Reducing trash – one family at a time.

This is a post about reducing the amount of garbage we produce, but first, a story:

A few weeks ago, some friends and I were talking about leaps in technology and the exponential tech advances predicted for the future.   Specifically, the quest for the ultimate AI (which may take over the world), paired with Stephen Hawking’s latest warning that humans need to colonize other planets in the next 100 years for our species to survive, had us downright frightened.

The next day, I watched a TED talk where a young lady brought out a mason jar and explained that it contained all the garbage she produced in the past 4 YEARS!   What?  How?   What’s the point – doomsday is coming-ha! But somehow I found it calming and I began thinking that even a small change in the life of one family might make a difference should all this AI hoopla not actually come to fruition.

A quick google search and time spent reading Trash is for tossers and Zero waste home  served as my introduction to the “zero-waste” movement.

Zero-wasters essentially try not to buy anything with packaging so they don’t throw anything into the garbage.  Think: buying bread at the bakery and storing it in a pillowcase or tea towel to take home; shopping at the farmer’s market; using reusable produce bags and glass jars at the grocery store (while of course bringing your own shopping bags).  Béa Johnson of Zero Waste Home has 5 rules for her family in the following order:  1) Refuse 2) Reduce 3)Reuse 4)Recycle 5) Rot, with the two most important being Refuse…saying “no thanks” to the conference freebies/crap you don’t need, and Reduce…keeping only what you love and need.  It is quite inspiring.

Now,  our family already strives to be conscious of the environment: we bring our own reusable water bottles and shopping bags everywhere, recycle, and usually take our compost to the farmer’s market once a week (I’m trying to get our condo building to enroll in NYC’s curbside organics pick up).  In the summer most of our fruits and veggies come from the CSA and are brought home in reusable bags, I make many of our cleaning supplies, try to buy bulk at Fairway and Gary Null’s (albeit with plastic bags), and insist the dry cleaners deliver clothes in our reusable garment bag rather than plastic. Despite this, we still produce a lot of trash.

Now I’m not saying we are going zero-waste tomorrow (or really ever), but I have been inspired to take a hard look at what we’re throwing out and reduce the amount of garbage we generate as a family.  It turns out that much of what we buy is still packaged in plastic.  Also, we get lazy and sometimes it’s easier to put things in the trash than to sort as recycling or compost.  I am going to give the following a try to reduce our garbage footprint:

1) Be more mindful of how waste is sorted at our house and make composing a priority even though I have to schlep it to the Farmer’s market several blocks away.

2) Re-examine how we grocery shop.  Fresh Direct is super convenient (delivers to our door) but everything is over-packaged – albeit in mostly recyclable containers.  Likewise, the majority of things at my favourite store, Trader Joe’s, come pre-packaged, including fresh fruit and veggies.

3) On days we don’t want to cook: eat out at a place where they use plates and cutlery rather than getting take out.  I couldn’t believe how much waste we generated with a recent sushi delivery.  I even checked the box that said “please don’t bring napkins and disposable cutlery” with the delivery service and they did anyway.

4) Replace plastic wrap with reusable beeswax-based wrap, or just put everything in jars with lids.

5) Replace regular plastic toothbrushes with compostable ones made of bamboo.

6) DIY some cosmetics – did you know cocoa powder can double as bronzer and dry shampoo (for dark hair)?

7) Buying reusable personal care items (replace pads/tampons with a menstrual cup and use a stainless steel razor instead of disposables).

8) Make/buy reusable produce bags so we decrease our reliance on plastic bags

9) Use soap nuts for laundry as apparently they work and are compostable.

10) Toy packaging – families with small children: need I say more? Why is a dinky little 5 dollar toy wrapped in so much (hard to open) packaging?

In a few months I’ll post an update of how the replacements above are working. And whether being mindful has decreased our contribution to the landfill (as I suspect it will!).  In a number of cases, I’ll have to get through the  stuff we already have (e.g., laundry detergent, tooth brushes etc.) so we don’t end up wasting product as well as packaging.

As a side note:  on our recent trip to Canada, we stopped at Bulk Barn and they now allow customers to bring reusable containers when shopping.  Very cool.   Bulk Barn, if you are listening….please expand to the USA!

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