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April 22, 2015 / thegirlwiththedinotattoo

hooray earth!

In light of it being Earth Day today I thought I’d write a post about waste reduction since I’ve had several people ask me recently about how my husband and I have been able to cut back on our trash: we fill a bag of trash about every 5-6 weeks.  A while ago I started swapping out some disposable items with reusable ones (Ziploc baggies! They were my crutch) and realized that we were putting the trash out less and less.  Then I become kinda obsessed, saw it as a challenge, and started researching it more and finding more ways to cut back on what we were throwing out, because apparently that sort of things gets me really excited.  That and Excel functions (I know, this is why comments are disabled from this blog).

What I’ve come to realize though is that it has been really easy to significantly reduce our trash.  We have not changed our lifestyles, still live on the grid, and occasionally I look like a normal adult when I feel like it.  What we’ve changed were just a few habits, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to share a few of these habits for those of you who are also interested in reducing your waste as well.  I also think that my blog is pretty sarcastic and negative and this would be something positive to share for once in case you think I’m just a cynic who just likes to complain.  Which I am, but you know, let’s shake things up.

I’ve organized a few of our adapted habits under the 5 R’s of waste reduction: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.  Have a read through and see if there’s one or two things that you can start incorporating into your current lifestyle, or go wild and try a bunch!  The truth is that Americans produce a lot of trash, I mean way more than the rest of the world, and Earth Day is meant for us to be proactive about how we can be better humans and improve the earth, and this is a very tangible and long-term thing that we can each do that will make a difference!  Hooray Earth!

