Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reflections on Sustainability: Waste

Waste is arguably our best area. We have very little garbage waste, producing on average about 1 kitchen trash bag per week for five people, if that much. In fact, we now have so little waste that I need to rethink my kitchen garbage set up because it begins to smell from sitting too long before getting filled. One great side effect of this has been canceling our curbside garbage collection and saving quite a bit of money. We were going to the dump for the recyclables anyway; now, Jim just throws the trashcans in the truck along with everything else when he heads up there. For a minimal fee, we can take our own garbage to the dump rather than paying someone else to do it for us and without adding an extra trip.

Pretty much anything that can't be reused, recycled, composted, burned*, or fed to the animals, winds up in the garbage—primarily packaging plastics, unfortunately. We buy in bulk whenever possible, which cuts down significantly on the waste, as does growing most of our own food. Cooking from scratch eliminates an enormous amount of waste from all those prepackaged foods. Meats, of course, we do package ourselves in freezer bags that can't be reused, but we're still saving tons on the styrofoam and other packaging that comes along with grocery meat, not to mention all the waste inherent in the industrial systems that produce that meat.

We have a multi-tiered system that makes perfect sense to us because we live it every day, but which seems to confuse the hell out of visitors—at least those who don't really get the ideas behind the separating. All meat scraps and bones go to the dogs and cats. Fruits, veggies, dairy, and grains go to the pigs and chickens. All other kitchen waste—rotten foods, eggshells, onions, banana peels, etc.—go into the compost pile.

Paper waste either gets recycled or used as kindling to start fires. Plastic, glass, and cardboard get taken to the recycling center. Plastic bags get reused or taken to the grocery store to recycle. Unfortunately, our county recycles only #1 and #2 plastic, something I plan to actively lobby to change in 2008. Last year, they began accepting paperboard in addition to corrugated cardboard, and that made a huge difference for us in the amount of waste we produce. For now, I reuse small yogurt containers for planting and the large ones for food storage. Large orange juice type containers can be reused for oil changes or goat's milk storage, for instance, or can be cut into nice scoops for feed, seed, or whatever.

We've eliminated much of our waste simply by changing our habits. We haven't used tissues, for instance, for years, but this past year we finally switched over to cloth napkins and paper towels, and that's helped. I've found that the cloth napkins and rags really don't take up much room in the loads of wash I'm already doing, and one goal for '08 is to be better about using our napkin rings, reducing the number of times I need to wash napkins.

Laundry in and of itself is a huge area that can be reduced for lots of folks. Napkins, towels, pajamas, and some clothes don't need to be washed after every use, and that's something I've just started working on with the kids. We've always hung and reused our towels: after all, we're clean when we use them, for heaven's sake. For napkins, as I said, we've gotten rings to differentiate each person's, allowing us to reuse them several times before putting them in the wash. For clothes, the kids are finally getting old enough that their clothes aren't always covered in... something... and so can be reworn, an idea that's sinking in slowly. Funny how they can wear the same shirt for days when they like it, but to think about putting something back into the clean clothes is another step they're just not ready to take. Kid logic just doesn't think about clothes and laundry the same way adult logic does. Kind, gentle reminders go a long way towards helping them think in those terms. By the same token, reusing cups, glasses, and snack bowls can help reduce the number of dishes that need to be washed—anything that's not greasy, sticky, or milky.

Something that kids are great for, however, is their ability to repurpose things, and we can all learn something from them here. When kids look at trash, they see treasure. They see infinite possibility for creativity and invention, and this is something we actively encourage in our home. Often, things still get thrown away in the end, but not before they've been used and reused as art supplies and imagination fodder. Just recently, for instance, my youngest daughter and my mother-in-law sorted through my recycled food containers in a fit of frustration after Thanksgiving. They paired every container with its appropriate lid and piled all the remaining mateless pieces on the counter, all of which I put down in our art center. The containers without lids will hold tiny bits and baubles, and the lids can be used any number of ways, from circle templates to Chinese stars, which my oldest daughter made for her brother for Christmas. Kids can reuse just about anything!

Freecycle is another great way to reduce waste, allowing lots of things to find good homes rather than ending up in a landfill, from old appliances to left over building supplies to unwanted craft supplies. It's amazing what people find homes for on that list.

One of my personal goals for '08—and sorry about this fellas—is to switch over to a menstrual cup. I've been considering this for a couple of years now without quite getting myself to make the switch. I've considered washable products, but that hasn't happened either, and the cup seems so much more sensible than having one more thing to wash. So, this is another personal hurdle for me to jump in '08.

What are your goals for 2008?

