On Day 4 of my Buy Nothing New Year last year, I bought a box of 12 thirteen gallon, compostable garbage bags*. I got them on sale, but even then I still felt that at $5.99 they were expensive. However, since I had big plans for reducing the amount of garbage I produced, I figured I could stretch the bags out for about six months or so.
Today, sixteen months later, I took the last bag to the curb.
Here a some of the things I do to reduce my garbage:
Just because it's garbage day, doesn't mean I have to put garbage out. One of the first things I realised last year was that I used to put garbage out every week whether I had very much or not. Garbage pick up happens every week in my city and I accepted the habit and convention of a weekly pick up, because, well it's an accepted habit and convention that everyone engages in. Once I decided to reduce my garbage output and had less and less to put out each time, the easier it was to get out of this mindset and the more time passed between when I took my garbage to the curb.
I compost all of my food scraps and lots of other things too. Hair, nail clippings, lint and trimmings from house plants are just a few things that can be added to your compost. Composting greatly reduces the amount of garbage I put out and allows me to keep my garbage in the house for long periods of time because there is no smelly food waste to rot and stink up the place. Sometimes I have a bit of dairy like cheese rinds, that can't be composted. I keep these in a little tub in the fridge until the next time I do take the garbage out. (Meat eaters might find this a little more challenging, but I have heard of people who will freeze their unusable meat scraps until garbage day.) For wet food that comes stored in plastic, like my local tofu burgers, I make sure to rinse the packaging well before I put it in the garbage container. I save butter wrappers in the freezer and use them for greasing baking dishes.
Refuse Reduce Reuse
I do recycle, but I see it more as a final resort or last option after I've done everything I can to refuse excess packaging, reduce overall consumption and reuse what I can.
I refuse excess packaging by choosing to buy whole, local, minimally processed foods and in bulk as much as possible. I avoid food and drink that comes in plastic tubs or bottles and try to stay away from tetra packs as much as I can. I buy milk and yogurt in returnable glass bottles. I bring my own shopping bags to the store, my own reusable produce bags, and reusable cotton bags or my own containers for bulk goods. I refuse to drink water out of plastic bottles. I carry my travel mug everywhere and if I forget it, I skip the disposable cup of coffee. I try to remember to bring my own containers with me to restaurants for leftovers or takeout.
I reduce waste by trying to consume less goods in general and when I do buy things I try to find them second hand. Second hand items mostly come with no packaging at all.
I try to buy quality goods that will last and apply the old adage "use it up, wear out, make it do, or do without" to the stuff in my life. I increase the lifespan of my stuff by taking care of it and mending, fixing and repairing when necessary.
I use cloth napkins, handkerchiefs, TP and feminine pads. I turn old t-shirts into rags for cleaning. I make my own household cleaners from vinegar and baking soda. When I finish a big jug of vinegar I rinse it well and fill it with water for my emergency water supply. I rotate this water regularly since the jug is plastic, and use the water to flush the toilet or water the plants.
I make my own toothpaste and shampoo. I buy handmade soap with no packaging. My deodorant is a reusable rock crystal and is the one deo I've found that actually works for me.
I bring refillable containers to my local enviro-store that sells dish soap and laundry detergent in bulk.
I look for the future value in 'garbage' and hang on to things that I think might be used in other ways. I save almost all of my glass jars to store food and dried herbs in. Other containers can be used for general storage or seed starting trays. I keep mesh onion bags and crochet handles onto them to reuse as produce bags. The plastic bags I do accumulate (from bread or prepackaged produce) I keep for crochet craft projects like the clothespin bag in this post, or I donate them to the ADGMD who uses them to pick up after his dog. I wash and reuse ziploc bags. I reuse aluminum foil. Pie plates make great liners to help keep stove top elements clean. I save coloured and tissue paper for gift wrap. I salvage newspapers and paper packaging from shipments at work for garden mulch.
These are some of the things that I've implemented over time to help me reduce the amount of garbage I produce. They have become habits deeply rooted in my day to day life, blending almost seamlessly into a normal routine that I rarely have to struggle to accomplish anymore.
It didn't all happen at once though and my habits are still continually evolving. Some weeks I do better than others, but I always return to the foundational values and goals I have set for myself. I constantly return again and again, week after week, month after month to the idea(l) of living more lightly, simply and thriftily, refusing, reducing and reusing as much as I can and staying committed to being open and learning every step of the way.
As Rhonda-Jean put it so well in this post, "You are responsible for your own waste, and no one can reduce or stop your waste but you."
What are some of the things you do to reduce waste? Do you still struggle with establishing routines or have your practices become habit? I'd love to hear your tips, advice, challenges and successes!
*I found that I was going for such long periods between putting my garbage out that my compostable bags began to decompose on me. Since most of my garbage was light and dry refuse I just chucked it into my bin and only emptied it into the bag on the day that I took it to the curb.