Saturday, February 23, 2008

Low Carbon Diet: Dumping on Garbage

This week our local Simplicity circle met to begin our discussion of the Low Carbon Diet. While I've already implemented most of the ideas and more in the book, what I'm finding incredibly useful and wonderful is the networking and idea sharing of the group. We've been bouncing ideas off each other, sharing tips and tidbits of knowledge, sharing resources and connections, and that's been sooo amazing.

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 and; 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 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.
What are your trash-busting techniques? Let us know. The more ideas we all have, the better!


Christy said...

I'll get to this post specifically later but I saw you crossed order bees off your list. Did you order them? I went to an incredible bee-keeping seminar today and am now dying to get bees. I'll have to wait until next year.

linda said...

i also noticed you had crossed the 'order bees' item off the list, and i'm hoping that means that soon (very soon?) there will be a "What It Takes To Have A BeeHive" addition to your blog.

As a comment to this entry... we also come from a place where because of the way we live, day to day, we are producing less garbage than most of those around us.
When visiting friends who have mentioned how they are 'living lightly' on the earth... i am often surprised how differently we define 'lightly'.
We compost everything from our kitchen, live with a composting toilet, buy in bulk, use (and reuse) kitchen storage containers (and plastic bags) to put food away. We breakdown and recycle all boxes i can't find a home for on freecycle, and pass on old magazines (and colorful catalogs) to two local nursing homes and a day care center.
As a matter of fact our local day care (child care) center is a great place to take (and i'm not going to mention everything, but here are a few items) plastic containers, empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls. They are always looking for items (in bulk) to use as arts & crafts supplies, and can also use old (clean) sheets and outgrown (and in okay shape) kids clothes as well.

i think one of the most important ways we can reduce waste is to become *bag people*... carrying our own bags of various sizes (and types) into the stores we shop from.
That way, not only are we not using (or creating a need for more) plastic or paper bags, everyone around us in the store is seeing how easy it is to downsize waste by doing this.
It used to be we were one of just a few people (and for a while the only people) at our local grocery store who brought bags, but (after several years of doing this) i'm seeing more and more people who are making the attempt. Within the last week, i have had two people ask me where i got my bags from, and how much they cost... yea!!!


Danielle said...

Christy and linda, yes, I have one nuc on order, and I'm thinking of ordering another so that I'll have two hives for comparison. I need to run the numbers, first, to see how much purchasing the two hives will cost to see whether I have enough $$ this year. A bee post might have to wait a while until I know enough to actually have something to say!

linda, those are great ideas—thanks so much for sharing them. I hadn't thought about daycares or assisted living places; that's brilliant, especially for folks who don't have their own kids to use all this stuff. I will periodically take my old magazines to co-op pick up for anyone who wants them.

Over the years, I've saved all our clementine boxes, and I use those for art supplies for the kids. They fit nicely on the shelf and stack well, too. We have corks, bottle caps, toilet paper rolls, lids to those plastic tubs that have broken or gone for use in the barn, pine cones, all kinds of things.

I just found this funky crocheted grocery bag at Make Magazine blog. It's crocheted out of plastic grocery bags!

I was looking for a pattern my friend Stephanie has that's awesome. She knits or crochets it, but says the crocheted version is easier. The thing expands to fit so much! When we were down in Williamsburg in December, I was able to stuff winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves for all 3 kids (who insisted their costumes were more important than being cold) in the bag—I couldn't believe it!

It's the perfect bag to have while shopping in stores because it will hold so much. Little stuff would fall through, but buying clothes, or things in boxes would be fine.

My goal is to be better about taking my reusable bags into stores other than just the grocery store.

Dana Miller said...

What a great list of things we can do to make a difference. And a note about reusable bags. They are not all created equal! Lots of the reusable bags on the market now have quite a large carbon footprint themselves. They are often made from petroleum-based materials, are made in sweatshop-like conditions overseas, and then shipped into the US. BaggyShirts are reusable bags made from recycled men's shirts! They are made in the US, and the folks who make them work from home and are paid a decent wage. Very cool, very green! Check them out at kinexpensiceo

kale for sale said...

One of my favorite recycling actions is to take old towels to the local vet. They love them!

Christy said...

If you need any advice on what you need to get right away versus what can wait on bees I'm pretty much an expert now :). The seminar was an all day beginners seminar so we talked about what is necessary and what isn't. You will need 2 hive boxes and 2 honey supers to begin, along with the frames for them all. You want to make sure the bees have enough room to expand or they will swarm. You also want to make sure they can make enough honey to make it through the winter and it takes 2 full hive boxes to do that. You probably know all this already, but if you have any questions I might be able to help.