*A note on burning: I'm very conservative about what I burn, being sure it's comprised only of paper. Unfortunately, I have some neighbors who are willing, or so my nose tells me, to burn plastics. *sigh* On our burn and kindling list are: toilet paper rolls, flour bags, newspaper, those little magazine inserts, paper-based animal food bags, and the occasional paperboard box when we're running low on other starters. Most waste office paper gets reused for art before heading to the mixed office paper recycling bag.


Pam Genant said...

Update your blog when you tackle the recycling issue, we can only recycle #1 and 2 plastics as well and I would love to see this changed around here.

Oh and the diva cups are great at home. I haven't found a way to use them when I am out and about for a long time, just no way to be in a public bathroom and be near a sink. LOL, OK maybe that was TMI. But you know what i mean,

Jenny said...

I use nothing but a Mooncup and have done so for the last 4 years. I can't imagine doing it any other way! In public bathrooms it's possible to carry a small bottle of water in there with you, or just find one of the family bathrooms where the toilet and sink are in the same space. There's actually a yahoo group on this subject! I think it's called MoonKeeperDivas or something similar.

Anonymous said...

wow, while I think you are doing a great job on many aspects, I think napkins should be washed after every use, not if they just sat on the table, but if they were used, smae for the dishes. My FIL worked for the county health department before he retired, and somethings just aren't worth it. Better to be sanitary...

Madeline said...

I want the cup as well. I've heard how well it works. I've used glad rags for years (rewashable) but the cup would make more sense a lot of the time.

My goal is to hang all of my laundry every time. I have a ways to go. We do a lot of the rest of what you are talking about. I didn't know that you could stop curbside pickup and save money. I'll look into that. maybe not where we live.

Danielle said...

Thanks for all the great ideas!

Mommymommy, I hear what you're saying, and certainly in terms of the county health department those things would be problematic. I'm not talking about doing these things outside of the immediate family, but rather for individuals within a single family, which makes a huge difference.

I pretty much figure that I can use the same napkin for dinner that I used for breakfast and be okay—there's just no point in using a different one for each meal, especially when it's just as easy to fold it inside out and use the clean side. That's the nice thing, too, about having color coded napkin rings: no one needs to worry about whose napkin they have. Then in the morning, we just grab a fresh one—cuts the number of laundered napkins in half, at least, and that's not including lunch.

Same with a water cup—I can use a water cup two nights in a row without needing to run it through the dishwasher, and no, I don't think that's skeevy. *shrug* I'm a pretty clean person. ;)

If a bowl has had pretzels in it, for instance, I can give it a quick rinse and use it for cheddar bunnies later in the day, no problem. There's simply no need to grab a fresh snack bowl if it's just had dry stuff in it.

I think, however, that this brings up an interesting point that I wanted to talk about in my post to begin with, and that's the level of cleanliness we've all come to expect. Certainly we live in an age that's far cleaner than anything our ancestors experienced with their dirt floors and once a week laundry day, if that.

Sanitation, imo, isn't all it's cracked up to be but instead is creating super bugs that may prove far more problematic than those we're trying to get rid of in the first place. Sure, general cleanliness is an admirable goal, washing hands is a good thing, and taking care not to create health hazards in the home is important.

But exposure to a certain amount of dirt is simply healthier for bodies because it enables immune systems to produce the antibodies, etc needed to fight illness. I don't think we're doing humanity a favor with antibacterial this and antimicrobial that, so a perfectly sanitary environment isn't my personal goal.

Christy said...

I use the same glass for many days in a row. I've been doing it for 10 years and it has never made me sick. If I have a cold, then I'll change glasses. We don't use napkins at all in our house, never have. I guess we are neat eaters? If our hands or face are dirty after eating, we just wash them. We use maybe 1 paper towel a week for something, but mostly we use the towel hanging on the fridge, which gets washed once a week or so. Again, we've never gotten sick from this. I do think people in this country are way too paranoid about germs and too hung up on cleanliness. We are very rarely sick in our family and I think it is because our immune systems get exercized often.

Christy said...

Oh, and I've been using Glad Rags for about 6 months. I love them! I just throw them in with the regular laundry, they take up no room at all.

Nancy said...

I used the diva cup between babies and think its fabulous. Never had to change it when I was out, either. In the morning, while in the shower, and then in the evening, that was it.

We also use cloth napkins and wash them...when they get crusty :) And, with the baby, I use EC and cloth diapers, and cloth wipes...which led me to using cloth wipes, too. I wash them with the diapers. It seemed craaaazy when I first heard of it, but now, its just normal. Note: just me and the kids, DH is still hanging on to disposable toilet paper :)

Ren said...

I think sanitation is highly overrated. I use the same cup for days with nothing more than a swish of water to rinse it if I drink tea. We rarely get sick (going over a year without even a sniffle usually) so something must be working for us.

As far as the cup, I looked into those also but decided on the Sea Pearls. They rinse out quickly and easily and are SO comfortable. I love them. You can combine them with glad rags for heavy days if necessary.