Going Green 3: Garbage

Garbage. Waste. Where does it go? Where in the world does it end up? How much of the stuff are we each generating anyway?

Yes, it fills up landfills. Yes, big trucks have to haul it there. Yes, it releases loads of methane, which is 22 times worse than carbon dioxide for climate change. Then there are the oceans – for cities and countries that still dump their garbage into the ocean, shame on you! There is a gyre of plastic the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Some of the plastic has broken up so small, fish cannot help but digest it.

The other thing with garbage is the needless waste of energy and resources that were used to make it, just so it can be thrown out. Where did this garbage originally come from? Where on Earth was it derived? What is the embodied energy of it, what emissions were created to bring it into existence? It seems like such a waste of resources, just to throw it away.

Waste is so wasteful.

So let’s reduce it where we can. Time for the sliding scale of green for garbage! Even small changes can make a big difference. Where do you fit on the green sliding scale?

Dabbler

You recycle. Things that are paper, cardboard, glass or plastic do not hit your garbage can. They hit the blue bag or recycling bin or recycling centre. I have been doing this since I had my own apartment. My Mom has been doing this for over 20 years.

Here is our recycling for a 3 week period in 2010, before I started getting serious on cutting the packaging…

Beginner

You avoid one use items such as paper coffee cups, paper napkins, paper towels and plastic forks. You avoid plastic bottles, especially ones with only a single serving, like water that comes out of the tap for free. You carry a travel mug for coffee, a water bottle for cold drinks. You use real dishes, and then wash them, and then use them again. I started doing this pretty hardcore with no excuses about a year and a half ago when I had my green epiphany. Here is my beloved green travel mug, which I use almost every day:

Intermediate

You bake. You make. You know how to cook. Homemade food always creates less garbage than pre-packaged and pre-processed, plus it is better for you and you know what is in it. Most garbage is created in the kitchen, and mostly from food packaging. Make it fresh and garbage free. I started making my bread about a year ago, and since then have tried all sorts of interesting things – tortillas, crackers, granola bars, buns, biscuits, muffins… I make a bunch, freeze it and then always have homemade snacks. Plus have you ever smelled fresh bread baking in your own house? They can’t bottle that smell, it is so good.

Hardcore

You compost your organic wastes. You have a small bin under the sink for those potato peels and banana peels, for old bread and eggshells, for kid’s leftovers and stuff that went bad in the fridge. Apple cores, carrot tops, onion skins, coffee grinds – they all go into the organics bin and then out to the backyard composter outside. If you live in an apartment you get some worms and have fun with worm composting (which makes an even richer organic matter). I toss my kitchen scraps into my composter outside all winter long. It freezes solid. I just layer some brown leaves over each donation, and then it is ready for more. In the spring the whole thing thaws and heats up and gets going again. A year full of organic wastes from the kitchen and yard get transformed into rich organic compost, the very best kind of dirt you can get. What kind of miracle of nature is that? Garbage to growing material, renewed again. None of it goes to the landfill – a closed loop system.

Ultimate

You don’t buy food with packaging. Full stop. Nothing in a box, nothing in a metal can, nothing in a plastic container, nothing in glass… You bring your own produce bags to the grocery store, you avoid processed foods, and you make your own soup. You also preserve your own food, allowing you to reuse glass canning jars for tomato sauce, salsa, jams, pickles and peaches. You bake your own bread, muffins, granola bars and snacks. You have barely any garbage or recycling, maybe a small bin every two weeks. The garbage man often skips your house. You start to wish that you paid for garbage collection on a per bag basis, because then it would be practically free…

Bonus Points

Do you get any bonus points?

  • You have been known to bring your own plastic containers to a restaurant to wrap up the leftovers.
  • If you get a take-out hamburger and fries, you fold up the paper wrap and cardboard and slip it into your purse or pocket to take it home to recycle. Then if courage permits, you go up and ask the store manager why they don’t have recycling bins?
  • You pack your kids garbage free lunches, with everything in containers and no prepackaged foods. No plastic wrap, no throw away containers, no tetra-pack juice boxes.
  • You use cloth diapers for your babies.

So where do you fall on the green sliding scale? We can reduce our garbage a lot just by thinking about it. Most of the garbage decisions are made at the grocery store, in the food packaging we haul home. If you don’t buy it, it will not end up in the bin!

Take the poll!

Want some inspiration? Here are some great low garbage superstars of the blogging world:

  • Clean Bin Project – this couple each created less than one small bin of garbage over an entire year, and made a documentary about it
  • My Plastic Free Life – seeing birds from the middle of the Pacific die with their with bellies full of plastic, she swore off the stuff in 2007 and just released a book about her journey
  • No Impact Man – he took his shopaholic, cappuccino drinking wife and young daughter on a ride to have no environmental impact for one year, and then wrote a book and made a film about it
  • Green as a Thistle – she made one green change a day for a year, and wrote a book about it called Sleeping Naked is Green.
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4 thoughts on “Going Green 3: Garbage

  1. Yay, my second hardcore rating on your new Going Green series! Recycling and reusing was standard practice in my home growing up (I didn’t realize how lucky I was). I started using a Nalgene bottle 11 years ago and a travel mug a year or two later when my coffee habit kicked into high gear. Then I learned how to bake bread during a recent, very cold winter when I realized it would taste good, not require heading out into the cold, avoid packaging, and warm up the home, all at once! As for organic waste, despite living in an apartment above a store with no backyard and therefore no compost bin, I’m incredibly grateful to the City of Toronto for starting a curbside green bin pickup program a few years ago. I now generate only two small bags of garbage per week and could probably further reduce that. Oh, and I’ve been known to take not only recyclables back home when I eat out, but also apple cores and tea bags. I just smile when people stare. 🙂

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