As this year of garbage-free life draws to a close, we are asked over and over again where we go from here. We’ve hesitated to answer this question only because we’re not quite sure ourselves. It’s certain that living garbage-free for a year has drastically changed us for the better – never again will we go back to a creating trash. We may, depending on our next step, decide to let a few choice items back into our lives, but I’ll go into further detail about this issue in a future post.
Right now, I want to enlist your help. We’ve had such helpful, supportive readers over the course of this year that we would like you to help us decide the direction we head next year. You can expect a brief hiatus in July, while we prepare for our next step, but we have every intention of keeping this blog up and running full time. Here are the ideas we’re considering for the future of this project:
A. Continue living garbage-free, blogging about garbage-related issues and keeping the blog as-is: This would keep greengarbageproject.com the same as it’s been for the past year. I’ll blog weekly and we’ll work to eliminate more waste for our lives. While we’re down to very little actual trash, this would likely include us working to eliminate the amount of packaging we recycle as well.
B. Take the plunge and move toward living plastic free: Let’s face it, plastic is ultimately garbage. I’ve talked before about how plastic isn’t truly recyclable in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, plastic “downcycles,” meaning each time we recycle it, it becomes a less valuable material. For example, reycled yogurt containers can’t be melted down and turned into new yogurt containers. The plastic degrades and must be made into a coarser material like plastic lumber. Ultimately, we reach a point where plastic is simply trash. This is a problem, too, in that plastic never, ever biodegrades (at least as far as we know). Instead, plastic photo-degrades, meaning the elements slowly break it into smaller and smaller particles, where it can enter our food chains via animals mistaking these bits of plastic for food. There are many bloggers out there who are living plastic-free, most notably Beth at Fake Plastic Fish.
C. Use my experience as an environmental activist to enact legislative change, such as Germany’s Green Dot system, through formation of a non-profit and lobbying: Okay, this one scares me, but I can’t deny that collective action can be more impactful than individual action. We’ve done a lot of good this year and learned a lot, so perhaps it’s time to push this project a little further.
My biggest epiphany during this project has been that overpackaging is not my fault as a consumer. Instead, the single-use, overpackaging epidemic in our country is enabled by us as consumers but is led directly by companies that package their products in layers of plastic and sell them to us. Where’s the incentive to today’s corporations to use less packaging when those corporations don’t bear the burden of disposing of their mess? We dispose of corporate America’s obscene packaging and we assume the guilt of handling this packaging.
Other countries have different ways of dealing with this issue, notably Germany’s Green Dot program. Have you ever noticed this symbol on any of your personal care products? (I’ve found it on my St. Ives bottles). This dot represents a program in Germany where corporations, not consumers, bear the onus of disposing of their overpackaged products. Consumers buy products, use them, then throw the empty containers/packaging into a bin supplied by the garbage/recycling haulers. When containers are returned to corporations, the corporations must either recycle the packaging or pay the price to dump it. As you can imagine, as soon as this program went into affect, corporations drastically reduced their packaging. The Green Dot ordinance went into affect in 1991, and between 1991-1995, Germany’s packaging waste decreased by 14% while our rate in the U.S. INCREASED by 13%!
The U.S. desperately needs a law like this, and Adam and I could work as advocates for such a change. Of course, I know next to nothing about starting a nonprofit or the innerworkings of political reform, so I’d have a lot to learn.
D. Buy nothing new (except food) for a year: We’d generate very little to no garbage and we’d send a powerful message about where our consumer dollars are going. We love to shop here in the United States, but there’s really more to life then shopping. Maybe we can make do with what we have, and only patronize antique and thrift stores for any goods we do need.
E. Boycott corporations, buying only locally made products or patronizing only “mom and pop” establishments: While this has little to do with garbage in the traditional sense, we are getting more and more fed up with corporate America’s garbage (as is pretty much everyone else, too, I think). Would it be possible to only patronize locally owned businesses for our consumer needs? Can we buy everything locally from small stores in our area?
F. Go all natural, making sure there are no chemicals or ingredients I don’t recognize in food, hygiene, and cleaning products: This is attacking the “chemical” garbage side of things, but the more I read about the sheer volume of chemicals we encounter in our lives, and their health impacts, the more I want to avoid them. Could we buy only products containing ingredients we understand? There are some sticky areas here, like prescription medication and the chemicals foods are packaged in, but we’d figure it out.
Whew! Please help us decide! What would be most valuable to you as a reader? Is there anything we should be considering that we haven’t thought of? Feel free to post this poll on Twitter and Facebook so we get all sorts of feedback. My disclaimer is, of course, that ultimately this decision is up to us – but we’ll strongly consider reader feedback when making our decision. Thanks!