Because how we spend our days is,
of course, how we spend our lives. Annie Dillard

Producing As Little Trash As Possible - Recycling & Composting

30 Day Challenge by Heather on September 18, 2014

Prior to the start of my challenge to Produce As Little Trash As Possible, my husband and I found ourselves lugging a full 13 gallon trash bag to the dumpster once per week.  That's 4 full bags of trash per month.  

Since starting the challenge, we've only been able to fill 1/2 of a 13 gallon trash bag so far this month. We are on track to only produce 1 full 13 gallon bag of trash for the entire month of September, reducing our landfill waste output by an astounding 75%.

I guess that means so far so good!!

These exciting results are due to the small, conscious efforts my husband and I have made in our daily lives regarding waste. Among these, the two easiest, most effective, and crucial in minimizing landfill waste has most definitely been: 
Recycling & Composting.

Recycling

I began recycling when I moved out of my parent's house at the age of 20.  We didn't recycle in our family growing up, but having my own home finally allowed me to make my own rules, so I decide to give it a try.  I mean, it was the right thing to do, right?  Good citizens recycled, and I wanted to be a good citizen.

I wasn't given a recycling bin when I moved into my new place, so I went out and bought a laundry basket to throw my recyclables into.  I kept it on my deck, which was conveniently close to the kitchen, where most trash materialized.  I began tossing plastics and glass bottles into it, feeling good about my effort so far. 

I needed to know when the recycling would be picked up, so I went online and found the website for my city's department of public works.  It was there that I was flooded with all kinds of new information, including what exactly I could recycle, what day of the week collections were, where I could get an actual city recycle bin, how I should handle special items, like batteries, and more.  

With all this accessible information at my fingertips, I very quickly became a recycling expert.  I recycled everything and anything, encouraged friends to recycle, and monitored recycling at all parties and gatherings.  No beer can would make its way in the garbage on my watch.

Today living with my husband, I continue to recycle diligently.  It brings us both great happiness and inner peace to do something that benefits ourselves, the environment, and everyone in our community. With such profound benefits and the sheer ease of it all, it really doesn't make sense not to recycle.

Here is how I suggest getting started with recycling in your neighborhood:

Enter a Google search for the department of public works for the city you live in and look for the following:
  • The address in your town to pick up a recycle bin.  In some cities they are free, but others you need to purchase them.  If you have an extra laundry bin hanging around, try to see if they will collect from it.
  • The pick up day of the week for your neighborhood.
  • The types of materials that are accepted.  This differs in each city, but usually includes: all types of paper, aluminum, plastic (numbered 1-7), glass, and cardboard.
  • If the materials need to be washed out or not.  This is important, because if non washed items are not accepted they will be sent straight to the landfill, making your effort a waste.
  • The types of materials that are NOT accepted.  This usually includes: plastic bags, plastic wrap, mirrors, batteries, scrap metal, light bulbs, and unnumbered plastics. There are usually special places to dispose of most of these items that you can find online.
  • If the various materials can go in the bin together or need to be sorted.  Most likely they can all go in the same bin.

So in a nutshell, all you need to do is learn about your city's recycle program, acquire a recycle bin, start putting recyclable items in it, and put your bin out on the pickup day. That's all. Easy!

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My husband and I keep a big rubber maid bin in our laundry closet in the kitchen for our recycling.  It usually fills up twice a month.  Each day we casually toss into it ripped up junk mail, beer cans, wine bottles, aluminum cans, plastic laundry containers, aluminum tea light candle cups, flattened cardboard boxes, paper towel rolls, toiler paper rolls, shampoo bottles, and more. We actually end up recycling more items than we throw in the garbage, resulting in less money spent on garbage bags. Score!

Looking at the picture above of our filled-to-the-brim recycling bin, it's clear why recycling is so important. Imagine for a moment, two of these overflowing rubber maid bins full of recyclable materials per month (24 per year) being shipped off to a landfill.   That's just what two people are able to produce. Then, imagine millions upon millions of those rubber maid bins being shipped off to landfills each month by the entire population. Those materials, many of which non-biodegradable, will sit in those landfills for thousands of years only to be further piled upon, until a brand new landfill needs to be dug up.  That is not something I want to add to.

By taking the little effort to recycle these materials, we instead are redirecting them from these overflowing landfills to a center where they can be turned into something new, contributing to a sustainable and harmonious planet for generations to come.

