How to have Less Waste in 2017
I took on a bold goal when it comes to trash and waste in 2016. I aimed to generate just two gallons of trash for the entire year! When I share my goal, many think I mean for the week or possibly the month, but this was for the whole year.
Let’s back up and talk about the why. The average American generates three pounds of trash per day. In 2013, I took a class taught by Betty Shelley called “Less is More.” That class taught me that while we all generate trash, much of it can be avoided if we’re more mindful when we shop or bring things into our home. I learned that much of what goes into our landfill just takes up space and hardly ever rots in those conditions, so I wanted to see if I could possibly get to just one can of trash a year. I was scared and nervous, but I figured it didn’t hurt to try. That year I had half of a 20-gallon trash can. The next year I cut it to five gallons, so I stretched to see if I could get to just two gallons in 2016.
In 2016 I was able to generate 4.5 pounds of trash for the whole year. The average American generates 3 pounds of waste per day. This shows that we each can reduce a little to make a big difference!
Let’s talk about how I did that. I began by taking photos of my trash. Sounds gross, huh? Since we separate out all organic compostable matter, it’s basically clean, dry, nonstinky material. I’m an avid recycler. In fact, I became a master recycler this past year as my love for reducing waste grew. So I pull out all items that can be recycled. I take items to a secondary recycling center so that plastic bags, plastic lids and other items that can’t go into our curbside recycling can avoid the landfill. I found that most of my trash is plastic from food, so I began to seek ways to buy food with less plastic.
My top 10 tips for waste reduction:
- Use reusable grocery bags.
- Focus on whole foods vs. processed for your health and to avoid packaging.
- Buy local produce at farmers markets and co-ops.
- Buy in bulk. Use cloth bags and glass jars for apples, grains, and olive oil.
- Skip the plastic bag as you buy produce.
- Wash and reuse plastic bags at home.
- Take photos of your trash to explore where you can improve.
- Coconut oil in glass vs. plastic
- Bulk soap with no wrapper
- Soapnuts for doing laundry
- Toilet paper wrapped in tissue paper instead of plastic
- Handkerchiefs vs. facial tissues
- Eat in whenever possible. Use a real cup and cutlery – refuse take home cups and containers.
- Carry your own water bottle.
- Take time to be a conscious shopper by evaluating the product, the packaging and asking “do I really need it, will I use it?”
I wasn’t surprised that I met my goal, but what did shock me was when my Airbnb guests only generated 50 gallons of trash the entire year! This was from one to two guests a night staying 240 nights in 2016. I tell my guests about my project by having it in my listing and in their guest manual. I share that they can help by composting food scraps and to consider using less plastic, while saying “you’re on vacation, so enjoy yourself. Your trash won’t count against me.” Many of my guests get excited to go home and try some of the things they see me doing.
I’d encourage you to pick one of my tips to apply in 2017.
The second goal for 2016 was to generate only one big blue IKEA bag of recyclable plastic. Many people may say, “why worry, it’s recyclable?” Plastic is made of petrochemicals and has a variety of other chemicals which may not be healthy for us. It also can take up to hundreds of years to decompose. When plastic is recycled, it is actually down-cycled and rarely used more than once. For more information on plastic and ways to reduce it’s use, read Plastic Free by Beth Terry.
The plastic recycling is actually the harder of the two goals, but I achieved it too, by doing all the things already listed. I was way better at refusing plastic bottles than the year before. My main challenge was making recipes that called for a specific ingredient and having little time to plan, which led to a quick trip to my local grocery (vs. my food co-op). They just don’t have as many items without plastic at the grocery store. Arugula in those darn plastic clamshells or French onion rings in a plastic tub (not a can) for that Thanksgiving meal created challenges in achieving my goal.
I need to come up with my 2017 goal, so wish me luck and know I keep it fun and don’t get too rigid. For me it’s all about learning and I’m learning every day!
Happy to see an abbreviated version of this story in the Portland Tribune.