While I always admired people who filled like one mason jar a year with trash, I have to admit that they seemed a bit obsessive about it and so I never set out to try it myself. A couple of weeks ago, I realized that I’ve come pretty close to accomplishing this seemingly miraculous feat without even trying or noticing.
For years, I have considered trying to stop producing trash, but it seemed to be very challenging when you live in modern society. I thought I would drive myself nuts cutting out foods with too much packaging and trying to remember to refuse plastic straws at restaurants (and forget about remembering to carry around a metal one instead). I knew that I would eventually become so obsessed with the goal that I would drive myself to tears with guilt any time I threw away a potato chip bag or a broken pen, because I am just that crazy about this sort of thing once I get invested in it. Weird, I know, but true.
So I never tried. I mean, sure, I recycled when I could, but I never lost it over a plastic fork. Suddenly, awhile back, I wanted to throw something in the trash, but when I opened up the trash can, there was no trash, there wasn’t even a trash bag. I turned to my beloved, I said, “Hey Zak, where’s the trash?”. He’s usually in charge of this sort of thing. Pulling out a plastic 1 lb rice bag from behind the bread box he said “Oh, I put it in here now. Here you go”. And I’m all “What do you mean that’s where you put it?” and he’s all “This is it. This is all the trash we’ve made for like a month now”.
Okay so we're not toatlly trash free, but that's pretty good! How did this happen? Well, you know how I said earlier that this would be difficult when living in modern society? I guess we just don’t live there anymore. It’s official. We’re recluses.
I realized that like begets like. We’ve really been focused on saving money and being happy and healthy lately. By taking care of ourselves, we have also taken care of the environment.
Since we started buying our food in bulk, growing our own vegetables, and canning everything, we have almost done away completely with food packaging. On the rare occasion that I do buy food from the grocery store, it is usually just a couple of items, so I can afford to buy high quality, organic products. It turns out that the companies that produce this sort of thing care about packaging waste too, so it generally comes in glass, cardboard, or metal and can be recycled. Eating a whole foods diet has almost completely rid us of food packaging.
Some items that we buy still come in plastic bags, but we try to reuse them, especially if they are ziplock. I bring my own bags to the grocery store religiously, but I do slip up sometimes. When I’m not quick enough to tell the bagger that I want paper, I will sometimes get a plastic grocery bag or two. I actually don’t mind too much when this happens because we have a shortage of these in our household. Since I make all of my own bread and tortillas, I wrap them in a tea towel and then in a plastic grocery bag so I can leave it on the counter without it going stale. Eventually, they get so full of holes that I have to throw them away but they get used for many weeks before that happens.
We are incredibly lucky to have a wonderful recycling center in our town where we sort our own recyclables and can recycle every product. We don't bring any cardboard or paper there because we use it as fire starter in our wood stove. We don’t use paper towels or napkins very often, but if we do, they go in the fire, too.
When we were living in West Virginia, this was a bit more difficult because there was no municipal recycling so we couldn’t recycle glass, but we could bring any metal cans to the scrap yard for a couple pennies, but we coped. We just bought beer in cans instead of bottles. It was a sacrifice, but we managed.
Prin dog earns her keep by doing the dishes, snuggling, and guarding the house from the plow truck.
We don’t let any food go into the trash, either. Since we have such a tight budget, we can’t afford it. We are proud members of the clean plate club. The dog licks the plates and the pan and any other scraps, such as egg shells and onion skins, go to the compost. Plus, since we hardly ever have leftovers, I don't use any plastic wrap or tin foil.
We almost always get our clothes and other household goods from thrift stores or for free, so no packaging comes with any of that.
I guess being poor has finally paid off. Not to mention that we have to pay by the bag to dispose of trash here and I’m too cheap for that anyway.
Let me know in the comments below: What is the biggest source of trash in your house? Do you have any goals to reduce it?
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