This page has been organized by category to show you how we are eliminating trash from our everyday lives. If you have any tips or tricks of your own, please feel free to leave them in the comments section of this page, below.
Contact your local recycling company with questions about what can/can’t go into curbside bins. Some things to consider:
- Try to locate a recycling facility beyond your curbside recycling. We’ve contacted Far West Fibers in Portland, and this recycling depot recycles practically anything that can be recycled. We’ll be sorting our recycling into two bins: curbside and Far West Fibers.
- Many communities won’t curbside recycle frozen food boxes as they’ve been treated with a chemical to help them hold up in the freezer.
- Plastic lids on everything from soda to ketchup is usually not curbside recyclable.
- Generally, don’t recycle plastic bags in curbside bins. Walk these into a supermarket, and be sure to ask what else can be recycled in the plastic bag recycling containers. Often, clean cling wrap, bread bags, and zipping baggies are taken.
- A Far West Fibers representative told me that a general rule is to stretch plastic between your hands. If it stretches, and you can stretch a finger into the plastic without it breaking, it’s recyclable somewhere.
See if there is a bulk foods store in your area and utilize it. Spices, nuts, flours, candy, soup mix, granola, dried fruit, and a lot more can be purchased without any of the usual packaging.
Sour cream, yogurt, and cream cheese: We have found a recycling depot that will recycle the plastic sour cream and yogurt tubs, usually numbered plastic 4 or 5. As long as we locate products with true aluminum or foil tops and clean these (Tillamook brand is local for us), they can also be recycled at the depot. Eventually, I’d like to try my hand at making these products, which would eliminate any need for recycling in the first place.
For a site about making your own cheese, try www.cheesemaking.com
Milk and juice cartons: Recyclable in our curbside bin. Try to find ones made from one material instead of the composite-style cartons made from cardboard with plastic pour spouts.
Margarine/butter: Can be recycled at depot if in tubs. If in stick form, the cardboard can be recycled curbside and the waxed paper can be cleaned and burned. Or, trying making your own! All you need is heavy whipping cream – pour into a glass jar, add a marble, and shake until butter forms.
Condiments: Plastic containers are usually recyclable curbside, but the foil or plastic seal isn’t. Look for condiments in glass jars instead. The metal lids are recyclable at our depot. I’ve found that by going to restaurant supply chains like Cash and Carry, I can sometimes find things like ketchup and mustard in glass jars.
Breads, tortillas: Try making your own, or check to see if recyclable with grocery bags in supermarket.
Chips, crackers, packaged cookies: In general, these produce waste and there’s no way around it. Cracker mixes and cookies can be bought in bulk, or try making your own.
Fruits and veggies: These are easy because they’re compostable. Buy from farmer’s markets and avoid the plastic produce bags at supermarkets. Compost the produce stickers or save for the sticker man.
Cheese: We’re lucky enough to have a local dairy supply many cheeses from mozzarella to Havarti. For hard cheeses, we have the cheese weighed on paper at the deli, and then placed in a container we brought with us. I’ve also found that some stores like Whole Foods cut and package specialty cheeses – usually, these are wrapped in plastic cling wrap or waxed paper. The clean cling wrap can be recycled at some grocery stores with the plastic bags.
Meats: Use the same approach in the supermarket – bring your container and have the meat wrapped in paper. Or, support a local butcher. Select meat items come in recyclable, albiet plastic, packaging – our deli sells rotisserie chickens in # 5 plastic containers.
Frozen foods: Pretty much nonexistent in a Green Garbage diet. Make your own or check to see if a recycling depot will take the treated cardboard and inside plastic packaging.
Eggs: If bought in cardboard (not Styrofoam), the cartons and eggshells can be composted.
Cereal: Inside packaging is generally not recyclable. Instead, buy bulk or make granola.
Oatmeal, hot chocolate, or spice packets: These are made from composites of plastic, foil, and paper and are not recyclable.
Pasta: Buy bulk or check to see if plastic window is recyclable.
Flour, sugar, baking soda/powder, confectioner’s sugar, brown sugar: All recyclable or can be bought in bulk.
Shortening: Haven’t yet found a substitute. Some come with peel-back metal-looking tops. I need to contact companies to see what these are made from.
Cooking oil: Watch out for the little metal/plastic seal that is sometimes inside the lid. Otherwise, recyclable.
Waxed paper: Not recyclable but can be burned if clean and untreated. This can also be composted.
Foil and plastic baggies: Sometimes recyclable if clean, but check with local facilities first. If you have to buy plastic baggies, buy the kind without the Ziploc. Ziplocs have to be cut off before the stretchy plastic can be recycled, and the zipper part becomes garbage. Twist-ties can be reused over and over. Better yet, buyreusable baggies.
Sponges: We’re using dish clothes that can be washed in a washing machine and reused. After their life in the kitchen, they will be moved to the cleaning bucket and used as household rags.
Cleaning supplies: We found this article from Real Simple magazine helpful; it contains recipes for making homemade cleaning supplies using everyday non-chemical agents like lemon, vinegar, and baking soda. We’ll be trying these out over the course of the year and will let you know how they work.
- Go to: http://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/cleaning/all-natural-cleaning-solutions-00000000011547/index.html
- We are also loyal users of Method cleaning products which smell great and are almost entirely recyclable. We’ll have to stop using the few that come in containers/packaging destined for the landfill, but will otherwise continue to use our favorites. These are available online, in bulk at Costco, and at Target. Check out www.methodhome.com
- I’ve become a big fan of two other green companies -Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyers Clean Day products. Not all are 100% recyclable, but all I’ve tried have worked great.
