How to Reduce Your Trash & Recycling in 2016
This will be my forth year with a trash and recycling goal. In 2014, my goal was to fill only one 20 gallon trash bin.
For 2015, I had two trash & recycling goals:
- Fill 1/2 (or less) of my 20 gallon gray Portland trash bin.
- Fill 1/2 (or less) of my 90 gallon blue Portland Recycling bin with plastic.
You may wonder, why I want to reduce my recycling, and why I focused on plastic versus glass, metal or paper. Plastic will often only have one round of recycling and then will typically take hundreds of years to breakdown. That’s a pretty poor recycling record even under the best of circumstances. In fact, it’s more appropriately called “downcycling” when it comes to plastic. Glass and metals can be recycled many times, so they were less of a priority in my annual goals.
In the recycling chain, we want to think of the order they are listed in on the graphic below. It’s important to take our efforts as high up on the list as possible.
So how did I do? I generated slightly less than one paper grocery bag of trash, which is equivalent to four gallons or 1/5 of my bin. I didn’t weigh it, but it was very light, probably 2-3 pounds at most. And my own trash combined with that of my Airbnb guests, was only 60 gallons for the whole year! Many households generate that much in one week. I say kudos to my guests for either playing along with my project, or even better yet, taking ideas home! This also saved me $275 in trash and recycling pick-up fees by having less.
We are fortunate in Portland to have curbside composting, which got me in the habit of removing any food from containers prior to putting them in the trash or recycling. This then creates “clean trash” that doesn’t smell or attract vermin, thank goodness, as that makes this whole project so much more pleasant! So if you want to make a difference with your trash and recycling, this is one step to include.
Most of my trash is from food packaging and some miscellaneous items around the house, such as the filter inside my refrigerator, or the crinkly wrap around printer paper, and most “recyclable” to go food containers (that no recycling places take).
In 2014, I cancelled my curbside trash pick up, meaning they only came when I called for a pick up. During that same year, I began to go to Far West Recycling in Portland, since they can take more items than curbside can. I soon saw I didn’t really need my blue (paper, metal and plastic recycling) or yellow (glass) bins, but I was really afraid to cancel my green (yard waste and composting) bin. You see, I eat a LOT of produce, and I do at least three raw cleanses a year in which my sole diet is fruits and veggies (no packaged foods) for 3-4 weeks at a time. I do a lot of juicing during those times and generate a lot of pulp in the process.
I also belong to a CSA that is very abundant from June to October. And even though I love fruits and veggies, I sometimes have challenges eating all they give us each week. So, in 2015, I took a bold step and cancelled my curbside recycling. We are lucky, if we are homeowner’s in Portland, we can actually cancel this service. Some areas do not allow this. When Portland Disposal takes the blue bin, they also take the green and yellow bin too. So it was time to test my composting skills!
I began by moving my black Metro yard composting bin to a location that was easy to get to, just outside my back door. I originally had put it as far away as possible, fearing it would stink, which made it difficult to get to. I must admit I really wasn’t great with doing the right ratios of 2 brown: 1 green in my compost bin, but I have not had issues with it stinking. You just need to mix it up periodically, which for me is 2-4 times a month. If it’s dry, water it. If it’s got lots of green material, add some brown. And it’s amazing how fast it compacts down! Even with all my fruit and veggie scraps and juice pulp, it never got too full! It could have handled more. My worst fears are now dissolved and I look forward to using the compost in my garden come spring.
I learned there are so many things you can add to the compost bin…if it is organic material, those cells will break down…so hair, dust from the vacuum, lint from the dryer, cotton Q-tips, tissues, newspaper can all go in.
When you begin to do your own composting, you notice things you might not notice, if you just throw your items into the green curbside bin. You think about removing the plastic labels on fruits and vegetables, because you know they won’t decompose, and you don’t want them in your garden. I found Stickerman last year and am saving all my produce stickers for him again this year.
My journey to reduce my use of plastic began three years ago when I read Beth Terry’s book, Plastic Free. I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read it. She gives so many resources for ways to refuse, reduce and recycle plastics, that I find it a book I consult often.
I had no baseline for how much plastic recycling I generated, so my goal was sort of random, but it was a place to start. Think of your own way to measure a volume you’d be willing to take on as your 2016 goal…that could be to reduce your trash by 1/3 and you start by just seeing how much trash you have for one month as your starting point.
So back to my goal for 2015, I wanted to have 1/2 of a blue bin (or less) of plastic. But, they took my blue bin away, so I am now estimating that 2 IKEA bags is equivalent to 1/2 of a blue bin. And, by being VERY mindful when I shop, to avoid plastic, I ended up with two IKEA bags of plastic. To me this seems like a lot of plastic for someone trying to have less, but I suspect most households generate far more. When I make a goal, it is always about learning. I keep it fun so I don’t go crazy during those times when I can’t find a solution. But then, for the next time, I really do seek out ways to get by with less plastic. You want a goal that challenges you, but doesn’t totally make you miserable. Make it a stretch, but doable for you!
So how do I do this you might ask? And how can you start your own waste reduction journey?
- Be mindful of purchases you make. Ask yourself, is this something I need? How will I use it? Does it come without plastic? Can I get an alternative with less packaging? The biggest way to be mindful is to take actual photos of your trash and recycling. Then use the photos to start exploring other options.
- Seek places to purchase items without packaging. This is mostly in regards to food, but also personal care items, items for the home, etc. Are there options with less packaging? For food, buying in bulk is a must. I buy my beans, grains, nuts, seeds, sugar, olive oil, cat food, guest shampoo, Dr. Bronner’s soap, bar soap, spices, and most items in bulk. Food co-ops are one of the best places for bulk items, followed by Whole Foods or your local grocery chain. I then buy mostly produce and seek items with less packaging. So that healthy full head of lettuce, versus the pre-cut and washed salad mix. It lasts longer and they don’t wash it with chemicals to help reduce rot. Buy at the food co-op or farmers market for the very best in quality, local, organic produce and less packaging.
- Know what can be recycled and where. This is going to vary based on where you live. Recycling is based on demand for the item. If the demand drops or changes, then what can be recycled can change. I had the good fortune to take the Less is More class taught by Betty Shelley. In it, I got a good grasp of local options for recycling. I often have new recycling questions however, so I use the Metro hotline to get reliable answers as a Portland resident.
- Give composting a try. It’s easier than I thought and there are various forms of composting.
- Be willing to try. Don’t just sit on the sidelines and watch me. Get involved by starting your own goal for 2016. By keeping it fun versus aiming for perfection., you’d be amazed at what you can accomplish. When I aim for perfection, then it’s win/lose, but if it’s an experiment, it just seems a bit less heavy!
So what’s my goal for 2016 you might ask?
My 2016 Goals are:
- 2 Gallons (or less) of trash
- 1 blue IKEA bag of recyclable plastic
- Outside my home – no single-use straws, cups, bottles or to go containers
I also hope to go back to making my own kombucha and to try making my own vegan mayo, yogurt and butter from The Vegan Pantry cookbook. I have been experimenting with many different DIY personal care recipes and will be sharing some of my favorites in a future blog. So wish me luck. I know it will be another year of learning and stretching who I know myself to be.
I hope you will join me by making your own goal. If you do, please post it in the comments below. Each decision we make does make a difference. Thanks for doing your part!