Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Garbage Update

Oh, what a lovely title for a post. :)

If you'll recall, awhile back I posted about wanting to reduce/eliminate the amount of garbage we create. We posted a log above the garbage can, and for a couple of months tracked everything we put in there. (Yes, we actually did!). Notably, we used the same kitchen garbage bag during that entire time... thanks to cloth diapering, composting, and recycling, we create very little garbage. As a side note, Frugal Babe (awesome as she is) has started re-using her kitchen garbage bag, by simply dumping the contents into their outdoor garbage can. How ingenious! I'm going to start doing this as well. In any case, we really wanted to know what kind of stuff we were shipping off to the landfill. What we discovered was that the vast majority of our garbage was non-recyclable packaging waste. Things like the little styrofoam tops from new ketchup bottles, peanut butter jars, etc. Also butter wrappers (the butter I buy comes in four individually-wrapped sticks, which makes measuring for baking a cinch, but creates more waste than I had realized). Odd crafts that the kids have done that make use of non-recyclable, non-compostable craft supplies - think pom poms, little foam shapes, glitter, etc. (for the record I don't buy this stuff, it's stuff that others have given us). Stickers (again, given to us). Hallowe'en was a big contributor to our garbage, mainly in the form of chip bags. Chip bags are not recyclable nor compostable thanks to the foil lining. Lids from jars/bottles that are not recyclable. New clothes that were received as gifts often have size stickers on them, and those security labels sewn to the inside that you're supposed to cut out before washing or wearing. Over Christmas we received gifts that were wrapped in wrapping paper, which is not recyclable.

What I learned mostly from this experiment is that I believe living garbage-free is attainable, at least for the things that are within our control. We're slowly working our way up to making everything from scratch, which will eliminate the packaging waste. We're joining an organic bulk-buying co-0p which will allow us to purchase our staples in bulk quantities at a much reduced cost, as well as reduced packaging. I also figure that I will spend less time shopping, which means I can spend more time making things from scratch. We rarely throw clothing away; we try to mend clothing that needs repair whenever possible. If it's beyond repair, it usually turns into a rag for cleaning. Old holey socks (provided they are wool or cotton) can be cut into small pieces and composted. When purchased new, durable goods come with a lot of wasteful packaging, so buying durable goods second-hand would eliminate that waste.

However, what was most apparent was that a large portion of our garbage is actually created as a result of other people giving us stuff. While we are always grateful for what others give us, it is a little frustrating when it creates waste. Since we wouldn't have very many friends or family left if we commented on this, we of course don't say anything! Instead we just try to lead by example, and hope that others will catch on. I was thinking that for next Christmas I'd get creative with my wrapping that we give to others. I've been saving the kids' paintings to use as wrapping paper(they paint on those big rolls of brown kraft paper). I also thought of buying a few meters of pretty Christmas fabric, finishing the edges, and using it as gift wrap, tying it with a pretty, reusable ribbon. Hopefully the recipient of the gift will pay it forward the next year, using that fabric to wrap a gift they're giving to someone, and so on. This would work for birthday gifts, etc. as well.

I also think that we can greatly reduce the amount of recycling we put out each week, just by being more conscious of packaging. (Many people think that recycling = green, but the reality is that recycling takes energy, uses resources, and creates its own waste. The green motto is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - in that order! So reducing and reusing are always better than recycling). Buying in bulk will hugely reduce our recycling output, as will making things from scratch. I've started buying maple syrup in glass bottles from a local supplier, and I'm saving the bottles to return to them when I buy new syrup. The farmer whom we buy our eggs from takes his egg cartons back and re-uses them. We buy Allen's Naturally laundry soap in the gallon-sized bottle, and when used with our high-efficiency washing machine lasts us a whole YEAR. We used to go through a bottle of laundry soap a month when we used the regular grocery store stuff. Ultimately I'd like to start making our own personal care products from scratch - toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, etc., which would eliminate the packaging waste that goes along with all that stuff. I'm trying to shift from buying ready-made products, to raw materials that can be made into many things. It's a slow process, but we're getting there, one baby step at a time.

I'd love to hear any tips you have on how you've managed to reduce the amount of waste your family creates, or if you have any ideas for me!


  1. hey, this year I bought a large roll of brown shipping paper ($3.99) at superstore. This did all of my presents and the best part is we could burn it in our wood furnace. We cannot burn anything colored. The only presents that were wrapped in color was the two presents,one for each child from Santa. Next year I may get them to decorate it as well. Not only did this reduce our garbage consumption by %90 that time of year it was cheap.

  2. When I do go out to eat I try to take my own durable food container with me for any leftovers. This avoids the predicament of having to choose to either waste food or take home the styrofoam box.

    Be careful when composting commercial socks and other textiles. Socks usually have spandex or some other synthetic fiber for elasticity. Of course, if you knit you own wool socks, you don't need to worry!

  3. making your own laudry soap is a cinch and greatly reduces the cost, as well as waste! I make 5 gallons at a time (I don't have a washer like yours), and the total cost is under $1.50! Using 1/4 cup per load makes 5 gallons last a long time (320 loads)! There are lots of recipes out there, but most use the same three basic ingredients: soap, borax, and washing soda. I have several friends with washers like yours, and the homemade stuff works very well for them!

  4. Hi Laureena,
    Thanks for the tip! I've been doing some thinking lately about making more things like that myself. I'd like to even try making my own dish soap. And after reading the ingredients in my kids' "natural" toothpaste, I've been on the hunt for a good recipe so I can make my own! That's really the best way to know what's really in it. Can you share your laundry soap recipe?

  5. We just joined a food co-op so that we can buy food in bulk and eliminate a lot of the bags and containers that clutter our trash/recycle bins.
    I also started saving our glass jars instead of recycling them. They make great food storage containers, and will come in handy with bulk buying and with the food we grow in our garden.
    Thanks for the link!

  6. I enjoy reading about your garbage - as wierd as that is. :P I'm pregnant w/our third and thought you sold cloth pad and diapers. Do you not anymore? I would like to take this time to build up a stash slowly over the next months.

    I've tried a few diff. homemade laundry soaps and they work ok for me & the boys. not for my husband who is a mechanic though.

  7. Hi Bridgett,
    I did have an Etsy shop set up for a little while (cloth pads) but they didn't sell after quite awhile, and I ended up giving them to a friend. Now that I have 3 kids 5 and under, it's a bit more of an undertaking than I can manage right now - I appreciate you thinking of me though! Congrats on your pregnancy! How old are your children?

  8. Thanks & I can certainly understand that. I seen you had a link for pad patterns so I'm going to check that out. I also want to look into some of your sewn toys books. I just enjoy your links and posts. :) My boys are 5 and almost 3.