Waste Not, Want Not: Reducing Trash

Did you know that, according to The Story of Stuff, 99% of all products created becomes trash within 6 months? How disgusting is that? It becomes even harder to swallow with the knowledge that the average American creates around 1,600 pounds of trash a year. Trash is something few of us think about. It goes in the bin, leaves your curb and then goes away. You never see it again.

Well it has to go SOMEWHERE and often that means in a landfill, or worse our rivers and streams and then the ocean. We can’t fill the land forever – we’ll run out of room.


Creating trash not only uses finite resources, it costs my family money since we are responsible for trash hauling (and it’s affiliated costs). Reducing our trash is a good idea for the planet and our pocketbook.
If you put yourself on a trash diet so to speak you’ll find what a throw-away society we have become. We throw away napkins and silverware, coffee cups and papertowels, candy wrappers and soap containers. In fact, diapers are the third largest source of trash in landfills. It’s crazy really. And many of the items we throw away we use for ten minutes or less.

To combat this, you put together an anti-trash kit. It should include:

Anti-trash Kit

  • A reusable cup
  • A reusable water bottle
  • A reusable hot beverage sleeve
  • A cloth napkin
  • A reusable container
  • Reusable and lightweight bamboo utensils
  • A hankie
  • A reusable bag


Having these simple items can cut down on your “used for ten minutes trash” extensively. As an added bonus, the coffee cup and bag can also help you earn money at various places as many retail locations from Starbucks to Target offer discounts for reusable containers.

I know from personal experience that using the bag is sometimes difficult. I often have to “argue” with the cashier. They’re on autopilot and when you request “no bag thanks” they don’t always compute. Usually they respond with an “Are you sure?” This drives me especially crazy when I have hand-carried my item to the check-out. I carried it up to you, I think I can handle carrying it out of your store. Occasionally someone will say thanks, or smile in my no bag desire, but these folks are too few and far between.

To make a major dent in  your trash though you need to do three things.
1. Compost food waste.
2. Recycle.
3. Purchase items with less packaging, or at least more recyclable packaging.

Composting is surprisingly easy. We keep a compost pail in our household. We throw food waste in there and carry it outside to our compost pile once every couple of days. There is no smell in our house. This has cut our trash easily by half. Throwing compost in the trash and sending it to a landfill doesn’t make it disappear since landfills are sealed and their contents are not allowed to naturally rot. Plus you’re throwing out valuable soil which can be used in pots or in your garden. An indoor option for a compost pile, is a worm bin, but we tried it and found that we created more waste than the worms could handle. In addition it’s easy to mess up the balance including moisture and newspaper/waste ratio that worms need to thrive. When my mother did a worm bin for us growing up, our worms escaped because it was too wet (luckily we were  keeping the bin outside). Don’t get me wrong, it can be done, but if given the option an outside compost pile is a better, easier solution in my humble opinion.

It’s important, as we all know, to recycle – paper, plastics, styrofoam and glass. As our population continues to grow, reaching 7 billion people in 2011, we need to be increasingly careful with finite resources. Many green elites call recycling, downcycling because materials degrade with each use. The best resource is the one we didn’t use at all, but for those we do use, reuse is a good option.

Recycling can even earn you money. The market for raw materials fluctuates wildly, so check the market first to see if it’s worth your while. Some states will give you credit for returned bottles and cans made from plastic, metal or glass. At 5 or 10 cents per container this can add up quickly. When we talk about recycling it’s important to note this is the best way of disposal for electronics and appliances, some of which can be sold for scrap.

Reducing packaging is a very difficult battle to wage, but if you’re homesteading even a little, it will be easier. Fresh foods, homemade items in reusable containers and homemade soaps do not make any trash.

Many of us gravitate towards easy meals and single-serve options. These are the biggest trash producers – from frozen dinners to granola bars – nothing will fill your can up quicker. These items, however, also usually drain your wallet faster. I know we are all short on time these days, but do yourself and your waistline a favor and try to avoid some of these products.

Set some time aside and make some meals. Put them in reusable containers and freeze them. There you have it – your own frozen dinner. Snack items are easier – just buy the big bag, not the small one. Sun Chips even created a compostable bag – made famous for its loud noise. It has since been improved to be quieter. Finally, health food stores, and some grocery stores allow customers to buy in bulk and use reusable containers, cutting down waste.

During the holidays we create even more waste with disposable paper products from parties and wrapping items. Put a little forethought into it and see how you can reduce your waste this year.