Monday, February 18, 2008

Trash talk

Dr. Matthew Sleeth says that "the quickest measure of a household's waste is how much trash it makes." After reading about how the Sleeth family committed to reducing their amount of garbage by 80%!, I have been thinking about this a lot lately and really want to improve in this area.

The prevalence of disposable items is disturbing to me. I fall for it often myself, and lest I be a hypocrite, I need to come right out and tell you that we use DISPOSABLE diapers. There. I said it. I am making strides in other areas, though. Thanks to my recent phone call, I learned that we can recycle tin cans, glossy paper and cardboard. Keeping those items alone out of our trash bag will definitely make a difference!

At a recent gathering of moms, we somehow started talking about cleaning projects. I cringed when one woman said she uses a handful of the disposable wipes every time she cleans the bathroom, and when another mom said she buys the Gladware/Ziploc plastic containers so she can pitch them when she clears the fridge instead of washing and reusing them. This attitude is so common that I find it overwhelming to know when and how to speak up. I don't want to come across as judgmental or overly critical, nor do I want to act as if I am the poster child in this area (disposable diapers, remember?!) But it's also difficult to remain silent on something I care about. I know I have much progress to make, too, and I want to challenge myself to do more!

I found a couple of good websites that offered easy and practical ways to reduce trash here and here. I also appreciated A's recent post on how her family decreases the amount of garbage they produce. In a previous post, I talked about ways we're trying to waste less paper. Do you have other ideas for reducing the amount of garbage you throw away? I'd love to hear from you!


thehomespunheart said...

Carrie - I've been conscious of the amount of trash we're generating lately too. Though, we do recycle and I use reusable items whenever possible. Ok, I'll say it too - we use disposable diapers too!

I'd love to hear some of your ideas for reducing trash - I'm sure we could adopt some of them also.

Anonymous said...

The second website mentioned refillable razors instead of disposable. If I refill a razor, I'd also have to use a bandaid!

When I lived in St. Paul, MN the garbage service also picked up recyclables. I now live in Norfolk, NE and you can only take items to the recycling center between 9 and 4. I must say having more convenient hours would make it easier. I don't have a garage so storing my recyclables gets complicated until I make time to go to the recycling center.

Tracy said...

I'm a disposable diaper user as well. I'm considering a diaper service for baby#3. It's pricier though, which is a tough call for a small family.

As for the rest of the disposables-I'm too cheap to buy throw aways! I clean with rags, I store leftovers in classic tupperware, I use cloth napkins and no paper plates! We always use the "good" dishes!

There is no recycling station in town but they are discussing one. I hope it comes soon!

mer said...

I haven't started doing this yet, but I really want to begin a compost pile for food waste.

And I always consider how something can be re-purposed before throwing things away. Sometimes it simply gets put into the craft drawer for my kids to work their creative magic on, but at least it's not thrown in the garbage...yet.

You might check with a local elementary school and their art teacher. My kids' art teacher is always on the lookout for egg cartons, orange juice concentrate cans and lids, oatmeal boxes, aluminum pie plates, and plastic containers in all shapes/sizes.

Amy said...

Don't be so hard on yourself, Carrie. You are making strides and that is so evident in what you share on here. I did cloth diapering for 18 months with Emily. I would have continued, but she was soaking through them so quickly that I was having a hard time keeping up. I was proud of myself for going that far with it and I am hoping to potty train her soon. In the meantime, we are relying on the disposable.

I went to a party once where people were talking about how they throw all of their food away because they don't like to eat leftovers. I had to hold my tongue the whole time- it just made me physically ill the lack of disregard and the waste in these people's lives.

Katie said...


I'm a disposable diaper purchaser as well...I've looked into cloth and diapering service, and we decided disposable was the best option for our family.

I totally agree about finding ways to reduce trash and you have been a big inspiration in the past several months in this area ~ so many blessings to you for that!

A small way I've found (by seeing our neighbor's example!) ~ is when I go to the grocery store, I bag up my groceries with paper bags, and then use those paper bags to separate the different types of recyclables for our waste service to pick up. Put the plastics in one bag, paper items in the next, aluminum in another. The waste service I think actually appreciates the separation. We were provided with one medium-sized bin for recyclables to throw everything into, but by doing the paper bag method, their work is cut down and they can just throw the paper bags in.

