Ever since Christmas this year, and especially since watching the video "The Story of Stuff" (I highly recommend watching this short but very thought-provoking video), the amount of waste that our small family of four puts out has been bothering me.
Now, since we already eat primarily from whole foods, we probably have a lot less packaging than many families. We’re also not exactly big spenders, so there’s not a lot of packaging in that area either. We don’t even use disposable diapers for our baby.
But somehow, almost mysteriously, our garbage seems to fill up every week. We’re not talking 2-3 cans or anything. Probably one large can, though. Each week. For only our family. Times that by 52 weeks each year. Sitting in a garbage dump, some of which will sit there beyond my lifetime (and maybe even my children’s!). We are talking about a whole lot of waste!
After Christmas, I got motivated to make some changes. My current goal is to cut that one can a week down to 1/2 a can, and when I reach that point (and I’m actually almost there, in only 2 months!), my goal will be to cut it down to 1/4 of a can, and ultimately, I hope to only put out a small bag of garbage every few weeks or so.
Here’s what I was already doing:
- Washing and re-using ziploc bags for as long as possible
- Recycling cans, bottles, and any larger boxes
- Trying not to use very much saran wrap, tin foil, etc.
- Cooking from scratch, which meant little packaging from processed foods
- Buying in bulk when possible
- Buying concentrated, natural cleaning supplies
- Re-using plastic shopping bags
- Using cloth diapers and cloth wipes 99% of the time
Here’s what I’ve started doing since December:
- Regularly using my cloth shopping bags (I still forget on occasion, but I’m really trying)
- Recycling everything I can think of- before I throw anything out, I examine it carefully to see whether it could possibly be recycled. I discovered I was throwing out many thing unnecessarily. For example, toothpaste, butter, and baking soda boxes. These small boxes add up, and take literally 5 seconds to fold down and toss in the blue bin (our recycling bin).
- Starting a paper/cardboard recycling box underneath my desk. Out of sheer laziness, we were tossing most of our scrap papers. I recycled newspaper and larger amounts of paper, but all of those single pieces add up over time!
- Started composting- this in itself has taken a huge chunk out of my garbage! I don’t put anything with meat or dairy in it, to avoid having unwelcome animals visit my suburban backyard, but anything else, I add to the pile. And it is sooo simple!
- Stopped buying food wrap. I use glass jars with lids, and re-usable tupperware-type containers to store everything in the fridge (or ziplocs, which I wash and re-use until they die on me). The only struggle is brining dishes to potlucks or home group- I might need to find some good, larger containers with tight fitting lids for transporting snacks and meals.
- Working even harder to avoid using paper towels, napkins, etc. and just use cloths instead
Here’s what I’m planning to do next:
- Become a more conscientious shopper and check out the packaging before I buy something!
- Look for items used on Freecycle or Craigslist before I consider buying them new (we already do this to an extent, but probably not as much as we could)
- Research more about exactly what else I can recycle that isn’t already obvious to me
- If I find a product with ridiculous packaging, call or email the company to let them know why I’m not buying their product (and vise verse, to call companies doing a great job and tell them so! As a bonus, these kind of calls can often result in coupons being sent as a thank you for contacting them or in an effort to get your business). Hap tip to A for this great idea.
- Buy or make cloth napkins, to completely remove the excuse to ever need to use paper ones
One of the best bonuses of re-evaluating a lot of my buying and discarding practices is that it causes me to be more frugal at the same time. The more packaging I avoid, often the less money I am spending on unnecessary items I can make myself. The more I rely on washable items in our home (cloths, diapers, food storage containers, etc.) the less of these I have to buy! Learning to buy more items used just makes more sense, not only environmentally, but economically as well. Food and cleaners bought in bulk tend to come at a greater discount. For some people, depending on where you live, you may even save money that you would normally pay for garbage pickup!
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic and ways that you can cut down your family’s waste, here are a few links of interest:
Quick ways to reduce your trash
Reduce your trash- A Recycling Revolution (hat tip to Carrie for both of these links)
The Green Guide– check out their Tips of the Week (for going greener), their Smart Shoppers Cards, and their weekly newsletter (their site covers many health and natural living issues as well, not just environmental ones)
Precycling- Shopping for Future Generations
Also, find your city or town’s (or possibly your state’s) website, which should include information about garbage disposal and the details of exactly what can and cannot be recycled where you live. Try googling something like "vancouver city bc" or "seattle washington" and you will usually find the official site of the city you are looking for.
What about you? What are the ways that your family is cutting down on waste (and cost)?
For more frugal fun, visit Biblical Womanhood.