Refuse

  • Say no to the freebies!  I mean, come on, are you really going to wear that Livestrong-esque bracelet or use that promo bottle opener?  As much fun as these things are, I inevitably just end up throwing them out.  I love Evernote and happily take a picture of said-company’s business card to follow up on later, or delete once I’m past their booth.  Either way, nothing goes to a landfill.
  • Junk mail. Even though it all got recycled anyways, it is so much nicer to not get bombarded everyday with flyers I’ll never use. Most companies are happy to comply especially since you’re saving them the postage and printing costs. I’ve only had an issue with Comcast, go figure.  I would collect the junk for a few weeks or months, and while watching TV one night I’d go through and email everyone who had an email, and save the phone calls to customer service for a car ride.
  • Don’t let other people give you their unwanted stuff! I’m sorry Grandma, but I really don’t need another tea pot or lamp with a Precious Moments kid pushing a wheelbarrow on it’s base (this is a true story and gifted item).  I have learned the art of politely saying no and carry neither guilt or excess stuff around with me.
Reduce
  • Reduce your purchases.  I am a recovering yard-saler and Target-end-of-aisle-browser.  Did I get great deals?  Absolutely.  Did I need a scratched Beatles album or yet another candle that I won’t use because I don’t use candles?  Apparently not.  It has taken me a while but I no longer go to the mall just to browse and find extra time in stores a waste.  My wallet does a jig every time I leave the Big Red Box with just cat litter (but really, I hear Irish music coming from my purse).
  • Buy in bulk: when possible see if you can buy the same item with less or no packaging (think the party-sized bag of chips rather than individual-sized bags that are packaged in another bag).  My grocery store sells regular bananas without any packaging, but the organic ones come wrapped in plastic film and on a Styrofoam plate, because apparently that makes sense.  I usually end up going for apples.
  • Bring your own coffee mug to the coffee shop or water bottle to work, the gym, etc.  Most places will give you a discount for bringing your own mug to get coffee (yeah more savings!).  Personally I hate the thought of spending money on something I can get for free like water, and I’ve found that by having my own water bottle with me at work helps me drink a lot more water – hooray for hydration!
Reuse
  • AKA repair! I just got my rain boots resoled for $20 and was pumped because even though I’m sure I could’ve found another pair of rain boots for the same price, it was about 1/3 of what I had originally paid for mine, and they were really cute and I didn’t want to spend the time shopping for another equally cute pair.  Who knew cobblers still exist!  They do, along with appliance repair shops, and there’s always YouTube for the DIYers.
  • Reusable bags:  I’ve got my stash of cloth bags for grocery shopping, but for my errands I bought one of these bags.  Any cloth bag will work, but I loved how these roll up and take up no space when they’re not in use, but are big enough to hold plenty of items. Ziploc baggies were the most visible, wasteful item to me before and I ended up getting a reusable sandwich bag. I only got one, and I can’t remember the last time I bought Ziploc bags. It has probably already paid for itself and I plan to use it for a lot longer.
  • Cloth napkins: these were an easy switch for me (why was I using an entire napkin just to dab at my lips after eating cereal?); I found a set of cotton (ie, absorbant) and patterned (ie, stain-covering) napkins at a thrift store for a couple of dollars and have been so happy to pass by every tacky holiday-themed pack and not feel obligated to provide these for my dinner guests.
  • Replacing paper towels took me a while to embrace because of the possibility of spreading germs, but when I found a 2-pack at Trader Joe’s for a few dollars I figured I’d give them a try.  They are super absorbent, and having two means one can be in the wash/laundry while I’m using the other.  And for all those spills on the floor, egg splatter, or other messes that I don’t want to use with the towels that are for the kitchen counters?  I took an old t-shirt (team building exercise 1999!) and cut it into a bunch of hand-sized rags which are perfect for wiping up those small spills, or an entire bowl of pasta and marinara sauce, whichever you may incur.  I have done both, and the rags worked great.  A quick rinse to get rid of marinara sauce or other substances and I toss them in the laundry (my husband’s clothes, not mine, that’d be gross).
  • Reusable filters for the Keurig are a great option for those with the quick-brew system to move away from using K cups.  I ended up switching to a single serve drip system and love it since I can buy much higher quality coffee for far less than what I was spending on the K cups.
Recycle
  • There are still many issues with our recycling system which is why refuse and reuse come first in the 5 Rs, but anything that can try to avoid the landfill is a win in my mind.
  • First off, take note of what your town/city accepts for recycling and whether it needs to be separated (plastic from metal and paper, etc).  Also see if there are recycling events in your area.  My town is awesome and hosts Styrofoam, clothing, yard scraps, and electronic waste recycling events. The American ewaste recycling system has many troubles so if you’re able to find one in the US that’s always best, and if you’re charged a fee to process your item that usually a good sign that they’re doing it right.
  • Freecycle and Craig’s List – I am always amazed at the things people give away, and take, on these sites.  I had two used bed pillows taken from me off Freecycle; the woman had rescued a litter of kittens and they would be used as little fur collectors.  I love to challenge myself not to buy something new, but rather to find it on eBay, CL, or FC.  I am usually able to find what I need, spend half the money or sometimes none, and am keeping the other person’s unwanted items from the landfill.  Winning!
  • Thrift shops are a hobby for me if you haven’t caught on yet. Mackelmore and I would be besties.  These are a great resource for finding just about anything you need or donating those gently used items that you no longer want or need (they love my grandma!).  My favorite local thrift shop is part of an organization that provides much-needed services to the community such as adult-learning classes and a food pantry, so I don’t mind the fact that I don’t get anything in return other than a tax receipt.  For my nicer clothes I consign with a cool vintage-consignment shop, and when I don’t use my store credit on more clothes I usually get a decent check back in the mail.
Rot
  • Compost!  This is easier for people like me who live in cities that provide curbside compost programs, but you could always start one in your backyard for your own use, or bring it over to a friend’s compost and make their yard stink instead.  I’m joking, compost actually shouldn’t smell that much unless you’re working on the industrial scale.
So those are a few ideas to get you started, or bored, in which case I’m wondering why you bothered to keep reading.  If you have made it to the end here and want some good reads to learn more I highly recommend Zero Waste Home and Plastic Free.  They’re crazy-pants, but that’s great because they’re so extreme they have some great ideas for every aspect of life.  Find what works for you.  And save the earth! Positive thinking!
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