A funny thing happened on the way to Good Harvest in Peawaukee, WI over the past 2 months. We managed to hit our waste goal of one grocery bag of garbage! An unexpected, but very welcome, side effect of us buying significantly more bulk items and more fresh produce is that the packaging (which gets chucked) from our groceries is down to almost zero. Combine that with our intense commitment to composting and our Worm Bin and about the only thing that makes it into the trash is used light grade plastics like bulk bags with tears in them, and spent Ziploc bags. Considering that most plastic in this grade is at the end of a long line of plastic recycling we don’t feel to bad about that.
The average American Consumer generates about 4lbs of waste per day. If we consider each of our kids as a 50% consumer we should be generating about 84lbs of waste a week. Last week we only made about 5 lbs! If you factor in our recyclables (15lbs) and the amount of veggies and food we fed to the Compost pile and Worm Bin (easily 30lbs) our waste production is about 50% of average. But from a landfill point of view we generate about 5%, and the bulk of our ‘waste’ is recycled on site and turned into humus to produce-with some help from the good ol’ sun- into more veggies.
Next steps? We will be switching to reusable mesh produce bags and reusable bulk bags-is zero waste possible? Perhaps not for us right now as we will have at least 2 bags worth of recyclables, but this is really encouraging!
Here is a short list of how we have gotten this far:
1) Reduce We factor packaging into our purchasing decisions now. Does your cereal come in a plastic bulk bag? It, or a similar version, probably does. This not only saves the cardboard from the box, but will save you easily 10% in cost. Refuse a bag when checking out on small, easily portable items. Better yet: bring your own bags-the only time we take bags is if we are getting low for our trash-about once a month. Buy Bulk-some stores are beginning to offer everything from Olive Oil to Peanut Butter to Dishwashing detergent in bulk in addition to the usual pastas, beans and flours. Again this will save money too!
2) Reuse I have already mentioned bringing your own bags, but compared to the beauty of Freecycle it is small. I am amazed at the stuff that people will take from you on Freecycle. Whenever we have posted something it has never sat more than 48 hours-and in the case of the kids stuff the receivers are usually gushing due to unexpected twins on the way or some other pinch on their budget. Makes you feel warm inside. Yogurt quarts and milk jugs make great leftover containers, and in Spring all my seed starts were in Stoneyfield cups. We ship all of our eBay stuff in reused cardboard boxes and mailing envelopes. Then there are the gardens-we used local sourced field stone to build the raised beds and stone from our own yard to line our perennial beds.
3) Recycle This one has a big Duh factor to it, so I will go beyond the curb pickup recycling. We recycle literally tons of waste on our property. How? I annually produce about 3-5 cu. yards of finished compost on site. Considering I have no mature trees that takes some doing. I take 25 gallons of coffee grounds from a local coffee shop each week that would otherwise be in the landfill. We also use wood chips from our city yard instead of buying them at Menard’s. Then there is the Worm Bin. God I love those worms! They take 2-3 lbs of food scraps every day and turn them into the best fertilizer that you can’t get. Then there is cardboard-whenever I want to expand my gardens (ok, that is all the time) I don’t use Round-up- I just lay out a layer of two of cardboard, cover it with leaves and grass clippings (sheet mulching) and 3-4 months later I have nice friable soil ready for planting.
Other awesome ways to reduce your impact on the waste stream are to grow a garden, shop farmers markets, and use the library.
Challenge your friends and family, and I am challenging each of you now, to reduce your waste. Little things have Big Impacts and proactive solutions are much better for the psyche!
Be the Change!