“People are always amazed when I tell them we only put out a bag of trash every couple of weeks,” said my friend Lora Frost.
What? How’s that even possible? You’re full of crap. Hippie. You’re pulling my leg aren’t you? Sometimes my inner voice is an ass. These we some of the thoughts in my head when I heard this. But the truth is I respect Lora and believe her. This got me thinking.
She’d told me her and her husband just recycled a bunch and they reduced the stuff that actually has to go to the landfill.
Well I believe if someone else can do something, then so can I. Her statement made me think it was possible, so I began on a journey to reduce my waste.
Step 1: Mindfulness
There is a concept, mainly in the Buddhist tradition, of mindfulness. Put in simple terms it is paying attention to what you are doing. Mindfulness is relevant to eating, because we rarely pay attention to every bite we eat. I found mindfulness to be the first huge step to reducing your waste.
Pay attention to what you are tossing in the trash can.
Think in terms of volume. How much space do different things in your garbage take up?
The thing that became very obvious to me was most of what goes into my trash is packaging. In many cases this can be recycled.
Step 2: Recycle All You Can
Before we started this waste reduction journey we recycled plastic bottles, glass bottles, and aluminum cans. We kind of did cardboard, but it was a pain so we really mostly did it only for boxes that things game in the mail.
Once we noticed that packaging was a huge part of the volume of our trash, we made a place for recycling cardboard and paper. It was a big reduction in volume.
As with most changes you try to make you need to make recycling as easy as possible. This means you have to have a place to put each kind of recycling, and those places have to be easy to find and use. We moved our current recycle bins from the laundry room into the kitchen and added a paper recycling trash can in the kitchen as well.
Step 3: Stop Using Disposable Stuff
The next thing you notice is we use a bunch of stuff that is made to become instant trash. For me the big one was paper towels. Why do we have these things? Yeah they are easy to use and handy, but really most of the time we could just use a regular towel and wash it instead.
Paper napkins are another example. Why not just use cloth napkins?
You might say both of these example are paper, but once you fill them with debris and food etc, you really can’t recycle them.
Another high volume disposable thing we had were plastic sandwich/quart bags, to-go cups, and to-go containers. We used little plastic bags all the time to hold leftovers from a meal, and packaged foods like cheese we’d opened and need to store in the fridge. Then when you are finished with whatever is in the bag to you send it off to the landfill. The solution to this one is reusable containers. In our case it is those plastic tupperware things with lids.
We eat out a lot and as a result get quite a few to-go boxes, usually styrofoam which is the worst because you can’t recycle it, at least not in Abilene. Same for cups. This is one we haven’t fully implemented a fix for, but I now take my own cup to my favorite wings place and they just fill it for me. I plan on putting a large plastic container in my car to use for to-go stuff in the future.
Our main solution to this restaurant left over problem has been…
Step 4: Stop Taking Crap You Are Just Going to Throw Away
Once you’ve taken the extra effort to start reducing your waste it gets really annoying that everyone give you so much crap that you aren’t just going to have to throw away.
You have to learn to say no a lot.
But let’s talk about the simple way we’ve dealt with restaurant left overs. About half the time the food we want to take home is for the dog. In that case we just wrap it in a paper napkin if they are on our table. It’s a good reuse of something we could do without.
One time we were at a place with cloth napkins – Yea! – but we wanted to take some meat to the dog, so The Mrs asked the waitress for some aluminum foil to wrap it in. That was brilliant because it is definitely recyclable. Sadly the waitress brought us not just foil, but a styrofoam container as well. The container stayed unused on the table.
Paper handouts. Everyone wants to give you a big piece of paper with information on it. Just say no, or take a picture of it with your phone if you need the info and hand the paper back. I’ve been doing this with business cards for a couple of years now anyway. I used the incredible Evernote, which reads the business cards and makes the info searchable.
Bags. Everyone wants to give you a bag to hold stuff in. The culture has started to realize we can bring our own better, stronger, reusable bags to the grocery store. Guess what? We can do that to any store. Also, if you carried all your items to the register you can carry them to your car as well, so just say no to the bag.
I could go on and I probably will in future blog posts.
I don’t really make New Years Resolutions, but I was touring a gym the other day and they wanted to give me a couple pages of information that was on their website. I just blurted out, “No thanks I can get that off your website. My new years resolution is to reduce the amount of waste I produce and I’ll just end up throwing that away.”
The head of the gym smiled and said, “That’s a lot better new years resolution than a lot of people make.”
Why don’t you join me in an easy change for 2016? I challenge you to be mindful of what you are throwing away. Just doing that will probably inspire you to create less waste in the all year long.