Imagine the world without anger, without greed. We have the power, the tools, the skills and the resources right now to build a peaceful world, where people live in harmony with the Earth and each other. This blog explores ways we are doing just that, one post, one change, one day at a time. Join me. Tell your stories. Ask for help. Spread your ideas for making the vision real and, well, ordinary.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day pledge: One year War on Garbage

Recycling and waste receptacles
Recycling basket and kitchen waste bin
© L. Kathryn Grace
How is it possible that a two-person household can generate nearly 20 gallons of waste every week? I'm declaring a War on Garbage.

It's not like we haven't been conscious of the crud stuffing our can and recycling basket. After all, way back in 1972, I met the man who would become the father of my children when I spoke to the high school ecology club for which he was the teacher sponsor. The topic: Recycling. Our kids grew up with stacks of newspapers and magazines tied up with string, counter tops littered with rinsed cans and bottles, sacks and boxes of sorted waste piling up in the basement, waiting to be hauled to the recycling center.

Plastic bag with collected wastebasket trash
Collected waste basket trash
© L. Kathryn Grace
Despite a lifelong commitment to reducing consumption and waste, my sweetie and I fill the 2.3 gallon trash bin and large recycling basket you see above at least once a week. Twice a week, I go through the house and gather waste from six small baskets, dump them in a plastic bag like this one, add a pound or so of dirty cat litter, tie off and pitch. Plus, every day I scoop and dump an additional mini batch of cat litter. None of that is recyclable.

Counter-top compost bucket
Counter-top compost bucket
© L. Kathryn Grace
Then there's kitchen waste. Last fall, when San Francisco mandated that all households, including apartment buildings, separate food and yard trimmings for city-wide composting, we bought a counter-top crock for collecting food waste. Not having access to a garden, we welcomed the change and fill the half gallon crock three or four times a week.

All told, we're discarding roughly 20 gallons of trash, recyclables and compostables a week. Multiply that by 52, and we're shuffling 1,040 gallons of refuse through the system every year. That's just two people. That doesn't account for our contributions to the waste stream at work. According to the Clean Air Council, the average American pitches 4.39 pounds a day. That's about 1563 pounds a year. I don't know how much our 20 gallons of trash weighs. Either way, our 1,040 gallons or the U.S. average of 1,563 pounds per person seems an incredible amount of junk and gunk.

Peacemonger that I am, I'm declaring a personal war on garbage. We're tossing far too much stuff down our garbage chute. As Julia Butterfly Hill says, speaking of our throw-away culture, there is no away. When we toss something, whether its to the recycling facility or to the land fill, it never goes away. The one exception: Making compost from kitchen scraps and yard waste is such a boon for the soil, gardeners call it Black Gold. That's the silver lining in our personal garbage can story.

Next up: What to do about it? First step in my personal war on garbage: Analyze what we're pitching. I'll talk about that in the next post, and set my first objective toward reducing waste.

What about you? How much garbage do you dump every week? What have you been doing to reduce? How much do you recycle? Are you up for declaring a war on waste in your household?

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We make peace in a million small ways every day.
All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace. All rights reserved.

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9 comments:

Hayden said...

Recycling here is a nightmare. Basically - not done. No where to take stuff that the groceries won't take back... no place for glass, for cans, for paper. The paper is easy, I compost it. It's just more carbon to balance the excess nitrogen I import from the coffee shop at "the corners." Cans do happen - more now, than when I lived in SF. Then I ate fish/seafood fresh a couple times a week, now most often I turn to canned sardines, herring. The nutrient difference is huge, I need it. That leaves glass and plastic, which I try hard to just avoid. When bottles happen (peanut butter, for instance) I add it to my collection of things I use for dry goods or for left overs. Plastics? I rarely buy anything packaged in plastic, and when I do - I'm screwed. Into the garbage-that-never-disappears it goes....

Wanda said...

Fortunately, we have curbside recycling for almost everything. We compost what we can and this season I plan to build a worm compost bin to use on our garden.

When I have something to get rid of that I think might be useful to someone else, I put it beside the road with a "free" sign on it. Frequently, it is gone before the day is done.

Kathryn Grace said...

Hayden, I understand the value of land has as much to do with the vast municipal recycling programs that cities like San Francisco enjoy as it has to do with our determination to be greener cities. Perhaps land is plentiful enough in Michigan that cities and counties there can afford to continue burying waste in the landfill. Sadly, here in San Francisco, as you may know, most of the recycled material goes in the front door of our huge recycling facility, where it is sorted on conveyor belts and shunted out back to ships waiting to take it to China. How much of our recycled waste is actually reused/remade overseas and, very likely, returned to us in glossy shrink-wrapped packaging is difficult to learn. Your practice of avoiding products that cannot be reused/repurposed is the model we all need to follow.

Wanda, you are fortunate to live in one of the greenest cities on the West Coast. Portland has a number of model programs the rest of us could emulate. We too use the casual curbside giveaway for items. What a boon for city dwellers! Quite often, the bits we leave are gone before we get back upstairs and peek out the window to see if anyone wants them. I hope you'll write about your vermiculture project over the next few months. Would love to hear how that goes. It's really quite amazing to see all the food waste turn into a lovely black loamy substance that smells sweet and feels good in the hand.

Sharon L. Grace said...

We just bought "the perfect birthday gift" for one of our grand daughters, and want to buy two more for the other two grand girls. We're so excited about this gift - she'll love it!

And now I see we've used a considerable amount of waste on just one purchased gift.

The actual gift is about 1/5th the total size of the package. There's the box and its lid; the plastic piece that the gift is secured in that's the size of the box; the separate plastic cover that fits over the gift; the light weight cardboard box that the wall adapter is in; the little plastic zip lock bag that hold the USB cord.

All of that packaging arrived at our door inside a USPS mailing box that had air-filled plastic bubble wrap surrounding it.

All of it can go to recycling centers, but how much of it actually gets recycled? We were once told that the plastic bags we used to get in grocery stores were collected, but there wasn't a market for recycling them. So how do we really know what we put out for recycling is actually going to recycling instead of the landfill?

Now I'm wondering.... how much more did our perfect gift cost all of us, and espeically our grand daughters' generation?

SE'LAH... said...

Greetings Kathryn:

Thanks so much for stopping by my Necessary Room today. It's always a pleasure to welcome new friends.

I love the social consciousness you share on your blog.

One Love.

Hayden said...

Here in southwestern rural Michigan, land is cheap, people are relatively poor, and there IS no municipal garbage collection. One hires it done (weekly) from one of several small businesses that collect and make the run to the landfill. Or - one drives to the dump on Saturday, when it's open to the general public, and pays to deliver. We do support the dump with our taxes, and in return have one free pickup load annually that we receive a coupon for with our tax bills. They will collect the standard plastic bottles there for a fee ($1.00 a garbage bag) and recycle it for us. I do get raw milk in those plastic containers, and save them until I have enough to make a run. But here the number on the bottom of the container is a non-issue - they won't take any of it as anything but landfill. I think its not only that the land is cheap and the people poor, but also that there aren't enough people to make recycling pay. I don't know. It irritates me - and others here, too. Especially in the younger generation.

I take all of the paper shred from my brother-in-laws' small business and compost it, along with the coffee grounds from the local coffee house.

When my grandparents were alive, their "dump" was the back slope behind the house. That's where they tossed all of their cans/bottles/refuse. The plants covered it, but we stayed away because of broken glass. I still find very old bottle/cans everywhere there on the land. This is typical of sparsely peopled spaces in the midwest I think. Where there are lots of people it gets cleaned up. Where there are no easy paths, much less roads, it's left to molder. Remnants of a different era.

Kathryn Grace said...

Sharon, yes, every purchase, especially where single item shipping is involved, creates a pile of waste, typically only a part of which is recyclable. Would love to hear your--and any of my readers'--ideas on how we might cut down on such waste.

Se'lah, you are welcome. I so enjoyed your blog--a new discovery, thanks to Wanda--that I added it to my Good Reads list in the sidebar so I can check in regularly.

Hayden, you certainly face a challenge. Having grown up in rural communities, I remember well the family farm dumps. It seemed every farm had one, usually on the downward slope toward a gully. There was almost always a rusted car of 1930s vintage or so, which was great fun to play in, but the half buried rusted tin cans and broken tools and glass were dangerous. They could slice right through a child's thin shoe and into the foot. I wonder if there are enough of you feeling irritated by the situation to begin organizing and developing interest in making community changes. Sometimes it only takes one person. In Boise, Idaho, in the 70s, a high school girl started a community recycling center that eventually became so busy it made a city-wide impact. Twenty-some years later, the city implemented curbside recycling. (Change takes time.)

Chile said...

Before we moved, we kept our trash to a minimum. We threw out approximately one plastic grocery bag of "trash" each week. About double that in recyclables, including most paper and cardboard. We compost all kitchen waste but I do not consider it "waste" as it is crucial for our gardening efforts and plants always have non-edible parts so we can't avoid the "waste".

Now that we've moved, our trash has skyrocketed. Some of this is a result of the move itself. Tape, for instance, on the boxes. I'm removing all of it before saving the boxes for re-use in the garden rather than recycling. I'm trying to pass bubblewrap (saved and re-used for many moves) to others but not always finding takers. Peanuts (some over a decade old!) go to the packing stores for re-use. Most of the packing paper is being given away for other people moving but some is saved for the garden and compost.

The big increases in our trash right now are coming from take-out and packaged food, and home purchases. My kitchen is still not unpacked all the way and we are very busy making it hard to cook as much as I should. That will change over time (hopefully quickly!) Avoiding packing on purchases is more difficult. We need to pick up supplies to fix up the house and yard, and everything comes wrapped in some form of plastic and none of it seems to be recyclable.

We have no trash pick-up now, either, so I have to pay every time I make a trip to the local transfer station. It's incentive to try to reduce!

Kathryn Grace said...

Chile, thank you so much for popping in and sharing your 3Rs and trash story with us. Moving is taxing in so many ways, isn't it? I watch your blog regularly, and I know you are spending tremendous energy, time and personal resources to avoid excessive waste, even with your move. How many people are willing to haul a ton of compost from their old home to their new, after all?

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