Aparigraha April Challenge #3: One bag of Trash.
“The maintenance of the Earth is crucial to humanity. Rather than fighting with each other, we should be concentrating on the Earth. Looking after the Earth, because we all live on it. That’s where we get our sustenance. Our Home. Our Food. Our Everything comes from the Earth. And if the Earth goes, we all go. It’s that simple.” – Lorraine Mafi-Williams.
Americans produce a frightening amount of trash. I mean, we literally sell our compounded trash to other countries. (It’s true, this article will make you think twice about putting your next garbage bag on the curb.) If you REALLY want to SEE your environmental impact reduced (it’s difficult to see the electricity we are saving by turning our fridge warmer or the carbon gases we aren’t omitting by walking rather than driving a car) then take this challenge: One Bag of Trash.
After a month of experimenting and solidly committing to the One Bag of Trash challenge, I realized that I am not an island. As in: the communities and the systems that I am a part of are integral to my interaction with the Earth’s resources. Even though it wasn’t a part of my One Bag of Trash game plan, I had to be willing to accept gifts (thanks for the giant bag of almonds from Costco, Mom) even if the gift was packaged in plastic. I had to take the credit card receipt that automatically printed from Mildred’s Coffee House. I even took a one-time use to-go cup from B-R advertising when the uber-nice receptionist offered to make me a free latte. (Yes, please. By the way, I re-used this cup 4 times before the plastic lid broke.) But throughout the month I began to transform my thinking from: ‘What do I want?’ to ‘What do I need?’ You, too, will find this challenge to be eye-opening.
Here are 7 EASY things you can do to reduce the amount of trash (and recyclables) generated from your home.
Aparigraha Challenge #3: One Bag of Trash.
- Wipe your face softly. Replace paper napkins with cloth napkins. It seems absurd to throw away a tree every time you eat a meal. Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home suggests using napkin rings so that each member of your household can re-use their own napkin to avoid sharing germs. My suggestion (to avoid buying new things!): If you have little kiddos in your house, then save cardboard toilet paper tubes and hold monthly craft time to decorate them into napkin rings. Just throw the cloth napkins in your load of towels at the end of the week. It’s not that hard.
- Re-wrap your gifts. My friend Mary jokes that she re-uses gift bags until they fall apart. That’s great. Do that. And then never buy another gift bag again! I wrap all my presents in brown paper bags from the grocery store (it actually is cute when you use twine and little ribbon… and I totally feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder). You can also use the funnies from the Entertainment section of the newspaper. Automatic double gift: the gift of laughter AND your present? Win-Win-Win.
- Forgo copious paper towel use. I put my paper towel holder in a cupboard for one month. Guess what? I didn’t need even one. I used a towel. (How is that novel? For some reason it is to my generation, who grew up on Hefty Paper Towel TV commercials). And forgo paper towel use even out of the kitchen. Clean your mirrors with newspaper. It’s surprisingly streak-free! Don’t subscribe to a daily newspaper? Me. Neither. And yet, I seem to have them constantly on hand. Price Chopper ads, printed on newspaper, are constantly showing up in my mailbox. This is a difficult mailing list to have your name removed from (see below). But it allows you to stop purchasing bleached, disposable trees in the form of paper towels for your cleaning needs.
- Opt out of needless junk mail. When was the last time you ordered something from the Home Journey catalogue? Or even the Victoria’s Secret catalogue? Or EVER from the AeroGrow catalogue? Right. I can’t remember either. Most of us simply move the catalog from the mailbox to the recycle bin. While that is better than throwing it away, it’s even better to take 3.2 minutes and call the number on the back of the catalogue to remove your name and address from their mailing list. They will warn you that their catalogs are manufactured six weeks in advance and you may still receive one or two more before your name is removed from the mailing list. Say, “Great, thanks!” and hang up the phone. One or two more 65-page double sided glossy magazines are better than one or two more years’ worth of cutting down trees. Trust me. This can happen in the same time it takes for one commercial break in Modern Family. According to Catalog Choice, more than 8 million tons of trees are used each year to produce 19 billion catalogs. Also, the average American adult receives 40 pounds of junk mail each year (Bach, Go Green, Live Rich). If the mailing is local (like your neighborhood’s grocery store flyer), Google: “How to remove my name from ___________ mailing list.” It’s worth it. (Remember, this isn’t just about cutting needless waste from your life. It’s also about the bigger picture: rainforests in Bolivia are still being destroyed at an alarming rate in order to meet paper and wood demand of the American consumer. Stop hoarding.)
- Opt in for email updates and paperless billing. I know, I hate it too: I don’t like online things knowing my name, address, and personal information. (I’m with you, Helen.) But paperless billing and receipts reduce waste immensely. Remember, the goal is not only to recycle (that’s easy!) but reduce. Paper goods make up 33% of Americans’ annual waste, and 51.6% of that is recycled. That sounds pretty good, but that’s still 88 billion pounds (Loux, Easy Green Living). Billion. With a B Just get your bank account statement emailed to you. Seriously.
- Dry your clothes nicely. Replace one-time use (very wasteful) dryer sheets with one piece of aluminum foil. Place one sheet in the dryer, then leave it in for up to a month. The foil reduces static cling and can be used repeatedly, unlike a dryer sheet. If you love the clean smell that a dryer sheet adds to your laundry load, just spritz your wet clothes with an essential oil mix before drying. I’m a fan of ZUM Eucalyptus spray. Better yet, reduce your carbon footprint and your electric bill by letting your clothes air dry. I won’t do this in the winter (it takes forever, I’ve found) but even a few months out of the year makes a difference. In fact, washing machines and tumble dryers can account for up to 25% of your home electricity use (Yarrow, How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint). That is outrageous.
- Mop Again. Hi, I love my Swiffer Wet Mop. I cannot manage a giant bucket full of sudsy, dirty water being wiped, repeatedly, all over my floors. However, what I did find was that the disposable one-time use wet Swiffer wipes are extraneous. Use a dish rag. Get it wet, spray some household cleaner on it and mop away, my friend. Put the dishrag in the washing machine and use it again next week. Not only do you reduce one-time use waste, but you also avoid buying the plastic tub that holds the Swiffer replacements in the first place.
Ok, so there are a few things that I’m still going to use and then dispose:
- Toilet tissue. I’m not holding a discussion over how many squares of toilet paper to use per butt wipe. Just, be respectful. And try to buy recycled toilet paper.
- Q-Tips. I mean, I know you can use your finger, but come on. Q-tips feel so nice. I’m working on reducing the number that I use daily by designating a special cloth for removing eye-liner instead of throwing cotton away every day. But it I definitely can’t call this a success yet.
- Razor replacement heads. Being a clumsy person doesn’t lend itself nicely to using a single blade to shave your legs. Ever.
- Doggie Bags. No explanation necessary here.
Try it for a week and let me know how it goes. If you are REALLY into this idea, check out a very detailed account from Bea Johnson of how her family went ‘Zero-Waste.’ As in: no trash, no recyclables, no food waste. It’s a phenomenal resource and I absolutely aspire to this one day.
Can’t wait to hear from you,