As a family of four, we fill two full sized garbage cans each week. We keep two garbage cans in the kitchen and only need to empty them once per week, during our thorough weekly cleaning. Some families I know need to take out their full bin once a day at least, giving them the opportunity to enact the typical aggravating scenario played out in many marriages in which the husband forgets to take out the garbage, yet again. I don't know the average rate of filling up garbage bags to know if our two garbage bags a week is insanely minimal, but I do I know that it is an ease on our housekeeping burdens to not need to take out the garbage daily.
We have to face it, people go through a ton of garbage. Landfills are filled with people's cast offs, piling higher and higher each year. If you've ever seen the movie Idiocracy or Wall-E, you'd get an idea of people's satirical predictions of the world's garbage problems culminating in epic proportions. Sure, those are just movies and nothing like that has actually happened yet, nor is it likely to get to that extreme any time soon, however, these movies are trying to bring out a point- as a world, we are filling garbage dumps at a much faster rate than our waste can decompose.
I'll admit, when thinking about the issues that trouble me, landfills getting full and other environmental concerns is not uppermost on my mind. Frugality is though. The reason why landfills accumulating junk even became a topic of discussion on my blog is because the second something ends up in the garbage bin, you've cut its life short and ended its potential for giving you benefit. Recycling is both environmentally sound as well as frugal, as you have less need to spend money on things when you maximize the potential of whatever you have by reusing.
I would wager that the reason we go through less garbage than the average family of our size is because we try to be as frugal as we can. To save money, we reuse things as many times as possible before throwing them away, reducing our family's garbage output. We try to use disposable items as infrequently as possible, even when others might deem it odd.
We Use Reusable:
Diapers. I've written many times on my blog about cloth diapering.
Toilet paper. We use family cloth.
Dishes and cutlery. We rarely ever use disposable.
Unpaper towels. We use washable cloths instead of paper towels.
Sanitary napkins. There will be a future post on this topic.
Handkercheifs. Ok, this is really a misnomer. I use washed and dried baby wipes for this, but I plan on making hankies for family members in the near future.
Napkins. I only switched to cloth napkins recently and still need to build my supply. Cloth napkins are cheaper, environmentally sound, and even look fancier to boot!
Pans. Ok, I lied. I occasionally do use disposable pans, but this is a rarity. I've used disposable pans to send over meals to ladies in my community who just gave birth, as I would rather them toss the pans than wait months till they're up to returning my few pans to me. I also am a little short on baking pans, so occasionally will use a disposable pan when I'm in need of an extra baking dish. However, I frequently wash and reuse these.
Shopping bags. We bought cloth shopping bags and bring them with us on our bi-weekly shopping trips. We do also use plastic shopping bags inside these big cloth shopping bags (we use the cloth ones because it makes it easier to transport lots of shopping without a car and without needing to pay for a delivery) but we still use the cloth shopping bags, so it was worth a mention.
We Do Use Disposable:
Sandwich bags. We haven't bought good quality bags that would make it worth it to rinse and reuse, so after one use these go straight into the trash.
Aluminum foil. I use cheap quality stuff, so again, not really reusable.
Baking paper. The best imitation here of wax paper.
Cling wrap. I don't use this often though.
Wipes. Err... Trying to get myself out of this habit. I feel less bad about it because I wash these wipes after and use them as handkerchiefs.
Garbage Bags. I'd like to switch over to using our disposable shopping bags as garbage bags. Perhaps after our big roll of garbage bags gets used up.
Sponges. I'm thinking of switching to scrub brushes because these work a lot better than sponges do anyhow.
Ok, so many movie references in one blog post. Anyone ever see the movie Dead Poet's Society? If you have (and even if you haven't), the character played by Robin Williams talks about “sucking the marrow out of life.” Sucking the marrow is an allusion to making sure to get out every last drop of goodness from something, the way that sucking the marrow out of a bone ensures that not a single drop goes to waste. I like to “suck the marrow” out of my things, only throwing them out when I am able to ensure that there is not a single other thing that can be done first with that item.
Here are some ways I like to “suck the marrow” from everything I own.
Reducing Food Garbage:
Use up food before it spoils. Use methods to keep food fresh longer. Once food starts to turn, don't throw it out if it can be made into tasty food.
Use chicken scraps (carcasses, skin, fat, etc...) to make soup.
Once you eat poultry or meat and have bones left over, boil these with some vegetables (or vegetable scraps) to make a broth.
If you have pets, feed your animal whatever food scraps are safe for him.
Make a compost heap. Put any food scraps (non fatty) that you would otherwise throw out (like if you have no animals, or whatever foods are not safe for your animals) in the compost. I plan on writing a detailed post on composting.
Make food from scratch. When you buy ready made, in addition to spending more money (and usually ending up with a less healthy, less tasty product), you end up with lots more garbage from all the packaging.
Save food packaging that can be used for crafts.
Growing up, we had a video about a little girl who received a beautiful dress as a present, and then it got worn out, so she made a vest from the dress, and when that got worn out, she made a button from the vest, and when that got worn out, etc... I think it's a famous story, but I can't remember the name. Either way, in that story, the girl tries to "suck the marrow" out of her dress and get all last vestiges of goodness from her dress before it heads into the garbage. I try to do the same with everything I own. Before throwing something out, I try to see if I'm using up its potential, or if perhaps, I can yet make that cereal box into a cute tree shaped craft.
-Use your cast offs as materials for crafts. Paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls are great for many projects, as are cereal boxes, milk cartons, drink bottles, and old iced tea containers. Plastic bags can be cut to make plarn, a plastic yarn, good for many crocheted projects.
-In my childhood home, plain white paper and lined paper were rarely used. Our scrap paper was printer paper, printed on one side but blank on the other. While we don't usually print in our home, as printing is quite expensive, and the only papers we usually have floating around our home are double sided bills, we don't reuse paper as much. However, we have a huge box of used packing paper that officially has become the coloring papers, used for scribbles or when I just need to jot something down.
-When cutting materials (like felt, foam, or colored paper) for crafts, take the scraps left and save them for a time when you only need tiny little pieces of material. Why waste a whole piece of foam/paper when you want to make "confetti style" cuts or similar, when you can use the scraps from your last project to do so?
-You can make your own paper from used papers, magazines, and newspapers. Ok, I don't know exactly how frugal, time efficient, and worthwhile it is to do this on a regular basis, but its a great craft idea.
-You can use old, unwanted clothing as material for newer, nicer sewing projects, like homemade stuffed animals.
-When clothes or towels become too ratty for use, they make great cleaning rags.
-Old toothbrushes make good cleaning tools.
-Many cities have recycling programs for bottles, cans, papers, etc. Though this may not be saving you money (unless you live in a city that charges for each non recycling bag of garbage they collect from you), it is a good idea anyhow as it is very environmentally friendly. Unfortunately, our city does not have a recycling program, so that adds to our garbage production.
Ok, this list was pretty extensive. I think I'll stop here.
How much garbage does your family produce each week? Do you recycle? In which ways do you maximize the potential of your possessions? Do you do any of the above? Any other ideas to share?