Just thought I would mention. Looking forward to other comments and posts about this!

MyHeartIsAlwaysHome said...

Just by recyling we have cut our garbage almost in half. We went from putting out two cans to one.

I use disposable diapers also. It would be great if there were affordable diaper services like they had available in the 60's and 70's.

I would love to hear about the ideas you come up with. I am all for reducing the amount I put in the dump.

Lauren@Baseballs&Bows said...

I need to do better in this area as well. I try to only use resusable items at home, but I do sometimes use the plastic containers when I take food to someone with a new baby or who is sick. I guess I feel like they don't have to worry about returning them to me that way. Thanks for the links!

Anonymous said...

Reducing the amount of garbage we generate has long been a goal of mine. My current goal is to keep our trash amount at one trash bag or less per week, though I have read of a few determined folks who have reduced their trash to much less than that!

I remember some former neighbors who used to put out 10-12 bags of trash every week and joked about being "trashy" people. I found that appalling and determined that our family would not be among the "trashy" people of the world! We recycle everything we can -- which in our city is more than some people have available to them -- we can recycle cardboard, glass, aluminum/tin cans, paper of all kinds (glossy, copy paper, junk mail, and newspapers), plastics (#1 and #2), phone books, and "hazardous" items such as household batteries and paint.

I also try to buy items with the least amount of packaging possible. In this day and age, that can be a challenge (especially at warehouse stores such as Sams!). I do occasionally use items such as paper towels and antibacterial wipes, but recycle the containers when they are empty.

We compost vegetable/fruit peelings, coffee grounds, and lawn/garden clippings. (Dad was skeptical about this project initially, but has since been convinced that our garden has benefited from the results!)

I have set up recycle containers at my office for cans and paper. Some people don't use them, but at least we are recycling some things!

It is hard to know when or if it is appropriate to speak up when we see or hear others blatantly being wasteful. The best route for me has been trying to set an example, though admittedly that is not always very effective!

I remember the old Scouting ideal of leaving a campsite better than we found it -- that is what I am trying to do with my corner of the world. :) Love you, Mom

Jamie said...

Great post! I am using cloth diapers but I think each family just has to do what is right for them! We do use disposable at night and for outings and church, etc. My recent thing has been just thinking about each scrap of paper...and recycling each bit instead of tossing it in the trash can. I'm also trying to almost always use cloth napkins at home. Small things but over time they are big! It's nice that being "green" can save you money in a lot of cases!

Ewokgirl said...

Thankfully, our city has a fabulous recycling program, so I find it very simple to use it. I keep a basket for paper in the dining room (where I read the newspaper) and another under my desk in my craft room. There's another bin for glass, plastics, and tins in the kitchen. We just empty them into the bin the city gave us for pickup every 2 weeks. It's made recycling so simple. My husband even brings home recyclables from work because he can't stand seeing them go into the trash.

I'm appalled at how much stuff our neighbors have out for trash pickup twice a week. Multiple overflowing cans and extra bags sitting next to them. I don't understand how a single household can produce so much garbage!

As for cleaning, I use earth-friendly cleaners and white cloths. I can't stand the thought of using disposable cleaning cloths. That's just unnecessarily wasteful! In that situation you were in, I probably would have stated that I use washing cleaning cloths, and they're super easy to use and wash each week with the towels. No more work than buying and using disposables, just as sanitary, and much less expensive! You don't come across as judgemental; you're just sharing what works for you and hoping that maybe some of it will rub off!

Susan said...

Where I live is great about supplying bins for plastics/tins, papers, glass however we do not have the bio bin as we live in apartments. The philosophy is by having these available you should have nothing left. As a result of this set up we as a household generate little trash, maybe 2 bags (Walmart sized bags of trash).

HOWEVER, the other 3 Walmart sized bags are disposable diapers making it 5 bags all together! I thought about cloth diapers for 2 seconds and thought they would be a nightmare. However in my babymassage course I took with Josh, one of the mom's used cloth diapers. It looked very reasonable and have done a little research more recently here. Though, I probably will not use it with Josh now, I will seriously attempt it with a 2nd child and start from the beginning. But what is this with diaper services?