Paper towels/napkins: Use cloth instead, which saves both the paper and the plastic the towels/napkins come in. If you do buy paper products, the plastic packaging can be recycled at the grocery store with the plastic bags.
Toilet paper: We buy Seventh Generation toilet paper, which is made from 100 percent recycled paper and comes in plastic wrap that can be recycled at Far West Fibers.
Batteries: Buy rechargeable, and when they run out of juice, recycle them. We also use the Eneloop battery system.
Light bulbs: Compact fluorescent bulbs work better than traditional light bulbs, use less energy, and last longer. Why not use them?
Vaccum cleaner dust: Our vaccum cleaner does not use bags, so the dust can simply be emptied outside.
Dryer lint: Can be burned (if the lint comes from organic fabrics, as opposed to man-made) or composted.
The bathroom is by far the hardest area in the house to make “trash-free.” Here’s what we’re doing so far.
Deodorant: Amy is using a deodorant crystal and so far has had excellent results. Adam is using a deodorant stick in recyclable packaging found at Whole Foods, but so far he’s skeptical. We have to deal with sensitive underarms, so aerosol deodorant isn’t an option for us, but if you can find a facility that recycles aerosol cans, this is an option, too.
Toothbrushes: We’re still using battery-powered toothbrushes with replaceable heads that are, unfortunately, garbage. We have also used Preserve toothbrushes – the handles are made from recycled plastic yogurt tubs and once used, the toothbrushes can be shipped back to the company to be made into plastic lumber.
Toothpaste: We useTom’s of Maine toothpaste, which works really well and comes in a recyclable metal tube.
Shampoo/conditioner: Readily available in recyclable containers – just watch out for the lids, which are often not made from the same materials as the bottles and may not be curbside recyclable. Another option is shampoo soap.
Shaving cream: Later, I plan to try my hand at making shaving soap, but in the meantime, I (Amy) use regular shaving cream in an aerosol can that, once empty, is recyclable.
Razor: Uh-oh, this is a problem area for Amy, who is quite devoted to her razor with replaceable heads. Waxing is an option, and so is an old-fashioned safety razor with replaceable metal blades (which can be recycled). Adam uses an electric razor with a rechargeable battery. A product called Moom has been suggested and looks intriguing.
Feminine hygiene: Giving the Diva Cup a try … and liking it as a realistic alternative to tampons.
Mouthwash: We can’t find anything in stores that comes without that pesky plastic seal, so maybe I’ll try my hand at making my own – the recipes I’ve found are easy and involve water, vodka, essential oils, and glycerin.
Floss: Currently trying to obtain a rubber gum exerciser to replace floss.
Sunscreen: Far West Fibers tells me that, as long as the tube is made from recyclable plastic, we can cut it open and rinse out residue, then recycle the tube.
Paper: Recyclable, of course! Use both sides, if possible.
Pens: Best to use pens with replacement ink cartridges. Or, use fountain pens, or even colored pencils.
Pencils: Regular old wooden pencils are the best, because the pencil shavings can be burned. However, my trusty Bic mechanical pencils also last me years if I replace the lead and erasers.
White-out: No known solution – these are pretty much trash.
Tape: Paper tape is an option, but it’s a little fussy to use. Otherwise, tape is a major problem area. Small amounts are okay on paper put in recycle bin, but tape is still not technically recyclable.
Printer ink cartridges: We take these back to Staples for recycling and they give us cash back on a rewards card. It’s win-win!
Kitty treats: Our cats are really not on board with the project, so to avoid a cat revolt, we buy Goodlife kitty treats in sparing amounts. The resulting plastic is sent to Lou’s UpCycles or used by Amy in fusible crafting projects.
Dog treats: Dog bones come in cardboard, and we found dog chews in bulk bins.
Dry pet food: We transferred our current dry food to containers and are currently using this up. In the meantime, we are searching for a dry food bag that is lined with wax paper, not plastic. Suggestions?
Wet dog food: I buy meat from the meat counter at a grocery store or from a butcher shop, and the meat can be wrapped in waxed paper, which can be cleaned and burned. Also, canned dog food is completely recyclable, but the newer plastic containers are not always.
Litter: We’re trying different, earth-friendly litters, which our cat is systematically rejecting. Regardless, in our challenge, litter goes in the trash to avoid transferring bacteria to the water supply (see Ground Rules on homepage).
AHEM … ORGANIC WASTE
Meat: One of two types of trash we expect to generate over the course of the year, meat scraps and bones will go in the trash. However, since Amy is a vegetarian and Adam eats very little meat, this should be quite minimal.
Cat poop: Cat poop is going straight into the trash because, after much research, this seems to be the safest route. From an article on the subject from Grist.com, “Cats can carry the disease toxoplasmosis and pass it on to us via oocysts (a dormant stage of the disease) in their feces. This disease can be fatal to infants and immune-system-deficient adults, and make the rest of us sick. Do not handle cat poop if you are pregnant, and don’t let small children do it either. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling cat poop, no matter who you are.” It is recommended that cat feces are not flushed, buried, or composted due to the danger of toxoplasmosis. We want to be safe, so used kitty litter gets trashed.
Dog poop: Buried.
Nail clippings and hair: Buried
I’m an avid sewer, scrapbooker, and general crafter so these will be challenges I have to overcome during the year. I’ll update this section as needed, but suggestions are welcome. So far, I’ve avoided things wrapped in plastic, which is surprisingly easy at craft stores.