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The "Go Trash Free" Challenge!

by Tiffany in A Green Home

garbage can

Guest post by by Lia Mack,

We all have a very hard time throwing away anything, since it’s final destination is a landfill, inevitably polluting our water, air, and land. We breath the air. We drink the water. We grow food in the land. Why on Earth would we want to pollute it?!??! So I’ve been doing something about it on a personal level – at least I have been moving in that direction for some time now. I’m trying to be trash free.

Yep, that’s right! Totally and utterly trash free.

What exactly does that mean, you say? Well, that means you leave nothing out for the trash man on Monday or any other day. You compost everything you can, reuse, recycle, or just don’t buy it (aka: reduce consumption). It’s pretty simple on the surface. However, when you take on the challenge, it gets a bit more complicated.

. We’ve been born and raised in a not so green way: to throw it away if it’s broken, if we don’t want it anymore, or want a new one.
. You go out to eat, you take home your food – in Styrofoam or plastic containers, usually wrapped in another plastic bag.
. We’re all religious about the 3 R’s in the kitchen, but what about about the waste basket in the bathrooms, laundry room, garage, car?
. We have guests over and they don’t take heed to our cute little signs above our recycle and trash containers and toss out everything.

Ok, so you see where I’m going with this. If you want to join in on the Trash Free Challenge, it’s a full-time commitment. You can’t just use the “I’ll do it next time” routine. You have to commit mind, body, pocket book, and spirit to the cause.

Are you game?

Jump in and join the “Go Trash Free” challenge!! Here are some ways to help you stay on your game. And remember, no trash means nothing to the landfill. You can recycle ’till your heart turns, well, green. But no trash. No toss. No more!

* DIY Green Style – You’re already in the habit of bringing your cloth bags to the farmer’s market and grocery store, decreasing the need and waste of plastic bags. But what about other shopping ventures? What about when you go out to eat and have leftovers? Do you really want to deal with the Styrofoam take out box? Why not bring your own reusable containers for food leftovers to the restaurant. You’ll be out to eat with other greenies, so you won’t have to worry about looking like the crunchy hippie you are…you’ll fit right in ;)

* Compost everything! – I have a little sign above my – now empty – garbage can in the kitchen. It reads “No veggie scraps. No egg shells. No fruit peels. These go in the compost bin! Thanks, Management :)” Don’t toss out that soon-to-be black gold for your garden. Make sure everyone in your home is on board with this one. And if that means being a compost-police for a while ’till they get the hang of it, so be it. Why would you want put that in a plastic bag to stink up the house anyway? Get a kitchen counter top compost bin, fill it up with all your kitchen scraps (minus the meat, bones, and dairy products) and toss it on your compost heap every few days. Trust me, it doesn’t stink at all in comparison to when you put food scraps into the trash.

* Remember the 3 R’s – When you’re out shopping, before adding something to your cart, ask yourself, “Can this be recycled? Can it be reused? Do I already have something like it?” The bottom line for all purchases should be: if it doesn’t fit in the 3 R’s, you really need to rethink the item. Chances are, with a little ingenuity and creativity you can find another way to satisfy your need, want, just gotta have it!!! Yes, we were born into this compulsive consuming society, but if you are going to be trash free, you have to “be the change you wish to see in the world”. Go Gandhi!

* Be Creative – There are some things that don’t fit nicely into the 3 R’s, compost, and not buying categories. Donate used computer parts, cars, clothing and more. After making stock with leftover bones, should you put the bones in a plastic bag and leave it out for the garbage man? Heck no! Make bone ash makes a great soil amendment for the garden. Maybe you have another great idea to share? Anything to keep the plastic bags from piling up in a landfill, the better!

One question you’ll eventually end up asking yourself is this: are there certain things that just HAVE to be trashed? We have been sold on this theory, but I just don’t buy it anymore! Honestly, we are a smart mean green thinking machine! I think we can find alternatives to all of these items that we’ve been told we must throw away. I think that’s where the NO TRASH challenge comes into play.

