February’s Conversation, in which we talk trash… reduction

Photo: NASA

Ilse: When I was a kid, we lived in a suburban development at the edge of the woods.  My parents taught me to rake the autumn leaves onto an old sheet, gather the corners, and haul them either to the garden or into the woods.   Our next-door neighbors collected their leaves in trash bags and left them on the road for the garbage truck. My dad was incensed by this waste and, ignoring the mortification of his teenaged daughter, gathered these bags of compost-in-waiting, dumped them on our garden, and reused the trash bags.

What I’m getting at is, I’ve been learning waste reduction for a long time.

So, ladies: this month’s questions.

What inspires your waste reduction efforts?

Stephanie: I know I should say something altruistic, but the truth is, my primary reason is that it’s expensive to pay for trash removal for 9 people. Other factors affect it too. I have always intrinsically disliked wastefulness. I think that’s somewhat ingrained in the culture in our part of the upper Midwest. The dominant groups that settled this area, Germans and Scandinavians, tend to place a high value on efficiency, and waste is inefficient.

Kelli:  Three prongs here:  1) the forever-ness of plastic trash in particular, 2) the savings up front, as Stephanie mentioned, on the collection end, and 3) the challenge of it.

Ilse: I learned many low-waste habits from my efficient and thrifty grandparents.  As an engineering student, I learned how many materials are made, and the amount of energy that goes into making aluminum cans or glass bottles is staggering. The idea of using something once and having it forever occupy space in a landfill horrifies me.

What are the areas of low-hanging fruit?  That is, the 80% of results for 20% of effort or cost?

Stephanie: Getting my kids to quit breaking things would be a good start, but that’s more than 20% effort. LOL. Honestly, composting is a big one. In the summer I was pretty good about it, but the compost pile is out by my garden, which is about an acre and a half from my house, and kind of a trudge in the snow, and when it’s dark when I leave and when I get home, it’s harder to do. I need to start snow blowing a path to it, or even start a second compost pile closer to the house. The other one is food waste. I need to figure out how to better tackle food waste.

Kelli: I notice quite a bit more convenience food wrapping in the garbage can lately, particularly for precut and frozen fruits and veg.  I wonder where I can buy some more in bulk, or cut our own fruits and veggies. But I also know that it all comes with a tradeoff – while I can buy whole fruits and veg and cut them myself, I also have neck pain that is triggered by looking down at the countertop, and when I buy them bagged/frozen, I eat a lot more of them.  So will I be sacrificing healthy eating for the savings in plastic? I need to work on this thought. How can I have both? How can I involve my hubby in the chopping, for example? Also, would I need a salad spinner to accomplish it? Another area that would help a lot is to finish up potty training my youngest. She is close, and if we really did a dedicated push we could get her most of the way there.

Ilse: I agree, Kelli, that frozen vegetables are a huge time saver!  Some recycling places do accept those bags. What I’ve been working on recently is reducing non-recyclable packaging, large and small.  Given the choice between a doodad that comes in that awful hard plastic packaging and a cardboard box, I’ll choose the box, or, if an option, no package.  On the small end, I drink a lot of tea. I’m avoiding brands of tea that use plastic or foil wrappers.

What will you never do, even though it would reduce your household waste?

Stephanie: They will pry my toilet paper from my cold, dead hands. LOL. Also, ordering from Amazon. Holy packaging, Batman, but I’m a working mom who lives in a rural area, and delivery is my best friend.

Kelli: The only thing, I think, is cloth diapers.  We did it for a long time. We are done with it. I can’t think of anything else that’s off the table, though there are lots of things I am not currently doing.  Maybe I would not do one of those total bans on buying new items. Too stressful right now.

Also, would I really give up my car, even though we’re in a station in life where really, truly we could do it and it not be a huge hardship?  We live in a city well-provisioned with transit, rife with Ubers and Lyfts, and my son and I can walk 2 blocks to work/school and groceries as well as about 8 blocks to a pharmacy, ATM, several restaurants . . . we have everything we need within 2 miles at the most.  My husband needs a car to get to his suburban job, and my daughter’s daycare is not easy to get to on transit, so we’d have one vehicle for sure, yet we maintain and drive two vehicles.

Ilse: I love visiting places where I don’t need a car at all, but I don’t see us moving to the city anytime soon, and the transit options for my commute double the time.  And although we did cloth diapers, I’m with Stephanie on the TP.

What will you do this month to create new waste reduction routines?

Stephanie: I’m going to find a spot closer to the house for a winter compost pile. I’m also going to work on using leftovers for my lunches. I did that for a while, but my containers went missing, and I stopped.

Kelli: I think we will work on the potty training.

Ilse: Toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes, dental floss containers, and deodorant holders are almost never marked for recycling, but I found a place to take them and will start a bin in the garage to store the empties until it’s convenient to drop them off.  I’m also going to look into cat litter options… last time I explored the alternatives was about 10 years ago, so maybe something better (and acceptable to our cats) has come along.

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