Maybe some of the girls using cloth diapers could give some more info about how and what they are doing.

It is really crazy how people do waste in the most mindless ways.I think your information is reasonable.But mostly people just need a little education. This how it can look using the example of cloth diapers. Cloth diapers users can balk at me using disposable, but take no time to talk about HOW the process can be easy and give a testamony about how it worked in their life. Giving positives about how it can save money? Time? Giving a testimony does not make someone feel attacked.

TulipGirl said...

Along with composting, you can try vermiculture (composting with worms.) It was a fun project to do with the kids.

And, cloth diapering is a lot easier than most people think. . . (We did a combo of disposable, cloth, and both--depending upon the child and the situation. There is NO way I'd do cloth if I had to use a laundromat.)

So much of what I've learned that works well for our family is keeping in mind "reduce" and "reuse." Just minimizing the crud we bring into the house. . .

Deeapaulitan said...

We have been able to drastically reduce our footprint in the past two years, but I have to say, I have had a little help. #1 - one of my very dear friends has this all down pat and is on a mission to help others realize their impact on the enviorment. is her site and she has "green" tags you can click on. She may be coming to your area with her family as they are on tour in their Vegi-powered RV.
2nd set of help came in the form of a move. We moved to one of the "greenest" cities on earth. When we moved I got rid of TONS of recycleables - like your magazines, Carrie, and clothing, etc... We have several other things we do now that I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do before. Buy in bulk ~ We saved our bottles, jars, and can when empty and take them with us to refill when we go to get groceries. I'm not creating more waste this way. Oatmeal, nuts, coffee, dried fruit, tea, spices, cheeses, rice and noodles, as well as lotion, olive oil, and honey are some of the products we buy in bulk. Repurpose ~ Many things can be repurposed. (That just means using things in a way they were not originally intended.) Dryer sheets for dusting, an old tablecloth becomes tea towels, wire hangers get multiple uses as hot dog and marshmallow roasters or cut into smaller lengths to make "rings" that hold our twist ties or rubber bands together in the drawer...
buy permenant Kleen kanteens instead of water bottles, cloth napkins instead of paper, shopping bags instead of the plastic or paper from the store, etc...
I feel really great if our family of 5 takes out one (kitchen size)bag of garbage each week. That's what we aim for ~ we don't always make it. I'm wanting to find a source for canned goods I still have to buy that would be sold in reusable jars instead.

Sara said...

Hi Carrie - I struggle in this area about being judgmental about other people's habits too. My colleagues at work cringe if they accidentally throw their pop can in the trash in front of me, knowing I will freak out and get it out of the garbage to put it in the recycling!! We are lucky to live in a city where nearly everything is recycled, plastics 1-7! plus newspaper, cans etc. and it's not a big deal, you don't even have to sort them. I feel extremely fortunate about that. For two adults, we have several bags of recyclables each week and one bag of trash (usually not full). I can't compost because of animal issues, but I am working to re-use more and more. Just reading about the people throwing away those Glad/Ziploc containers made me nearly scream out loud! Okay, I need to calm down. I do think that as Christians we are called to be good stewards and many people don't take that very seriously.

Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home said...

This is an area that I've been struggling with lately. Since Christmas time, I've felt just sick about the amount of trash that our small family puts out on the curb.

A few ways that I've been working really hard to reduce our waste are by really examining everything I throw out and whether if could be recycled or not. I realized that I was throwing out so many items because it was more convenient, but with very little effort, I was able to wash them or break them down in order to add them to our recycling bin. We also (very lazy, I know) had not been recycling our paper, so I got a box set up for that as well.

Another area is composting- this is my first time ever, and my system is very simple, but it feels so good to put all that food waste to a productive use!

A couple of other areas are using cloth diapers, and also cloth wipes. Also, minimizing use of napkins and paper towels and using cloth instead.

My next goal is to start being more of a careful consumer and consider the packaging before I make a decision to purchase an item. We don't buy much in the way of packaged food, but other household items come with ridiculous amount of packaging, and I'd love to find a way to cut back (although I think buying things used is a great way that I will start to do more).

Thanks for the other great ideas!

disa said...