The first day of the Green Garbage Project is finally upon us, which meant last week was spent making many preparations to ease our transition into a garbage-free lifestyle. We decided to begin our trash-free year in the summer, so that I could take advantage of my time off (the perks of being a teacher) to research trash-related dilemmas.
Our first stop in de-garbaging our house was the grocery store – or, more accurately, many grocery stores. Adam and I love food, and I love to cook and bake, so naturally, my first concern was locating trash-free alternatives to my kitchen staples. I made a giant list of all the kitchen/baking/cooking supplies I use on a regular basis and whittled this master list down to a “concerns list.” A lot of my grocery purchases can stay exactly the same; for example, produce doesn’t come in trash and can be composted, so no worries there. Other items, like ketchup and shortening and pretty much all processed foods, pose more of a difficulty. I went to the grocery store with my concerns list and was able to find alternatives for a lot of items that typically generate trash in our house. Other products we’ll just have to live without. The list of items to eliminate isn’t long but it does include chips, packaged cookies, most crackers, pretty much all frozen food, macaroni and cheese, shortening, and mouthwash. I also made a list of all the bulk foods available in our local store and was relieved to find that spices can be purchased in bulk.
Adam and I made a trip into Whole Foods, which is in Portland and so a bit of a drive for us, but we stocked up on a lot of products we can’t buy in our local grocery store and had a great time looking for new foods to add to our diet.
We also needed to rethink food storage in our house, so we purchased new containers to store our dry goods in as well as a compost bucket and dog poop bucket. We bought new compact fluorescent light bulbs to use when current non-fluorescent bulbs blow and several packs of rechargeable batteries.
Then the real work began, which was sorting through our house for possible trash. We’ve reached one of those gray areas one encounters in any challenge like this one: What about stuff we bought before we had any intention of living without creating trash? On the one hand, we could throw it all out ahead of time, which feels a little like cheating, or we could count it toward our total trash at the end of the year, which just feels like we’re defeating ourselves before we start. So, we compromised. We used up as much perishable trash as possible and then got rid of any trash packaging on non-perishable items around the house. For example, we transferred baking supplies like chocolate chips to reusable containers and threw away the packaging, and in the future will buy chocolate chips in bulk. On the other hand, it didn’t feel right to go around the house throwing away light bulbs and batteries to replace with more eco-friendly options, so if these burn out over the course of the year, they will be counted in our trash total.
As of today, however, anything that is trash will be saved and tallied, regardless of whether it was purchased before the challenge began.
I built a compost bin for the backyard and set up a recycling depot in our laundry room, where we will sort all items that can’t be recycled curbside.
Currently, we have bins in place for compost, pop cans, burn-able trash, styrafoam, and all other recyclables. We’ll make a trip once a month or so to Far West Fibers, a recycling depot in Portland that accepts virtually any material that can be legitimately recycled.
I also spent some time calling and e-mailing companies that make my favorite products to determine whether their products are recyclable and to advocate for trash-free options.
Then there was the matter of keeping track of how much trash we generate during an average week, so all trash we created was weighed before it went into our bin. In total, we generated 43 pounds of trash, or 21.5 pounds each. This equals about 3 pounds of garbage a day, so we come in slightly under the national average of 4.5 pounds per person per day. If this is a reasonable estimate of our weekly trash, that means we generate 2236 pounds of trash a year!
Now, it is almost 2 p.m. on the first day of our trash-free year, and our preparations seem to be paying off. I hope these aren’t famous last words, but this project might just turn out to be easier than we thought.
I’m happy to report that people we talk to about our Green Garbage Project seem supportive and intrigued if not excited. Please check back each Monday for a new update about our trash-free year.