Here’s an idea for reducing your garbage output: Don’t take out the trash until the collection day. Store all of your trash inside your living space. Is it taking up too much room? That motivates you to throw away less stuff. Does it stink? That motivates you to think about better ways to dispose of things.
In a typical week, our family of three puts out one kitchen-size (13-gallon) bag of garbage. Some weeks we decide not to bother taking out the trash because there isn’t enough to fill a bag.
Taking out the trash only once a week saves a lot of time, and reducing the amount of trash means taking it out is easier when we do do it. I don’t miss most of the disposable things I used to use because the reusable alternatives are so much nicer: they work better, they feel better, they make me feel like I have an established home with all the things I need instead of some kind of temporary situation in which everything around me is so flimsy it gets ruined in a single use.
Living with a week’s worth of your own garbage may seem “extreme”. But honestly, if it is really so unpleasant, perhaps you should give some thought to why it is that you produce such disgusting stuff.
For example, storing our garbage in the house was one of our motivations to use cloth diapers: You can wash diapers whenever you’re ready, and dirty cloth diapers do not smell anywhere near as bad as dirty disposable diapers! We’ve had several experiences with guests leaving a used disposable in our trash or Nicholas accidentally running out of diapers at childcare and being sent home in a disposable, and they REEK!!! The mass-marketed “solution” to this problem is to wrap the plastic diapers in yet still more layers of plastic, thus ensuring that the little darling’s waste products will be preserved for centuries. We think cloth diapers are a much better idea. I just love being able to put dirty diapers into the washing machine and come back 40 minutes later to take out clean diapers; it’s like magic!
We haven’t lived in a place with outdoor garbage cans since 1996, when Daniel and I moved in together along with two housemates. We didn’t already own an outdoor trashcan, so the question was, should we get one? The first objection raised was that we also didn’t own a car, so if we were going to get a trashcan, somebody would have to buy one at the hardware store and drag it up the hill, and also it would cost money. The second was that, living in a rowhouse, we’d have to put the trashcan either on our front porch or in our small back yard, but both of those were places we wanted to hang out, and a trashcan would be ugly and smelly. Somebody would have to wash it out periodically, which sounded like just the kind of chore that everyone thinks someone else should do, a likely source of household strife.
The trouble was that food scraps in our kitchen trash were attracting fruit flies. Was there another way we could prevent that? We agreed to seal up meat and dairy scraps in an empty milk carton and make a compost heap for everything else. Taking out the compost was way easier than taking out the trash. We very rarely had trouble with bugs around our compost heap, and when we did it was easily resolved by shoveling whatever was attracting them (usually melon seeds) into the middle of the pile. Incidentally, this also reduced the amount of garbage we sent to the landfill. Meanwhile, the increased hassle of sealing up meat scraps and meat packaging was one of our earliest motives to eat less meat.
The next effect of indoor trash storage was to change our thinking about pizza: Sure, it’s fun to order some yummy pizzas, but then you have those boxes cluttering the house until trash day…so our pizza purchases actually decreased as our income increased, and when we do eat pizza we usually walk over to the pizza place and eat there, eliminating the box (we bring a container for leftovers) and the fuel for delivery. Over time, we’ve reduced our garbage in various little ways and also become more adept at nesting and crushing things to take up less space.
If you already have an outdoor trashcan and an unobjectionable place for it, then it can be hard to understand where we were coming from. That’s why I went to the trouble of typing this out: I lived the first half of my life in a very different kind of place than I’ve lived since, and I’m very aware of how much easier a wasteful lifestyle was when my surroundings made it seem normal and necessary.
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