into your rent, so paying for it is covered.
But what if I had to do something with my trash and recycles? What if I couldn’t just put them at the curb and smile in satisfaction at my clean home?
Let’s play a game… Let’s pretend we’re going grocery shopping for one day of food on the SAD (Standard American Diet).
In our basket we may find:
- 1 box of cereal
- 1 gallon of milk
- 1 quart of orange juice
- 1 dozen eggs
- 1 loaf of bread
- package of smoked turkey lunch meat
- package of American cheese
- 1 jar of mayonnaise
- 1 box of single serving chips
- 1 apple in a plastic bag
- 1 box of Hostess treats
- 1 package of hotdogs
- 1 package of buns
- 1 squeeze bottle of mustard
- 1 squeeze bottle of ketchup
- 1 jar of pickles
- 1 jar of baked beans
- 1 container of potato salad
- 1 12 pack of soda
- 1 gallon of ice cream
First of all, bleck! For your health’s sake, please eat some greens!! But moving on. Let’s take a look at the waste produced just in the packaging.
- 1 box of cereal – cardboard box, wax paper insert
- 1 gallon of milk – plastic jug, plastic lid
- 1 quart of orange juice – plastic bottle, plastic lid
- 1 dozen eggs – Styrofoam container
- 1 loaf of bread – plastic bag, plastic tie
- package of smoked turkey lunch meat – plastic container/wrapper
- package of American cheese – plastic wrapper(s)
- 1 jar of mayonnaise – plastic jar, plastic lid
- 1 box of single serving chips – cardboard box, plastic wrap, plastic bags
- 1 apple in a plastic bag – plastic bag
- 1 box of Hostess treats – cardboard box, plastic wrap for each treat
- 1 package of hotdogs – plastic wrapped
- 1 package of buns – plastic bag, plastic tie
- 1 squeeze bottle of mustard – plastic bottle, plastic lid
- 1 squeeze bottle of ketchup – plastic bottle, plastic lid
- 1 jar of pickles – glass jar, metal lid
- 1 jar of baked beans – tin can with rubber lining
- 1 container of potato salad – plastic container
- 1 12 pack of soda – cardboard box, aluminum cans
- 1 gallon of ice cream – wax coated cardboard
Now let’s say you were going to throw all of this away in one day. A lot of it could go into your recycling bin, but not all. Those lids for mustard, ketchup, pickles, etc. are usually not recyclable. Many plastic bags cannot be recycled. Styrofoam egg containers, maybe. The cardboard can typically be composted or recycled, in some municipalities.
All this sounds like good news! What’s the problem?
The problem is only about 35% of people actually recycle and only a percentage of that gets recycled. There’s too much. Recycling is a business and if there is no need for more of your trash it gets turned away. Where do you suppose it goes?
What if you had to separate all of your recyclables and take them to their individual recycling places and pay to have them recycled? What if there were no service to just pick them up? Would you make different choices?
Let’s take a look at our shopping list one more time and consider some more environmentally friendly choices that may actually be healthier for our bodies as well.
- 1 box of cereal – purchase in bulk (purchase reusable cloth bags to buy dry items in bulk)
- 1 gallon of milk – make your own almond milk, super easy, no waste, store in a reusable glass bottle
- 1 quart of orange juice – buy loose oranges and squeeze your own, compost the peels, nothing like fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1 dozen eggs – ceramic containers are available and doesn’t everyone have a backyard chicken now? Purchase from a farmer’s market or friend, bring your own reusable container
- 1 loaf of bread – bake your own, or let go of gluten for a while and use lettuce to wrap your sandwiches
- package of smoked turkey lunch meat – purchase from a deli that uses paper to wrap meat and ask them to put it in your reusable glass container or washable cloth bag
- package of American cheese – see above
- 1 jar of mayonnaise – make your own, it’s easy and fresh
- 1 box of single serving chips – you don’t need chips, pick up some bulk nuts
- 1 apple in a plastic bag – ditch the plastic bag, you’re going to wash the apple anyway
- 1 box of Hostess treats – you don’t need these either
- 1 package of hotdogs – no, but if you must, again, get them from a deli that will wrap in paper
- 1 package of buns – go bunless or wrap in lettuce or purchase from a bakery that will wrap in paper or use your bag
- 1 squeeze bottle of mustard – make your own or buy an organic brand in glass – save the glass container
- 1 squeeze bottle of ketchup – make your own, easy and fresh
- 1 jar of pickles – you can make your own but if you’re buying glass and saving it, you get a pass
- 1 jar of baked beans – choose a brand that doesn’t line their cans or make your own
- 1 container of potato salad – make your own, grandma must have an amazing recipe
- 1 12 pack of soda – just no
- 1 gallon of ice cream – on a hot summer day make your own, this is a treat
We have ended up with a few glass containers we can reuse, paper than can be composted and maybe one tin can. Don’t you feel better?
The time it would take to make all of this from scratch is probably the same amount of time it would take to sort through all your trash and drive it to separate recycling facilities and pay to have it recycled.
Precycle. Plan ahead. Consider where the packaging will go when you make your purchases.
- Purchase a few glass jars that seal tightly to hold bulk dry goods like rice, cereal, nuts, etc.
- Pick up a variety of sizes of cloth draw string bags for bulk foods and produce.
- Save all the glass containers that are already in your pantry to use for other purposes.
Set waste goals. Find a container that seems like an acceptable amount of waste and notice how long it takes to fill it. Continually try to beat your last record, slower and less.
There are so many great resources out there and inspiring people doing great things. Here are a few:
Website with tons of ideas: www.bezero.org
Article with statistics: harmony1.com