Danielle said...

Dana and Kale, what cool ideas! Thanks so much for the info!

Christy, that's very cool. I'm looking forward to exchanging info, definitely.

I'm trying to decide now specifically what kind of hive I want to order. I'm thinking of going for a medium because of the lighter weight. Of course, I also need to choose how fancy, schmancy—though choices are more limited for medium hives.

I'm taking a 6 week beginner's bee course that meets every Tuesday night. We just had our first meeting, and I got lots of good tips. Next week, we were invited to get there early and one of the Master bee keepers will have all his different hive equipment with him. He's also offered his workshop over the next several Saturdays for folks to get together and build their hives—with all pneumatic tools. Cooool.

Christy said...

Cool, so soon you will know much more than me about it all! I'll be going to you for ideas. Building your own hive would be cool and not too hard if you have the time and desire. I'm not sure I do, so I'll probably be getting my bee equipment for Christmas this year since I won't get bees until next year.

jenny said...

When we buy our paper towels in bulk, I reuse the plastic they came in by carefully cutting open one of the ends and then I have an instant plastic bag for the bathroom trash can! I do the same for the plastic around the toilet paper that we buy in bulk.

Where we live, there is no where to take our plastic or glass to be recycled, so we save them and take them to my MIL's house when we visit. She doesn't mind taking our recyclables and setting them out with hers on pick-up day.

We have to run a de-humidifier in the summer to keep the dampness out of the basement. Instead of dumping the water outside, I pour it into the washer for the next time I do laundry.

I save just about every corrugated box of any size that I can get my hands on and reuse them for when I mail out stuff I sell on ebay. I cut them open and flip them inside out so they look nice and clean from the outside with the old labels now on the inside.

And finally, we reuse those sturdy plastic bags the cereal comes in. Clean them out and they are the perfect size for when I make bread and I can't remember the last time I bought gallon sized zippy bags!

Woody said...

Great eye opener to weigh your waste. We were truly amazed when we started to recycle how much plastic crap we use. We just started vermiposting last weekend with two bins and 2000 worms. We now spread out our kitchen waste between the worms, chickens and pigs. My brothers restaurant has saved their food prep wastes for us to slop hogs for a while now.

My pet peeve has been the junk mail. I used the direct mail link you provided. (thank you)

We try to use vinegar, baking soda and salt for a lot of our cleaning. Vinegar and water for floors and windows. That has helped reduce who knows what as far as exposure to some nasty chemicals and a bunch of plastic bottles.

The most important practice for us has simply been a reduction in buying stuff. I just don't enjoy being a good little consumer unit.

marcyincny said...

Over the years we've gotten about as close to the bone as we can with the help of good recycling programs here in central New York. But it's only recently that I've all but eliminated the large number of cottage cheese containers I used to collect by making my own. It turned out to be so much easier than I'd expected that now I'm making some other cultured dairy foods too.

Danielle said...

Jenny, thanks for your insights! I know a few folks who compost their paper towels. We've virtually eliminated paper towel use entirely just by switching to hand towels. I upgraded the bathroom handtowels and use the old ones for spills and other clean ups.

Woody, great point about homemade cleaners. There's a good book that one of my CSA members just let me borrow, called _Clean House, Clean Planet_ by Karen Logan that folks may want to check out. She offers all kinds of safe, non-toxic, and affordable recipes for home cleaners.

Marcy, I almost put the idea of making one's own dairy products in my post, but didn't want to be too off-putting. I agree that it's a fabulous way to cut down on waste. When my goat is in milk I make cheese and yogurt—although it's been a bit of a trick to get the kids to make the switch. Mostly it's just hubby and I who eat it, leaving me with store-bought yogurt containers for the kids.

Marcy said...

Here's a link to a great tutorial on making cloth shopping bags out of sheets;
HREF="">wisdon of the moon.(hope that worked)
She even shows how to make sturdy handles out of old jeans.

Plain old water will clean most things good enough. I personally think, in America at least, cleaning products aren't so much
about cleanliness but about how things smells. It's getting hard to tell the dish soap from the perfume.

One thing I didn't see mentioned was the extreme waste generated by the strange obsession with hair. And where on the body it should and should
not be found.

Danielle, thank you for putting yourself out here. I love reading your writing wherever I find. You're such an inspiration!

aasi said...

You look great now...
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