Monday, October 19, 2009

Project: Garbage-Free

Yesterday's post made me realize that we are inching closer to our goal of being garbage-free. There was a time when I would never have thought that this was achievable. The days when our garbage was overflowing with disposables of all kinds. The days before we began composting, when all of our food scraps, shamefully, landed in the landfill, instead of being returned back to the earth where they belong. The whole idea of a landfill rubs me the wrong way. The fact that, as human beings, we are so incredibly wasteful that we actually had to create an entire industry around collecting people's garbage, week after week, and dumping it into a big pile. When the pile gets too big, we cover it up with some nice grass, and start a new pile. It's completely appalling. If you haven't already, I encourage you to watch this video: The Story of Stuff. It's one that I watched in the early days of our journey, and it's very eye-opening and inspiring.

I recall reading awhile ago about a culture (for the life of me I can't remember what it was) that doesn't even have a word in their language for garbage. Everything they have and use either continues to be used, or gets returned to the earth in some manner. That just goes to show how completely unnecessary it is. With just a little more effort and consciousness, I think being garbage-free is completely attainable.

I know that we've come a long way. When we first started this journey, over two years ago now (wow, has it been that long??) we took out a kitchen-can sized bag of garbage every single day. That was just part of my evening kitchen clean-up, was to empty the garbage. And it was full. Now I would say that, on average, we empty the kitchen garbage once a month. How have we done it?

  • As I mentioned, we've ditched the disposables
  • Our community started a curbside compost pick-up (if your community does not yet have one available, I strongly encourage you to lobby your municipal government to start one), but soon we will be starting our own backyard composter
  • Just generally become more conscious of what we purchased, so that we don't have much crap to throw away
  • Started buying flushable, biodegradable kitty litter
  • Stopped buying processed foods, which are often packaged in non-recyclable packaging
  • Started repurposing things that would otherwise have been garbage
  • As of yesterday, started buying recycled and recyclable toothbrushes. :)
Really, those were the major things. And yet, we're still managing to produce a bag (albeit a small one) of garbage a month. I'm more determined than ever to stop producing garbage. :)
So how are we going to do it? Well, when we first started budgeting our money in a purposeful way, the very first step was to track our spending. Every penny. You can't possibly know where you're going unless you know where you've been. In order to know what you're wasting money on, you must first write down every itty bitty expenditure. At the end of the month, you add them all up, categorize them, and stand, with your mouth gaping open, at all the waste. Well, I've decided to track our garbage production in the same way. Enter, the Garbage Log:

I tacked a piece of paper above the garbage can, and anyone who throws something in the garbage must write down what it is. I figure this will achieve two things: One, we'll think twice about what we put in there. Is it really garbage? Is it compostable? Recyclable? Are we just not sure? Do we need to call the recycling hotline (yes, we have one of those!) to find out? Can it be re-used? Freecycled? Re-purposed? The remaining things, the things that we determine are, in fact, garbage, will require more thought. How did we acquire them? Why? Is there a garbage-free alternative? Was it something that someone else gave to us? (Which, admittedly, happens often... packaging, etc. from things other people give us, that we have to dispose of - things that come from the Dollar Store, etc.). Can we find a way to tactfully refuse such things, or request garbage-free alternatives?

Just this morning, it occurred to me that one of things we throw away are the rubber bands that hold our broccoli together. We just have so many of them, that I really couldn't justify keeping them any more, so I started throwing them out. (I guess that's a testament to how much broccoli we go through around here. lol). Well, it occurred to me, that Hank's, the place we go to get our produce, would likely be very happy to have these back! I'm going to start saving them up in a ziplock bag, and returning them there.

It also occurred to me that if we only bought clothing made from natural fibers, it could eventually be composted when it was completely worn out. (After being used as rags, and whatever other use we can get out of it). So no more polyester purchases.

These two things occurred to me just from putting up that Garbage Log - before I had actually written anything on it!

Anyway, that's the plan! I'm on a mission to be garbage-free. I also think this is going to be a very cool homeschool project! Environmental Science, anyone? :) I'll update periodically with our progress, and I'll post what things are on the Garbage Log so that you all can help me eliminate those things. Does anyone care to join me in this?? I'd love some company in this so we can challenge and encourage each other!


  1. What a great idea! I enjoy reading your blog and have been thinking a lot lately about how to reduce the amount of garbage our household produces. Although we still have a long way to go before we are garbage-free, I am going to use your idea of a garbage log to see what we are throwing away and where else the "trash" might go. Great post and I look forward to following your progress!

  2. You are so awesome! I love that you are doing this with your whole household. I am doing this project alone in Japan, and I found that when I stowed my garbage can in the closet, I didn't end up needing it.

    That's a great idea about returning the rubber bands! I would be honored if you checked out my blog: