Some easy ways to reduce household waste

by Michael Smith

When you live in towns or cities then things so simple when it comes to getting rid of rubbish: every whichever night you place your full garbage cans on the curb and next morning they have emptied themselves, as if by magic. Though it is no magic and we all know that.

Aside from the fact that depending on the country that you live in you may be able to hear some raccoons or foxes having a midnight party in those trash cans getting rid of our garbage is a pretty simple and sanitary procedure.

Things more often than not are different out in the sticks in the USA and such countries while in most parts of the British countryside things are not much different as to getting rid of rubbish.

In the real boonies, however, often, especially in America, you are yourself responsible of getting rid of your trash in lieu of a municipal collection service that means that you have to get it somehow into your car or truck and then drive it to the dump. And that is where all of a sudden things get a lot less sanitary.

If you have never been to a municipal dump then I recommend that you pay a visit just as an educational experience. When I say here “municipal dump” I do not mean the waste centers or waste transfer stations, but the actual dump, the tip, the landfill.

Those places are huge and you will realize how much waste we generate, whether as private individuals or as businesses and as government departments; for all of this ends up at those refuse tips.

You will find there subdivisions that are dedicated to computers and electronics, to plastics, to household appliances, to tires and so on. An endless stream of refuse trucks comes in to dump loads.

To create more room, bulldozers spread mutilated garbage into freshly dug trenches, then cover the stuff with dirt. Layer upon layer upon layer of garbage.

In most of those places the stench is so overwhelming that one's gag reflex kicks in. The smell in the air is a potent mix of decay and of a soup of mixed chemicals oozing into the soil.

Anyone who has ever been visiting a dump should soon realize that this is not an environmentally sustainable situation. In fact, most if not indeed all landfills are but a toxic time bomb waiting to go off in our faces, and no covering it up with dirt will make it go away.

We all, in our individual countries and nations and the entire world over, but primarily to start with us in the do-called developed world (one sometimes wonders as to the “developed”) must take serious and drastic steps to cut back on the waste that we produce, starting, as individuals, with the waste that we produce in our respective households.

There are ways that we can all cut back on rubbish produced, so to speak, in our homes (I hope to look at how to be able to reduce waste in offices and businesses at some later stage). It can be done.

Bulk bins: Bulk Stores rule, that is sure. The problem is that they are not easy to find in places other than North America. No wrapping, no packaging, no frills – just about anything you may need sits in large bins, ready to scoop. From pasta to peanut butter (self-ground) and anything in between. There used to be one such place in London (UK) called Neal's Yard and, while I know the place still exists and their range of organic and natural perfumes and such can be seen often, I do often wonder whether they still sell in the other stuff in that way. You used to go there with your own storage containers and got them filled up; the peanut butter directly from the machine. Now that was peanut butter.

BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag). Bring a cool-looking tote to take your groceries away in, and forgo those plastic carrier bags that stay around for the next few millennia. You can either buy those from a number of sources or follow the instructions of and make your own.

Recycle. Most cities and towns have a recycling program in place for paper, glass, tin, even kitchen waste. Garages in the USA will take your old car batteries and tires. Many hardware stores there too will take your old paint, batteries and old CFLs. Unfortunately this is not the same in Britain, for instance, where it is much more difficult to find places where such things are taken in.

Compost your kitchen scraps. Your plant beds will be happy, I have been composting for a considerable while now and not only do kitchen scraps – pleas no meat, as that is NOT good for your compost – but also cardboard, shredded paper (what is that for security, LOL, first shredded and then turned to soil. ID thieves eat your heart out!).

Bring your own coffee mug for your take-out coffee. There are many places, in the USA at least, that will even give you a discount for bringing your own mug. At Starbucks and Wile Bean Cafe you can buy your own insulated stainless steel mug that you can then take back with you every time you want a mug of take-out coffee. Shame that some people don't and in fact buy their take-out coffee in one of those insulated mugs and then throw the mug away in a municipal park where they have been walking while drinking their coffee. That is something I can never understand.

Avoid take-out food as much as possible. While this can be a challenge on a Friday night, for instance, all all those plastic and foam containers in which they come produce a big stream of toxic rubbish, especially those horrible polystyrene carton for which there is no recycling use and even most councils will not recycle the plastic containers whether PP or other plastic.

Eat home-cooked meals instead. Here it does not necessarily matter whether you cook entirely from fresh stuff or whether you use cans or jars. While this is another potential minefield as far as waste is concerned, including, if you use fresh vegetables, lost of peelings and such. However, all those plastic and aluminium trays that those frozen dinners and prepackaged meals come in do not help the environment. Steel tin cans can be, if you do not have a way of getting them recycled, be reworked into usable stuff very often, and if that fails then you can also throw them into compost; they rust and rot down to nothing. The lining of some of them could be a problem though.

Drink tap water instead of bottled water. Evian, Perrier, and all those other bottled brands, are no longer cool and are not environmentally sustainable and that includes compostable plastic bottles. Why do I say that? Because I am not on about the plastic bottle n ot as much as I am on about using water in this way.
Get a reusable water bottle – if plastic then one that does not contain BPA such as the one from “We Want Tap” or otherwise an aluminium one or a stainless steel one. Yes. They are not cheap but they will lat nigh on for ever. You will make that price up very soon though by not paying $2 for 1/2 liter of water, which probably comes from public sources anyway.

Repair. Don’t throw out. More, I don't think has to be said here. There is a problem, I know, with some stuff and getting it repaired, such as electronic stuff, where buying new is so often much cheaper than actually repairing things.

Buy durable stuff, whether this is electronic goods, clothes, shoes, etc.. While it may cost a little bit more to get the better quality product, but it will last much longer and always pays for itself in the long run. That, at least, is the theory. I must say that I have found more than once that some cheaper product lasted better than expensive supposed quality brand. But that is, probably, a rare event.

The best thing about cutting back on garbage is the instant results in less waste going into the trashcan and the savings for those that have to pay per weight of refuse going into the tip.

We all must reduce the waste that we put into the bins. There is no other way. Aside from the fact that we are running out of holes in the ground where to put all that garbage it just is not sustainable. The rotting garbage releases a methane gas mix that is many times more dangerous than carbon dioxide as far as the environment is concerned.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009