I started my current load of garbage on Christmas 2019 (I used to fill a load a week). Still going.

December 25, 2022 by Joshua
in Habits

I last posted a picture of my garbage around 2.5 years in, I think. Yesterday ended the third year on one load. Today begins year 4. Here’s the load, in a canvas tote bag I got from a conference, before I knew not to accept them.

My skills in avoiding acquiring what will become garbage are increasing, meaning that most of the garbage in that bag came in its first year, not that much in the third year, I’d guess maybe ten percent.

I’m starting to wonder if I can keep all my garbage for the rest of my life in my apartment. Since I believe in protecting people’s life, liberty, and property and dumping garbage in public land violates all three, I think that would make a great policy for everyone: everyone has to keep all their garbage that can’t break down naturally in their homes for their whole lives. Food scraps, metals, fabrics made of plants, and such you can compost and put back into circulation, but plastics and other poisons you have to keep from damaging other people’s lives, liberty, and property.

If I currently fill ten percent of that bag per year and don’t decrease that rate, in ten years I’ll fill another bag. Living to one hundred would mean I’d have to store five bags like that, which I have plenty of space for. If I keep reducing how much garbage I produce, especially if I help lead the world to produce less garbage, which seems to benefit everyone except those producing poisonous stuff, I’d produce fewer than five bags worth.

Still, I have to keep in mind some things that artificially lower my apparent amount of garbage.

My cheats and other forms of garbage

When I swam across the Hudson my second time, I left my shoes and maybe a shirt in the car of the guy I swam with. After he decided to charge me for the video he took of the swim, I stopped talking to him, so never got the shoes back. I might still be able to use them, but they were pretty worn out, so a pair of shoes should go in there.

I didn’t put waste from renovating my apartment in there. I posted about it when it happened, but it amounted to significantly more than in that bag. So I’m not hiding the non-household use stuff, but could count it too.

Some big items will eventually become garbage like my mattress. My couch will too, but since I got it from a neighbor throwing it out, it isn’t new garbage. A lot of what’s in the bag I got from neighbors throwing them out.

One of my cheats is that when I save something from going in the trash without causing new demand to produce more, I can take the thing without its packaging. The main example here is the toiletries that charities give to needy people in Washington Square Park. Many people accept what’s given and leave it there, like soap and toothpaste. When these things are in sealed, watertight packaging, I’ll use it, but I leave the packaging in the park’s trash can, where it would have gone anyway. Likewise, in my volunteering, when I bring food that stores were throwing out to the community center, the rule is that volunteers can take some of the food. If I take packaged food when volunteering, I take the food and leave the packaging in the trash there, like I’ll take a loaf of bread in my own bag, leaving the bag it came in there.

Oh yeah, also not in that bag are a couple pieces of packaging from when the solar panel and battery pack companies sent me replacements when theirs broke. Here’s that packaging:

Here they are together:

It’s getting close to time to retire some sponges I’ve been using. They’re pretty decrepit, but they clean my floors and what they’re supposed to. Here they are:

Some people go through rolls of paper towels a week. I just use sponges and cotton towels. As far as I can tell, I’m as healthy as anyone. I don’t buy into a disposable lifestyle and the pollution it causes, meaning the suffering it causes to other humans and wildlife.

I accept sponges from friends and family since I use them longer than they do. As a result, I have plenty of sponges to move to without buying new ones which would fund more extraction, meaning increase human suffering. Here is my reserve of sponges, which might suffice for the rest of my life, though I’m sure I’ll acquire more without funding more extraction and suffering:

Next Step

While I could keep using this bag for all my garbage, it’s overflowing and unwieldy. I could empty it and start a new load, but I notice it’s significantly smaller than most trash bags. Since people throw away perfectly good bags, I found this bag someone left on the ground in Washington Square Park. It’s bigger than the canvas tote bag, so even though it means bringing yet more of someone else’s garbage into my apartment, I’m going to transfer the contents of the canvas bag into it and still count myself as on the same load as I started on Christmas 2019 since this tote bag is still smaller than a typical garbage bag.

I have to be careful since knowing there’s space to spare in the new bag makes me feel more accepting of new garbage. But the reason I avoid polluting isn’t for me, it’s for the people who suffer from our pollution.

Credit and gratitude

I learned you could produce significantly less garbage than I expected from Lauren Singer’s TEDx talk:

Then I learned a whole family could from podcast guest Bea Johnson.

The movie The Story of Plastic clarified the extent of the problem and motivated me to realize the amount of plastic is only increasing.

I don’t care how much America’s (and most of the world’s) culture has changed from personal responsibility to abdication, capitulation, and resignation, I continue to value and practice personal responsibility. If not one other person reduced their waste and I knew for a fact that I couldn’t influence anyone else, I would still avoid producing garbage.

Still, I consider my actions leadership exercises. I use what I learn to influence and lead others. I hope you’ll reduce your garbage by ninety percent or so. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll wish you did earlier.

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