Composting

Composting has been introduced to me this month as a result of this challenge, and I really can't believe I have not made it a part of my life sooner.

I knew composting was something my fellow earthy crunchy environmentalists did, but I didn't know exactly what it was.  After brief research I learned that it is simply the act of turning decayed organic material (like food scraps) into plant fertilizer.  

Much of my garbage bin consists of food scraps, so why not put all that material to good use and turn it into something that will nurture the earth, instead of send it off to a landfill where it will just rot? I decided composting was going to be my new thing.

The first step to begin composting was to do a little more research. After some reading I realized that composting at home is a dedicated, systematic process, but really no more complicated than many outdoor chores.  You first need to erect a compost pile outside in your yard, either on bare earth or with a purchased composting bin.  Your collected food scraps can be tossed onto it when your kitchen counter compost bin gets full.  The pile needs to be activated with manure, covered, kept moist, and turned with a pitchfork every few weeks.  Eventually it turns into rich, nutrient-filled soil.

I was ready and excited to get started, but quickly remembered... technically I don't have my own yard! My husband and I rent in a condo community that has ample land, but in an effort to keep the community pristine and tidy we are not allowed to keep personal items out on it.  So an outdoor compost pile was out of the question.

The next option, and what I ended up going forward with, was a local compost pick up service called Mr. Fox Composting.  I knew about Mr. Fox because most of my favorite cafes and lunch spots downtown use their services, proudly displaying the bright orange fox sticker on their front doors. This option would allow me to compost without having to deal with the outdoor pile and all the work that comes along with it. Yes, please!

The only downside is that you have to pay for this service, but I don't really look at it as a bad thing. When you think about it, you are already paying for garbage and recycling pick up services, both hugely crucial to the community, with your tax dollars. So if you have the opportunity to get involved with another service that benefits the community and environment for less than $200 a year, why not do it? I've found that practicing compassion by occasionally spending money towards the greater good, and not just solely on myself, has tremendous effects on my own levels of inner peace and happiness.  So in the end, it's not much of a downside after all.

compost

Getting started with Mr. Fox was simple.  I went to their website, learned I was in fact within their area of services, and promptly signed up for the biweekly pick up option, only $16 a month.  They dropped off a medium sized bin a week later, which we placed in a corner in our tiny kitchen. Displayed on the top of the bin is a sticker listing all the items that are compostable, which I am thankful for because occasionally I need the reminder.

Immediately we began filling the bin with all sorts of organic materials, including:

  • Egg shells
  • Banana peels
  • Strawberry leaves
  • Tea bags
  • Hardened bread
  • Carrot nubs
  • Rotten produce
  • Orange peels
  • Coffee grounds
  • Meat and bones (typically not compostable, but Mr. Fox's incinerators make it happen)
  • Paper towels and napkins
  • Pizza boxes
  • Bread
  • All food scraps from plates

I feel a child-like glee when I get to toss a banana peel into the compost bin instead of the trash, sometimes even squealing with delight (it's true, ask my husband). In amazement, I witness our compost bin fill up faster than our trash can. The results are worth all the squeals I can manage.

Tonight I will proudly set out our compost bin for Mr. Fox to make its first pick up in the morning. It feels good to know this waste will be transformed into rich fertilizer, nurturing someone's garden one day. And I forgot to mention, each spring Mr. Fox will give me a free bag of said fertilizer, which of course I won't be able to use since I can't have a garden, but will happily give to a friend, further spreading the love.

Get Involved

With full compost and recycle bins carried away twice per month now, it's no wonder our trash bin has struggled to accumulate even one full bag of garbage this month.  When most of our waste that we create can be renewed, there really isn't much left to be thrown out, anyway.  

What fills our trash now is mostly plastic wrappers from packaged food or various products, which I am determined to reduce by implementing a whole bunch of new habits into my daily life that I will talk about in a later post.

Do you recycle or compost?  If not, why not give it a shot?  Maybe start small by placing an extra bin or paper bag next to your trash can and treat it as a practice recycling area, tossing in plastics and cans every here and there.  Or do some research to see if there is a local and affordable compost pick up service in your area that you could get involved with.

By taking that first step, you might just bring some fulfillment into your life, one day experiencing the same joy and amazement of watching your trash dwindle down to a size you never thought possible!