It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I thought that looking at our garbage with a critical eye was going to be severely shame-inducing, and maybe once I share it here, someone will in fact try to shame me for my family’s choices. I’m hoping not, and will leave the comments open in an appreciation for civil discourse and conversation. Please be kind – to me and to others.
For four days last week, I set aside every piece of garbage destined for the kitchen can. I put them in a plastic grocery bag hanging from the cabinet, and the next morning laid them out on a cardboard box to photograph them. At one point, I realized I had not explained my nutty project to my husband or children, and had to dig a few things out to catalog. I may have missed a couple of small pieces in the process, so my apologies now. And I am currently explaining to Swee that the project has ended and she can stop putting her trash on the counter for me.
That photo at the top is one week’s worth of waste for our family of four, plus a spontaneous pizza dinner with my parents. Trash is in the two white bags, and the cardboard box is all single-stream recycling. This does not include the redeemable bottles; they get bagged and stored in a big trash can until the volume is worth the trip to the redemption center.
As I anticipated, there was a lot of plastic. I use reusable produce bags at the grocery store, but some things come in plastic, like carrots and frozen veggies. With two toddlers, we are still in the Cheerios phase, so several cereal box liners got tossed. Wax/foil/plastic lined tea bag wrappers can’t be recycled, and neither can the backing from my book of stamps or the padded envelope from the lipstick I ordered. I’m very cautious about credit card pre-approvals, so they go in the regular trash (our shredder didn’t make the move), and try as I might, the convenience of microwave popcorn still has J tightly in its grip.
The diapers…oh, the diapers. This is where I’m asking you to be kind. If you’re a parent, you know that you make decisions that will help you keep your sanity during the newborn phase, and even beyond. When Swee was born, I went back to work and J stayed home full time. He didn’t feel that he could handle cloth diapering on top of that adjustment, so we went with disposable. When Beans was born, I parented solo for nine months while J was paving the way here in Maine, so again we chose disposable for the sake of my sanity. The end is in sight for us: Swee only wears diapers overnight, and Beans already has a healthy interest in the potty. The investment in cloth doesn’t make sense financially now.
Now, this doesn’t include the bathroom trash. I’m certain you know the gross stuff that winds up in that trash can, and there is no need for me to show you that. It also doesn’t include the scraps that our dogs take care of, or the organic matter that goes in the compost bucket to get dumped outside. And it doesn’t include all of the bread bags from the freezer: I made breadcrumbs again this week, and was left with a huge bag of bags. Granted, they got reused to clean up after the dogs outside, but ultimately they still wind up in the trash.
I thought that this exercise would show me that we were chucking things that didn’t need to be chucked. It’s pretty clear though, that save for the junk mail on Wednesday, we really couldn’t have recycled any of this. I could have composted the paper napkins and the dryer lint, and I’ll work on that going forward.
What is ridiculously clear is that I need to work on the first R: REDUCE. Our box of recycling holds as much waste as our trash bags each week, if not more. While that’s a big box of stuff that’s not going to the landfill, we’re still consuming a lot of packaging. With most companies not using post-consumer recycled content in their packaging, an astronomical amount of raw material gets used, just to wind up in my recycling bin. That’s gross.
The worst offenders are the convenience items: frozen waffles with a plastic liner (trash) and a cardboard box (recycling); Goldfish crackers in a foil-lined carton (trash); disposable diapers (trash) that come wrapped in plastic (trash) and encased in cardboard (recycling). Sometimes these items are a matter of retaining my sanity as a mama, and I give grace to myself and others for that! Sometimes just a few extra minutes of prep can make all the difference.
So moral of the story – I need to pay more attention to packaging while I’m still in the store. I need to schedule myself a few extra minutes to prepare items at home so that I don’t have to buy the convenience items. I need to research some alternative shopping venues to find bulk options.
I’m really curious to hear your thoughts and comments. Have you ever scrutinized your waste like this?