A month of garbage [updated]

[Updated 03/19/15. Updates are in brackets]

L to R: 1) Henna hair dye. Not plastic-free, but a readily-available product that let me see if I like henna. Now I can order the bulk stuff and mix my own! 2) Plastic-free, biodegradable floss in recyclable packaging. 3) Compostable household gloves in recyclable packaging.

I don’t mean that March sucked. Quite the contrary: I enjoyed the heck out of it. But it was also the month I arbitrarily chose to conduct an experiment on myself. I wrote down everything I threw out and then took a good hard look at it to see if I could avoid throwing it out in the future. (Waste stream analysis and reduction is what the municipal professions would call this kind of nerdery.) Click here to see my spreadsheet. (I can’t believe I just said that.)

To make the experiment feasible I only wrote down what I threw away (ignoring Matt, who usually just leaves stuff on the counter for me to dispose of anyway), and only what I threw away at home (not at restaurants or gas stations or what have you). I’m not ignoring this other garbage, I’m just focusing on one thing at a time.

I learned that the following items are compostable: cotton swabs, toilet paper (used as facial tissues), toothpicks, unwaxed pizza boxes, used matches, the stuff in the dustpan (sweepings, I think, is the term), masking tape, pencils and pencil shavings (minus the eraser and the ferrule), vacuum cleaner canister contents, and dryer lint (the man-made fiber content is usually negligible because things like rayon and polyester don’t shed like cotton and wool do). I was able to keep all of these things out of the trash.

One item that is still stumping me is eggshells. As I’ve mentioned before, they aren’t breaking down in my compost bins in a timely fashion – and they attract rats. An internet search tells me that I can wash and crush them and feed them back to the hens, use them in coffee to take out bitterness, use them as a scrubbing household cleanser, scatter around plants to deter slugs, and even make sidewalk chalk out of them. I haven’t decided what to do yet, and given our limited space I am not yet diverting them from the garbage can, either. [In the end I decided it was easiest just to throw them away. I know, sad face.]

Now that I’ve analyzed my data I’ve made (or will be making) the following changes:

  1. Keeping that one thing *ahem* out of the bathroom garbage. That means that what remains in the can is all compostable. (Once I’ve used up my current package, which was purchased in a hurry, I go back to the plastic-free compostable kind.) [This is no longer an issue because I have switched to a menstrual cup! Read about that here.]
  2. Found a new source for glass-bottled milk, which means I can make my own sour cream and yogurt again and not have to deal with plastic tubs or “waxed” cartons. [Local stores stopped carrying glass-bottled milk but now that I have proper recycling available the plastic tubs are no longer garbage.]
  3. Buying CFLs from the local (non-big box) hardware store, where they sell them wicked cheap and in recyclable cardboard boxes instead of plastic clamshell packaging like at the grocery store.
  4. When I run out of waxed paper I will go the co-op and get the If You Care brand, which uses soy wax and is compostable. [The same brand makes 100% recycled tin foil and compostable parchment paper. I use and love all three.]
  5. Got myself a “new” (thrifted) reusable travel mug for the smaller size I now drink. At least one of us isn’t generating plastic-lined cups and straws anymore.
  6. Next time I need lime or lemon juice I’ll just buy a lime or a lemon.
  7. Started using henna instead of grocery store hair dye. Available online without plastic packaging. [Henna was a giant ugh. I have gone back to the boxed hair dye but I am also investigating DIY options.]
  8. Started making my own almond milk again to avoid those cartons. [Making it myself got to be a huge pain and my new curbside recycling service accepts the cartons.]
  9. My eczema demands that I use gloves when washing dishes or cleaning. If You Care makes 100% latex household gloves (which are compostable!) in a 100% recyclable cardboard box. They carry them at the food co-op and I will use them exclusively as soon as I use up the plastic pairs I have on hand. (On hand . . . heh.)
  10. Since I seem to be addicted to microwave steaming (even though I own two steamer baskets) I’m looking into reusable lids for this purpose. There are several on the market.

I’m proud to say that we don’t generate enough trash to warrant pickup from the garbage men. It takes us three months to fill up our three 30-gallon cans. Our local dump (and by local I mean two miles away) is startlingly beautiful (You heard me. Beautiful. It looks like the freaking Hoh Rainforest.) but I still wouldn’t mind going there less often, since I have to pay to get in.

— Amanda


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