We've changed the definition of "garbage" in our household. New habits reduce what we send to the landfill by over fifty percent. I became overly fascinated with trash after reading Plastic Ocean (which I mention in a previous blog post). Here is what my family did about the issue, starting with this little sign placed on top of our kitchen trash lid:
1) Took plastic bags and wrapping to a special recycling station
We hang a laundry bag near our kitchen to hold plastic bags for recycling. Plastic bags need to be recycled separately from containers, bottles, paper and cans because the lightweight material gets caught in recycling equipment. Instead of throwing bags in our garbage, we collect them, and recycle them at the store when buying groceries. The overall reduction of volume in our trash can is huge from this simple move. More information about this type of recycling is here: http://plasticfilmrecycling.org/#2.
2) Added food scraps to our yard waste recycling bin
We use our yard waste container for composting food scraps, which is a new service offered by our Recology waste management service. Now we can put food in the container for weekly pickup, which is another sizeable reduction in what goes to the landfill. In our kitchen is a compost pail lined with compostable bags, reminding us to treat food waste differently from regular garbage.
3) Placed extreme limitations on single use beverages in plastic containers
Now, we rarely purchase beverages in single-use plastic containers. By drinking our water from reusable water bottles (photo above), and by drinking fizzy water from aluminum cans, this has nearly eliminated plastic bottles from our recycling container. Aluminum gets recycled locally, and reusable water bottles are available in many types and styles. We realize that the "drink pouches" the kids used to have were not recyclable, so we discontinued using those as well. If we come across one, we save it for making something or upcycling later.
4) Use cloth bags for grocery shopping
To support the plastic bag ban in our city, we use cloth bags for groceries, and old Tshirts sewed up into produce bags (found that idea in a green craft magazine). So nice not to come home with 120 thin plastic bags just for a jug of milk.
5) Enjoy homemade arts & crafts from recycled materials
We reuse stuff to make art. Glass jars, toilet paper rolls, kleenex boxes, cereal boxes, caps, wine corks, and yogurt cups are just a few of the materials that can be turned into arts and crafts. Our birthday presents and cards have become more meaningful and creative. They take time to make, and personalize, which is more fulfilling for us to give than the random purchase from Tar-jay.
6) We browse the thrift stores
For household items like frames, vases, footstools, end tables, or doll toys - we shop at thrift stores. It's way more fun to take a $5.00 item that needs a second life, put on a fresh coat of paint, and put it to good use - rather than head to IKEA to participate in mass consumerism. As long as I can keep the house from looking like Sanford & Son, I figure we're doing no harm here. Plus, it teaches us a little about "Do It Yourself".
7) We tour the dump!
Last but not least, I educated myself by taking a tour of the local recycling plant. I came back with a slew of information about what-goes-where. Who knew that most plastic and paper gets shipped to China? In our town, glass, aluminum, and yard waste are recycled locally. The rest gets compressed into bales that leave on empty container ships to China, where the 'raw material' is reused to make new products (we hope). Given our local landfill is limited in capacity, if China can use it, then I don't mind taking the time to recycle it. Photos underneath are the educational displays at the recycling center, the piles of paper and plastic coming into the recycling center, the plastic bottles at the bottom of the conveyer belt, and two mountains of trash; one for compost, and one for the landfill. In terms of the landfill amount, less is more. Happy recycling!