Sunday, May 17, 2015

Waste is a terrible thing to mind, part 3

I was planning to write today about the latest topic in the Bankrate Savings Challenge (saving on hotels), but the link for the article doesn't seem to be working—and it's not really a topic I have much experience with, anyway. So instead, I'm going to post a quick little update on our household waste situation. A bit of background: a few years ago, I wrote a post called "Waste is a terrible thing to mind," in which I lamented that there wasn't much we could do to reduce our household waste. We'd already taken all the steps most experts recommend—recycling whenever possible, composting, choosing reusable rather than disposable containers, buying products with less packaging—and I didn't see what else there was to try. I followed this up with a second post that examined the contents of our trash cans in detail, considering how difficult it would be to eliminate each scrap of waste and whether it was really worth the cost.

At the time, I was truly convinced that I'd done literally all I could do to reduce our household waste (and, by extension, the use of natural resources and energy that go into it). But the other day, I came across this post again, and I discovered that in the past few years, we've actually found ways to recycle or eliminate many of the items I'd thought were unavoidable trash. For instance:
  • Plastic windows from junk-mail envelopes. I discovered while researching my "How to recycle everything" post that you don't actually have to rip these out of the envelopes before recycling; the lightweight plastic will simply be filtered out during the recycling process.
  • Cereal box liners. As I reported in my Earth Day post, we now have a Terracycle bin that takes these, as well as deodorant containers and toothpaste tubes (caps and all). 
  • Seltzer bottle caps. I used to find it frustrating that I could recycle my seltzer bottles, but not the caps from them. Now, thanks to my new Primo Flavorstation (courtesy of my awesome sister), I make all my own seltzer at home and have neither bottles nor caps to discard. This has also cut way down on the bulk in our recycling bin.
  • Cat litter and fur. Our new bathroom compost bin allows us to compost this, along with other biodegradable odds and ends such as cotton swabs and scraps of tissue. The original bin, an ice cream container with a coat of spray paint, didn't hold up very well, so I've since replaced it with a repurposed hot cocoa container from Trader Joe's. It's not as big, so it needs to be emptied more often, but it looks nicer, and it's amusing to see a container of what appears to be "Trader Joe's Compost" on our bathroom counter.
So what does this leave still in our actual trash cans? Well, right now we've got:
  • a few Band-Aids (though not the paper wrappers, since we can compost those);
  • several plastic food bags: raisins and popcorn from Trader Joe's, the wrapper from a block of mozzarella cheese, the window from a box of pasta, the inner liner from a tub of yogurt;
  • the inner foil wrapper from a bar of chocolate (though not the recyclable paper wrapper);
  • the plastic wrapper from a pair of insoles (though this is a green choice in a way, since the new insoles allow Brian to wear a pair of secondhand sneakers, which felt lumpy and uncomfortable without them);
  • and, as before, dental floss.
Of these, the one we could most easily eliminate would probably be the plastic bags. If we bought our raisins and popcorn from the bulk bins at the Whole Earth Center, instead of at Trader Joe's, that would get rid of two of them—but once again, it's a question of cost. You'd expect bulk foods to cost less because you're not paying for packaging, but it doesn't always work out that way. Organic raisins are $2.99 a pound in bags at Trader Joe's, $3.56 per pound in bulk at Whole Earth. Trader Joe's organic popcorn is around $1.13 per pound, while Whole Earth's is $1.79 a pound. These are small differences, to be sure, but is it worth paying even an extra 50 cents to avoid just one little plastic bag in a trash load that's so light already?

For the time being, probably not. But nonetheless, I'm optimistic that at some point in the future, we'll find cost-effective ways to eliminate even more items from our trash can. Three years ago, I thought we'd cut our household trash down to the absolute minimum; today, we've slashed it even more. So apparently, even when you've already harvested all the low-hanging fruit, there's still fruit out there if you're willing to reach for it.
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