The book itself is very geared towards reduction, giving "pounds" for each reduction made. The weird part is trying to figure out lost pounds if I've already done those things—in other words, I don't really get the pounds lost because my starting point was lower in the first place. So, I need to decide if I'm going to count the reduction as if I'd made it now with the group, though that seems a bit disingenuous to me, and I was really hoping to cut deeper into our current reductions.
I think what I'll do here is talk a bit about each chapter we've covered, share some of the tips we've come up with and hope that folks here will share some of their tips in the comments section, which I'll then be able to bring back to the discussion circle. So, please take the time to share what you've learned for the different categories, offer resources, and make suggestions.
Dumping on Garbage: Reducing Solid Waste
Remembering the 3 R's "reduce, reuse, recycle" and tackling them in order is the best way to eliminate garbage and waste. The book measures garbage as gallon containers, but I find that less useful than measuring the actual weight of the garbage produced. As an exercise, try weighing the amount of trash your family accumulates each week. Take each kitchen garbage bag produced and weigh it to get a sense of how much solid waste your family sends to the landfill each week.
The average American generates about 4.4 lbs of garbage per day! For a household of 5, that adds up to 154 lbs of garbage per week! My family of 5, by contrast, produces just 3-4 lbs of garbage per week through reducing, reusing, and recycling. See how low you can go!
- Reduce or better yet eliminate all food waste from the garbage by eating more left overs and composting raw vegetable scraps. 43,000 tons of food is thrown away each day in the U.S., but you can be a part of the solution. Consider setting up a vermiposting system that can handle both raw and cooked food scraps, which can be done even in urban apartment settings. Consider getting a backyard flock of chickens who will gladly take your kitchen scraps and provide delicious eggs in return. Scraping food into the garbage adds a tremendous amount of weight, not to mention odor; waste pounds can be dropped quickly by this one simple change.
- Reduce junk mail by going to directmail.com and catalogchoice.org; contact other companies directly to request mailing list removal. Recycle the rest in mixed paper bins or by sorting into office paper, newspaper, and glossy magazines if your recycling center requires it.
- Reduce packaging by buying in bulk when possible: many of us still purchase individually packaged items like cereals and snacks where the best solution is to eliminate as many of these items as possible or to buy the largest size possible. Use your purchasing power to buy recycled products or packaging that uses at least some recycled ingredients. Leave the styrofoam egg cartons in the store, folks, and go for the recycled pulp cartons instead. Better yet, buy local or grow your own!
- Reduce plastic bags by using cloth bags when shopping anywhere, not just for grocery stores. A great source is reusablebags.com Wash plastic zipper bags for reuse: I handwash mine and hang them over the kitchen faucet to dry. Reuse those plastic food containers instead of zipper bags and eliminate them altogether, or store items in glass refrigerator jars instead, and eliminate the plastics from your food chain. Canning jars are great for this.
- Reduce holiday waste. Americans generate an extra 5 million tons of waste during the holidays, much of which is wrapping paper and shopping bags, and of course parents these days know how crazy toy packaging has become! Eliminate wrapping paper altogether in favor of reusable cloth gift bags, or make your own for a personalized touch. Buy based on minimal packaging when possible; better yet, give handmade items, gifts of service, or charitable donations.
- Reduce trash by donating gently used items to thrift stores and by joining your local freecycle list. Freecycle can be a great way to get rid of all kinds of things from old appliances to leftover building materials to toys to scrap metal.
- Reduce waste by switching to cloth and other options for napkins, paper towels, diapers, and feminine products. Americans throw away 570 diapers per second, or 49 million diapers a day! There are many sources online for patterns to make your own diapers and pads, and products like the diva cup, keeper or moon cup can eliminate waste even further, which not only saves garbage but on the production end of such disposables as well. Switch to reusable coffee filters or loose tea. Compost unbleached paper towels and napkins like those from 7th Generation.
- Reuse before recycling or trashing. Many areas, for instance, don't recycle plastics other than #1 and #2. While working to change that in our community, we can reuse as many of these plastics as possible. Some ideas include: seedling containers; feed scoops; craft projects; food storage; other kinds of storage for craft or sewing items, small kids' toys, workbench organization, etc. Reuse those shopping bags. When I forget my cloth bags, I ask for paper and use those to hold mixed paper recyclables so I can toss the whole bag in the county recycling bin when full. Toilet paper rolls can be great fire starters: some folks stuff them with dryer lint, but better to turn off the dryer altogether and forgo the lint. Glass bottles and jars can be reused multiple times for storing leftovers, among many other uses.
- Reuse office paper by printing on both sides or by giving it to kids for art paper.
- Repurpose old and worn items by creating something new, limited only by your own imagination and innovation. I like to reuse broken pots and similar items as garden art, making cool and attractive homes for toads and other beneficial critters.
- Reuse those corrugated cardboard boxes to create a garden. They're great for killing turf, weed suppression, and for creating "lasagna" gardens. They can also be composted in a large active pile or by shredding. Small boxes, cardboard or paperboard, make great storage containers for the home as well. Kids can come up with hundreds of ways to reuse boxes, from forts to doll houses to treasure containers. Kids can be your best reusers, so don't overlook them!
- Recycle: set up household recycling center. Find out what your county/ province recycles and designate different areas or collection bins for each. Ikea is a great source for reasonably priced bins, though most of them aren't for outside use. I splurged for mine from Plow & Hearth, and they've held up beautifully. Newspapers can be bundled, and office paper contained neatly in bags or bins, but no one had a great system for the larger boxes, which just seem to spill everywhere. Though one person pointed out the usefulness of this in terms of reminding them to go to the recycling center!
- Recycle or dispose of those hazardous household waste products properly: computers, cell phones, batteries, oil, paints, etc. E-waste disposal: what to do with those computers and cell phones. Compact Fluorescents: what to do when those cfl's go out; those who live near Ikea can drop them off there and get some recycling bins all at the same time—kudos to Ikea for their environmental efforts. Eliminate as many of these household hazards as possible if you haven't already: check out this source for non-hazardous alternatives to many household products.