Monday, April 6, 2009

Talking Trash Again

My daughter came home on Friday all excited about her upcoming field trip. They’re going to the dump! I take great pride in the fact that my daughter is so thrilled to be touring the county dump. Although chaperoning field trips is almost as attractive to me as having a root canal, this is one field trip I’d love to tag along for. I’m really curious what happens after my garbage leaves my driveway, and I’d like proof that they really are recycling the things they say they are recycling. I have my momentary doubts when I watch the garbage men fling all my recylables in to the same receptacle and press the masher.

In Pennsylvania we incinerate our trash. Horrible, I know, but I guess that’s what each state has to decide – do you put the garbage in the ground or the air? Many of my hillbilly neighbors don’t bother with the formalities of trash cans and simply burn their trash themselves. It’s definitely not a perfect world. I’d like to hear from the dump director about the logic behind burning versus burying. So, yeah, I’d love to go to the dump and I’ll be pumping my daughter for information the moment she gets home.

The only real solution to the problem of trash is to make less of it in the first place. It has to be said – if we buy less stuff, we’ll have less to throw away. I’m reading a book called, Not Buying It by Judith Levine. It’s her year of not buying anything but necessities. Nevermind that she paid off a huge credit card debt during that year, she also comes to terms with just what is a necessity and how much she really can live without. I’m thinking of having my own period of not buying it. Maybe I’ll even start a Not Buying It group.

The other ways to make less trash are to reduce, recycle and compost. A friend asked me to write about composting. I’ve been composting for so many years I don’t even think about it anymore. So I’m going to think about it this week and I’ll post about it on Friday. Meanwhile, recycling is pretty basic. We’re all getting good at it, but we could be better. In PA they are now accepting other numbers besides 2 and 5 on your plastics, so there’s more to recycle. But you can also recycle on your own. I’ve mentioned how great yogurt cups are for starting seedlings. Empty prescription drugs bottles are also wonderful for storing seeds. Many plastic containers work great for freezing leftovers (just don’t heat them up in the same container). There is really no reason to ever buy a drawer organizer – check boxes and plastic shredded cheese containers work great. Shoe boxes can be used to hold pictures or organize just about any shelf that’s out of control. We throw away so much, yet constantly troop over to Walmart to buy more containers to hold our stuff.

Packaging is one thing that really fills a trash can. So much is overpackaged. It’s absurd, really. My husband has patiently explained to me again and again, that when a company is shipping thousands of products in containers on ships from Asia, those products must be overpackaged to prevent them from being damaged. The cost of the overpackaging (and all the hours of people twisting the little ties that hold everything in place so they look just so) is much less than the cost of products lost to damage. OK I get it, but that only creates one more great argument for buying locally. So consider not only what you are buying but how it is packaged.

Recycling and reducing saves you money. If you’re serious about it, it could save you big money. More importantly, the example you set is teaching your children. We cannot afford to be a throw away society anymore. There’s only so much room on our planet. Here are a few ideas to help reduce and recycle:

1. Buy in bulk whenever possible (and be sure to recycle the plastic bags you use to hold your bulk items)
2. Take your own bags to all stores, not just the grocery store. Most store clerks everywhere don’t bat an eye when you bring your own bag.
3. Develop a storage system for odd size plastic containers – that’s half the problem with keeping them. Once there is a place for them, you’ll be more inclined to reuse them.
4. Shop Goodwill and yard sales where you can reuse someone else’s goodies (and the bonus is no packaging and you save lots of money!)
5. Give away things you don’t need. If you aren’t using it and/or loving it, someone else might be able to. Figure out which of your friends isn’t offended by leftovers and/or donate your stuff to Goodwill.

I’ve got a bunch more ideas, so I’ll save them for Wednesday because I’m sure you’re tired of reading by now. This week I challenge you to look at everything you throw out and consider whether it really is garbage.


  1. Great blog, Cara! Another great idea is just to ask for no bag at the stores. Especially if I'm buying a single item at the card store, Walmart, or from my fav Mary Kay rep! I just pop it in my purse and go!

  2. I so agree about the overpackaging and I'm not convinced about the "protection" theory.

    I've been on a major spring cleaning spree - 5 big bags/boxes to Purple Heart this am, 2 boxes to Goodwill, 1 box of books to the library, and one box of trash! AND, I bought no new things to reorganize with! I've been repurposing like mad - I know have a Royal Doulton toothbrush holder and soap dish (little cute things I bought in England and that have only been dust collectors until now.

    The inspiration for all of this was a green leaf glass fan pull from Busy Mamas Beading1. Thank you Cara and Lisa

  3. I have just started posting about our recycling and organic gardening efforts. I love reading about other people's efforts.