Thursday, September 24, 2009

How Big is Your Trash Pile?

Sustainability expert Melissa Schweisguth doesn’t throw anything away. In fact she can fit her entire year’s worth of trash in one coffee can. Isn’t that impressive? I’m way impressed. She composts, recycles, re-uses, and even takes her own utensils and napkin with her to restaurants! Talk about living trash free. She is my hero.

I didn’t think our family does too bad on the trash front either. After composting, recycling, and hoarding, most weeks we have a half-full trash can to drag down the hill for the trash truck. I really think if it weren’t for my children, we could get down to a coffee can or two a week. But I have children and children create trash. I take some comfort in the fact that Yu-gi-oh cards can be recycled, but what about all those Littlest Pet Shop creatures and all their stuff?? I was faced with this dilemma this morning as I sorted through our basement. Things have gotten to the breaking point down there. As I confessed in a recent post, it is a dumping ground. Out of sight, out of mind. At least until you need to find an extra lunch box because someone left theirs at school. Wading through the boxes and piles and stepping over the furniture and bins was becoming much too treacherous.

This morning I headed to the basement with boxes, a big contractor clean up bag, and my resolve. I would not hold on to everything. But what about the six thousand pieces of “pottery” the kids made at clay camp? Or the large plastic fragments left from Christmas’ past – part of the Mega-ship Shark Attack? What to do with hundreds of Beanie Babies and their hand-made Beanie Baby sleeping bags? Then there were the craft kits - garden mosaic, Tile-Fun, Your-own-Pottery-Wheel, and those aptly named, Blow Pens? Not to mention the Earthworm observatory and the Ant Farm. What do I do with these things? Lucky for me our church is having a Yard Sale this fall. We go to a very open-minded, environmentally-friendly church filled with creative, resourceful people who are very big on recycling and re-purposing– maybe someone will want a partially used Ant Farm? I filled several boxes with potential treasures. I also filled several boxes for Goodwill because I just can’t bear for anyone to know I ever owned these things. It took hours and hours, but things are a little better down there. Even after re-purposing and recycling, and possibly pawning off as much as I could I still trooped up the stairs with a Contractor Trash Bag filled to the brim. I am no Melissa Schweisguth.

Reading about Melissa did inspire me. It’s made me hyper-aware of everything I bring in to my house. I thought about going to the store today to get the ingredients for Watermelon Slushies. I have a ton of watermelon leftover from the monster watermelon we sliced over the weekend. It needs to be put to use today or it’s chicken food. The recipe called for several items I don’t have so I mentally made plans to stop at the store this afternoon. But as I dug through the mounds of stuff in my basement I thought about our trash allotment. It’s mostly kid junk and food containers that can’t be recycled. Two of the items I need for the slushies come in just such containers. This motivated me to create my own slushies using what I have here so I can keep my trash allotment at zero for today.

I get some really nice e-mails from people who read this blog and I’m always thrilled to hear from anyone, especially someone with more ideas about living a kid-friendly organic life. Here are two products that were suggested by readers that can help reduce the trash created when it comes to packing lunches for your kids (or you):

Reusies –
Reusies are basically 100% cotton bags that are lined with a washable nylon coated material (BPA, Lead and Phthalate free). The Velcro closures on the outside allow you to close the bag tightly and keep the snacks inside instead of all over your lunch box. I was doubtful about this ability, but after using them this summer to carry snacks in my purse, my backpack, my kids’ backpacks, the floor of the car, and the pool bag, I can say that we’ve had no spillage. The bags come in several sizes to fit sandwiches and just about anything else you might put in a Ziploc bag. They can be washed in your washing machine (be sure to turn them inside out and attach their Velcro back to themselves or they will disappear only to be discovered in a sleeve or pantleg someday.) or just rinsed out with water. There are lots of color options to choose from and fun patterns kids will like. The only downside on these little beauties is that they are kind of pricey – 8.75 for large and $6.75 for small. My mom was able to make some with her sewing machine, so if you’re handy like that you might buy a couple and then figure it out for yourself. In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that one of my children refuses to use the reusies, claiming that the food is stale by lunchtime. I’ve done my own tests to verify this and can honestly say it is completely in the mind of the beholder. Nothing I put in there got stale, even after a couple days. To learn more about them and/or order your own, check out

The other product that I really liked, but was again kind of pricey, is Laptop lunchboxes. Each “Bento Set” (this is an international company so I’m not sure where the Bento comes from) is $24.95. The laptops were very cool for my 4th grader, but now that she is in 5th grade, not so much. I think they are perfect for younger children. The lunchbox is shaped like a small briefcase and has four plastic containers inside that nest in the designated compartments. They even come with a teeny, tiny adorable container with a lid for dip to go with your carrots. A slot on the side makes room for utensils. Only one of the containers has a lid, but the lap top is engineered so perfectly that none of the food migrates to any other sections. It’s a fun way to pack a lunch and creates no trash since all the sturdy plastic containers can easily be handwashed. I would love to see a bigger version of these laptops because my youngest child has such an appetite that I just can’t pack enough food in a laptop for him. Also, the laptop doesn’t have a handle or a place for a drink, so it’s a little unwieldy to carry to the lunchroom. The company does sell an assortment of bags to fit your drink and laptop inside, I was just too stingy to go for it. You can get your own Laptop Lunchbox at

Tupperware also makes some really nice sturdy sandwich keepers and snack holders. We got ours adorned with SpongeBob. They even have their own version of the laptop lunchbox which does hold a little more food, but also doesn’t have a handle. I’m sure by the time my kids are grown up, all these glitches will be worked out and there will be an uberlunchbox. Or maybe the schools will finally figure out how to serve a healthy, environmentally conscious lunch. I’m not holding my breath.

It is a challenge to be like Melissa, but it’s a good challenge. I hope you will make it your own.

Post-Post: I did make Watermelon Slushies and they turned out awesome. I’m a bit of a free from cook and didn’t measure anything, but here’s an approximation of the recipe:

Watermelon Slushies

4 cups chopped watermelon (frozen for at least an hour)
1 cup chopped ice
½ cup water
1/8-1/4 cup organic sugar
2 teaspoon lime juice
½ t Orange Essential Citrus Oil

Process thoroughly in blender. Add more water or ice to make the consistency you want. If you don’t have the citrus oil, you could use a ½ cup orange juice instead, or skip it altogether.


  1. Hey, Cara. Thanks for including Laptop Lunches in your post and for doing your part to reduce waste! To answer your question about country of origin, our Bento Sets, Bento Buddies, Bento Bsgs, User's Guides and ice packs are all manufactured in California. Our carrying cases, drink bottles, and lunch jars are imported from China. I should also mention that we just launched our new Laptop Lunches 2.0 line, which centers around a bento set that's a bit larger than the original model.

    Finally, if you ever take a photo of one of your lunches, please send it our way for inclusion in our free monthly e-newsletter. Of course we'll include a link to your site as well!

    Wishing you lots of luck on your quest to reduce your trash to next to nothing. It CAN be done!

  2. Great post! I love the idea of the reusies and we will be making some watermelon slushies very soon. Yum!

    Here is a tip for all that school project "clutter" that seems to accumulate. It was given to me from a friend. Only save what will fit in a small box each year. For the things that don't fit, take a picture of your child with the picture or project and record the memory for them to look at later.