Are you ready?!

Start with a week. Next week. Go Trash Free! After a successful week, add another week. Then another. Once you get the hang of it, be daring. Go for a whole month. Let me know how long you can make it and what you couldn’t NOT toss. What are some of the great alternatives you have come up with? Did you find the secret? Can you share it with the rest of us?!

I think this is a great thing for us to do. Why do we need to add to the landfill system? Our ancestors – yep, I’m pulling out the oldies – made it just fine without trashing our Mother Earth. Now we’re destroying it for our children and our children’s children.

Make the commitment. Test yourself. See how far YOU can make it. Be green! Be trash free :)

  • Heather

    I’m in! We are already super recyclers and composters. This is probably a stupid question, but how do you make bone ash? Do you just throw them in the fire?

  • Torontonians should take this to heart, especially now when there’s a strike on that includes garbage collection. I’m sending this post to my son who lives in Toronto with his family.

  • FABULOUS ideas!! We’ve been trying to be trash-free for the past year and it’s really a difficult task. We are no where near where I’d like to be, and retailers do not make this easy for consumers (really, does ORGANIC asparagus need saran wrap at the grocery store!?!). This is an important topic, and I hope many of your readers rise to the challenge. :)

    • Jackie

      I totally agree – it drives me crazy that my closest grocery store (that I can walk to) packages all the organic veggies!!! Aaahhh!!!!

  • Alyssa

    I love this challenge. We actually started doing this when we moved to Knoxville. It is addictive to see how little our trash that goes out to the curb got. We have a trash compactor plus we have huge recycle bins and a compost bin in our kitchen.

    When it was trash day, we had one little cube of trash for this humungous trash can that went out to the curb. We have now canceled our trash pick up ($30 a month) and I take our one little cube to a sold waste drop off once a week. They are supposed to charge based off of the weight of my car before and after. Well, one little cube doesn’t really weigh anything, so they have never charged me to drop off my trash. Add that up ad it is a $360/year savings!!!

    I would like to get to ZERO trash, however that would have to be really creative!!! We recycle just about everything, but what do you do with the following:

    Leftovers that end up not eaten and cannot go into the compost, such as something with cheese or meat in it)

    Styrofoam cups for the kids that they take home from a restaurant so that they don’t tip over while they are eating dinner (kiddy cups provided by the restaurant that are styrofoam).

    Bathroom items such as Q-Tips and floss that don’t fit a specific category for recycling

    Items that are a combination of product that dont fall into a specific category (ex: horizon to go milk that is paper, but has plastic lining on the inside).

    These are the types of items that make it into our trash. Not perfect, but pretty darn good, especially since the trash compactor packs it down to literally a 6 inch by 1 foot block per week.

    I look back a few years and remember us having three or four trash bags full each week. Also, I walk in the morning before work and on trash day, I find myself looking at the overflowing trash containers and saying “man, they could just recycle that”.

  • Lia Mack

    Awesome! I’m excited to have some fellow green mamas on board ;)

    It’s really upsetting to watch other people trash the Earth, isn’t it? I was just at one of those big box grocery stores where they hand out free samples…someone overheard me mention to my 5yo that using a styrophome cup to sample apple juice – and tossing it immediately afterwards into the TRASH – wasn’t worth the 5 seconds the container was used due to the amount of pollution it cost to create the cup, and then the amount of pollution it’ll contribute to the ever growing trashcan sample table side…people just roll their eyes, but then pop pills the next minute trying to fight off cancer…

    fast food industry…businesses…schools…they all need to join the challenge! ;)

    the only way to get this type of thing going is to do it greatly and show others the way – how easy and fun it is. The ‘green’ fever will catch on in mass eventually ;)

  • Kim

    Our neighborhood actually offers recycling as part of the regular service and provides bins. I cant believe how many people dont recycle. Its just as easy to drop the stuff in one bin as another. My kids want to take stuff from my neighbors’ curb side to place in recycle. There will be boxes just laying there. Recyclables just laid out. Thats laziness people.

  • Melissa M.

    This is a great challenge. We are not quite ready to do it, because we are in the middle of a move, but in our new home we are going to finally compost. We’ve been in an apartment complex with no composting.

    I like Alyssa’s questions. I have the same dilemmas. Also, what do you do with wrappers. As much as we try not to buy things with wrappers-granola bars, organic fruits, what do you do with them?

    We feel so lucky living in Seattle that our city is really pushing green living. We have city composting and they even take pizza boxes!

  • There is a website called FREECYCLE.
    It’s local so you can watch the stuff near you. If you really need -say: a new set of shelves; or are – say: wanting to get rid of a set that is still serviceable…. then this is a great place. They don’t like resale people, but the recycling is great. That old monitor may not work for you, but a freecycle ‘geek’ might just know what to do to fix it and make it useful to him or her. If there’s not one in your area, email the freecyclers and ask that they set up shop in your hometown.

    PS. Love this site!!

  • you have some great ideas I never thought of, like bring my own containers for left overs while eating out. brilliant! good luck!!!

  • Martina

    Love the idea. Am on board. I’ve always wanted a compost, and now we’re building one. Thank you for this important post – it really got me motivated! I grew up in Germany, and my father had this weird ambition 20 years ago when recycling first became known/popular to reduce his trash to the absolute minimum. He was the first in our neighborhood to compost with worms – I was embarrassed back then, now I’m embarrassed that I didn’t support him more.

  • I love the idea. I’m not sure that I’m ready, but you’ve made me re-think some of my excuses. I have greatly reduced my trash recently, I wonder what it would take to cut it in half. Hmm….

  • This is a great idea. I have been so good at bringing my shopping bags to the market/grocery store, that I’ve run out of the stash of bags I’ve been using for trashcan liners. Perhaps this is the solution!

  • Daria

    What do you do with feminine hygiene products? Can you actually deal with them in a “green” way or do you have to use a Diva Cup?
    (I live in a country with no green mentality. Recycling is barely starting out very shyly, so excuse the probably dumb question.)

  • Daria,

    Menstrual cups, sea sponge tampons, or cloth pads are green options.

  • Rapunzel

    This is a great challenge! Not having a compost (yet) I’m not able to join you yet but I’ll be reading & learning how you all do so hopefully I can jump on board sometime soon!

  • I think this is awesome and we’re making strides at home too. But I just don’t know how to reuse a tube of toothpaste or a battery – and some things just need batteries. Although we will be replacing with the new green batteries that came out sans mercury and cadmium.

    I would be wary of bone ash because cow bones can contain high amounts of lead. You don’t want your veggies to be high in lead either. Fortunately, we don’t eat mammals in our home so we don’t need to address that one. :-) Just a FYI tip.

    I am impressed with your commitment to going trash free. I would love to hear how you tackle the other items in your home unrelated to the kitchen and that last longer than a few days. ie. pens, laundry powder packaging, toothpaste, floss. You get the idea. Do you not buy these items or reuse the containers?

  • I am a Torontonian chiming in to say we have not put anything out on the curb for pickup for over two weeks. But that is because the city (trash pickup workers included) is on strike with no end in sight. As green minded as we think we are, there is nothing like a strike to shake our reality and force us to admit how lazy we’ve become simply because someone else will come and take it away for us every week. So what if it is neatly sorted into all of the responsible categories. Output is still output. We are frustrated with our accumulating piles of output for a variety of reasons. But the silver lining is that our strike is a wakeup call for many of us. Neighbours are getting creative. Those of us who have procrastinated starting that composting project are no longer procrastinating. All around the city we are taking a good hard look (and smell) at the waste we are producing. Ultimately not a bad thing if it forces us to start better habits. For anyone else who needs a little kick in the backside to put Tiffany’s great ideas in action, just pretend that your local trash removal service is no longer available!

    Great post Tiffany!! And very timely for some of us!