Updated: Feb 17
Taking out the trash does not have to be a daily – or even weekly – chore. In our house, we take out one 4-gallon trash bag (that’s the small, under-the-counter size) every three weeks*. Our trash never stinks and it is never over-flowing. Here’s how:
Consume Less! The first and simplest way to avoid throwing things away is not to buy them in the first place. Shop wisely for items that will last a long time and only buy things when you really need them. The less stuff you bring into your home, the less stuff needs to be taken out of it. Read The Joy of Less, if you want some inspiration.
Shop Naked! The less packaging your purchases are wrapped in, the less packaging you need to throw away. Growing and making your own food is, of course, the easiest way to do this, but shopping for locally grown and produced items usually means less packaging too. And while we’re on the topic of being naked, disposable diapers are a major contributor to household waste too, so choose fabric diapers and compost them at their end of life. And, ladies, your period doesn’t have to mean lots of trash – learn how to have a zero waste period here.
Compost! One of the largest contributors to household garbage is food waste. We throw away the skins, cores, pits, leaves, and other leftovers each time we cook and then we throw away what we don’t eat of our meals. In order to avoid this – and to keep your garbage smelling fresh – compost all food scraps. To learn more about composting basics, please read Rachel’s post here. And remember, some surprising things can be composted: pet and human hair, anything 100 percent cotton, latex, or other natural materials, shredded paper, and wood ash, to name a few.
The little tin pail stays on the counter. When it is full, we empty it into the tumbler. When the tumbler is full, we empty it onto the garden.
Recycle! Many things we throw away can be recycled. Each town has it’s own list of acceptable and unacceptable items for curbside recycling and you’d be surprised at some of the things you can recycle easily (here is Concord’s list). But many items not accepted curbside can still be recycled. Plastic bags can be recycled at the grocery store and broken electronics can be recycled at the electronics store. Terracycle is a great place to get started with recycling less-common items. For example, our family tries really hard to avoid packaging, but we still love salty snacks.
So we buy Late July products and recycle the packaging through the Late July Terracycle program. It takes more time, but it feels better than throwing things out.
Repair! Could the item you are planning to toss be repaired? If you still want to use something, but it’s not working, missing a piece, or broken in some way, try contacting the company first. You’d be amazed how easy it can be to troubleshoot a common issue or to get a new part (usually for free or minimal cost). And, if you can’t repair it yourself, ask around before you toss something.
This lawnmower was on the side of the road in pieces. A little duct tape, and the mower works great!
Donate! Before you toss something, ask yourself: Would anyone, anywhere use this again? If the answer is yes, then donate it. I always try to find a home for a well-worn item myself because often donation centers don’t like them, but worst case scenario, the donation center will trash the item (at least you tried!).
If you follow these steps, you too can eliminate household waste and turn a daily chore into a breeze. I know it may seem daunting at first, but if you choose to focus on one step at a time, you will quickly gain confidence. I would also recommend reading Zero Waste Home as a starting point to living a waste free lifestyle.
*Although this may seem like a small amount of trash, we can definitely do better. There are people who throw away that amount in a year! Everyone is on a journey and we can all keep improving.