The last time I emptied a load of household garbage, and therefore started filling this load was September 2018. The time before that was, I think, June 2017.
I figure I’ll also empty my recycling. I see from when I put my high school love letters in the recycling that I started filling this load in late October, meaning I’m filling my paper recycling faster than I expected. I don’t remember when I last emptied my plastic and metal recycling, but I see a beer can in it from the summer and it’s not at the bottom, so at least six months.
Recycling lowers Earth’s ability to sustain life and human society nearly as much as landfill garbage, no matter how much people wish otherwise, so of course, I recycle what’s recyclable, but I avoid it nearly as much as outright garbage. I don’t do what most people seem to and say, “It’s recyclable! It doesn’t harm that much” and use it as if it were benign.
Food scraps I empty more often, but see as qualitatively different since it becomes soil for plants.
Here’s my fifteen months of household garbage plus my current recycling:
From other angles:
The bags and box holding it
I collect my waste in an old canvas bag from a 2014 event because it doesn’t hold any wet garbage. Everything wet goes to compost. I expect to use this bag for decades, the last I’ve accepted from events or whatever source.
I don’t accept new canvas bags when events try to give them to me since I don’t need more, so they learn to order fewer.
Thrift stores around here are overflowing with canvas bags, mugs, metal coffee containers, and stuff companies give away, greenwashing their marketing as “lowering waste.” Everyone has too many canvas bags, mugs, etc or can get more than they need for the rest of their lives from neighbors and thrift shops.
I got the Whole Foods shopping bag holding the paper recycling from my building’s recycling downstairs. Sadly, my neighbors provide me with an effectively infinite supply of bags since they don’t reuse theirs. It seems putting the word “Recyclable” on a bag stops people from what their ancestors did for generations—bringing their own.
Likewise with the plastic bags you see emerging from my trash bag. My neighbors provide me with an effectively infinite supply of them too. Yes, they’re pulled from the recycling, so I used them, but only if I’m satisfied not to increase demand. I won’t accept a bag from someone in person, which tends to lead them to get more bags and offer them to me.
People take any excuse to feel better about what they do, however polluting. Most readers are probably looking for flaws in my trash behavior, to find ways to say, “Ha! But you also . . .” so they can keep doing whatever.
I’m trying to be transparent. I avoid packaging but haven’t gotten it to zero. Most people who talk to me about it dwell on toothbrushes and toilet paper while getting takeout multiple times weekly—producing hundreds of times more waste than a toothbrush—while letting vegetables rot in their fridge.
You may have noticed that if I waited a few more days, I could say I didn’t empty my trash in 2019 at all.
Well, I redid my floor over the summer—actually my stepfather did it, for which I will be grateful until I die, all the more after the past contractor’s pitiful work he fixed—which produced a bunch of waste, as I posted in My trash from redoing the floor.
I’ve gone back and forth on calling the construction material household waste. I settled on documenting and posting about it so everyone can decide for themselves how to name it.
I didn’t want to say I didn’t throw out trash in 2019 if someone might count construction materials as household trash.
My 2020 and 2021 goal
Instead I’m making my goal not to have to throw out trash in 2020 and 2021. I’ve learned a lot to reduce waste:
- Avoid buying online
- Avoid packaged food
- Enjoy fresh vegetables and fruit
- Shop bulk for soap, nuts, grains, legumes, soy sauce, etc with old containers
- Make vinegar, sauerkraut, etc
Most of all
Buy less stuff!
You can’t beat buying less for saving money, time, waste, attention, etc. I design my practices to be more accessible and helpful for people who lack access, time, money, or other resources. These practices are a way out from fast food and other traps creating and enlarging food deserts and such.
Each piece of garbage I avoid accepting teaches me to avoid more the next time. I took years to reach this skill level. I hope my example helps you reach this level faster.
I lacked role models, though Bea Johnson and Lauren Singer inspired early and Rob Greenfield and Joshua Becker keep inspiring now, among others (see episode 236). I hope to be and help bring you role models.
Looking forward, it’s hard to predict what might lead me to accept garbage. I surprised myself accepting Amazon Prime a couple years ago with the waste it led to, filling up my garbage fast. Now I know to equate Amazon with garbage:
Amazon = Garbage
Or maybe travel will make avoiding and tracking garbage harder. I’m still getting rid of waste from decades ago. Maybe my fridge will break. Maybe I’ll feel compelled to buy something big in a package, like a bicycle, though I’d expect to buy big things used.
Anyway, please keep me accountable and yourself too. Good luck.
EDIT: After throwing out my garbage and putting the recyclables in the recycling, I noticed I had put a bunch of the construction materials in my trash, so some of the stuff pictured in the post I linked to ended up in this load.
You may have noticed a plastic water bottle in the recycling. I didn’t use it. I picked it up as part of my sidcha to pick up litter, along with other pieces of trash and recycling from the street when I figure bringing people’s litter upstairs will save time compared to going to a trash can or recycling bin.
Also, I found things going back to high school, as I continue to find more baggage I’m freeing myself with by letting go of it.
Also, I decided not to recycle the paper yet. I haven’t filled that bag and two months seemed too soon.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees