One of the catalysts to shifting our thinking about our consumerism was an eye-opening tour of our local waste transfer facility.
Since then, we’ve been working toward zero waste to varying degrees. By setting up some simple systems and without a whole lot of effort other than some habit changes, we were able to reduce our garbage output to one small gallon bin once per week. And even then, we were far from getting to where we wanted to be. Unlike the Zero Waste Home, which puts all of us to shame. For real inspiration, be sure to check them out.
Once we moved from our suburban home to the sticks, we had an increase in our garbage output out of sheer overwhelm at all the work that everything took, so we fell back to the convenience of package-wrapped food. We had ordered garbage service out here for $50/month, but have since cancelled it.
We found out that our local recycling facility would take all of our recyclables for free, and as an added bonus, we could bring in one small bin of garbage. The money savings over the year is great, but we get something more valuable than that: Direct contact with our waste stream.
When someone neatly takes away your garbage each week, it’s easy not to think about it. Fresh veggies wrapped in plastic. Snacks in wrappers inside of more wrappers. Recycled toilet paper in non-recyclable plastic (!). It all just goes away with the garbage truck and magically disappears.
But now that we’re responsible for getting rid of our own waste, we think a lot harder about the garbage we welcome into our home. Yesterday, we took one of our trips to the recycling center with the kids, so they can be part of the process.
In the past, Mauricio has done the dirty work, so even though I’m more conscious than most about garbage, I was truly shocked (again) by what we found there. Perfect mirrored doors. Three kids’ bikes in working order. Brand new math workbooks with no writing in them. Stuff that would have been well received at Goodwill, Salvation Army, Freecycle, building salvage or Craigslist. But no. People were too lazy for that extra step, and as a result, perfectly usable stuff was sent to the landfill.
In fact, reducing waste is a fairly simple proposition, once you have the systems and, more importantly, the frame of mind in place. Here’s how we’ve done it, with the disclaimer that we are a zero-waste work in progress, with frequent falls off the wagon.
1. We use cloth grocery bags. And go back to the car if we forget them.
2. We buy most of our staples in bulk, putting them in our own cloth drawstring bags, and typing bulk numbers in the phone to give to the cashier.
3. At home, we store all our bulk goods in resealable jars that look way prettier in the cupboard than all that packaging. Don’tcha think?
4. We bring glass containers and jars to the store, write the empty weight (TARE) on the jar, and fill them at the grocery store. Great for olives from the olive bar, grind-your-own peanut butter, cheeses, olive oil, sour cream, ice cream, and pretty much anything you buy at a counter. The person behind the counter may look at you funny, but if you ask like it’s no big deal, they’ll do it. You might even make a new friend, like my cheese supplier, Dragica, who I used to look forward to seeing every week before we moved.
5. We buy toilet paper wrapped in paper and recycle the paper wrapping.
6. We mostly get our fruit and vegetables, sticker-free, from the year-round farmer’s market (Reason number 46 to love California). We store them in stainless steel food service bins with lids.
7. We squeeze fresh orange juice with a manual juicer.
8. We get our milk and yogurt in glass jars and return them for the deposit.
9. We get our bread from the bakery counter, put it in cloth, and keep it in a bread box like our grandmas used to do.
10. I used get great wine for a mere $5 a bottle at our local winery’s bring-your-own bottling event. Haven’t found one near our new home, but I’ve seen a few local wineries I’ve been meaning to check out.
11. We go to U-Pick farms and then can delicious homemade jam.
12. We buy pretty much all clothing, household goods, tools and vehicles (even our RV) used, but nearly new. We gladly accept perfectly good hand-me-downs, like roller skates, from friends for birthday presents.
13. For online purchases, we almost always can find used in like-new condition from Amazon Warehouse Deals. We bought our propane water heater that way (Shouthouse update coming soon, I promise. We’re putting on the finishing touches).
13. We compost all food scraps and dirty paper goods.
14. We skip the plastic garbage bags and put any waste that isn’t recyclable or compostable directly into the garbage bin.
15. We sacrifice some of the things we love, like snack bars, because they come in too much packaging.
16. We frequently give in and buy things in packaging and waste, then take responsibility for it by taking it ourselves to the waste station and try to do better.
17. And finally, we salvage free stuff from the landfill and squeeze more life out of it. Another added bonus to taking responsibility for your own waste. You never know what you’ll find.