July 15, 2009

Talkin' Trash

On average, I/we set out _____ of trash to be picked up each week.

2 kitchen trash sized bags (13 gallon) or less

1 small trash can full (about 3 bags)

2 trash cans full (or one of those larger gizmos the trash companies give you)

I don't use a trash service. I use only public trash cans for all household waste.

None. Period. I don't do trash. I'm 100% compostable. Here, pat me on the back.

I have a dumpster. And I fill it up. HooRah!

Trash was always a big deal in our family when I was growing up. There were rules and carefully outlined procedures that one must follow when dealing with trash. I wrote a paper about it in college. When I showed the A+ paper to my mom, I expected her to protest that I'd overstated how things were in our family. Instead she read it, laughed, nodded and was quite pleased with the extreme type A behavior that I had described.

One of the house rules was: Always get rid of trash at the first opportunity that presents itself. A follow up rule was: If no opportunity presents itself, make an opportunity. My grandma actually got in trouble with the law because she was following rule number 2. She was caught putting a bag of trash in another person's dumpster. I'm the only person I know who's grandma started her police record at the spry young age of 70, and for getting rid of a bag of trash at that.

As far as procedures go, the main rule of thumb was to always put trash into the trash bag the instant it could conceivably be considered trash. In fact, many times items were added to the trash bag long before any of us thought they were really at that "this is trash" level. (My dad had a favorite pair of shoes that became trash in my mom's eyes probably a year before they would have become trash in my dad's eyes.) BUT, and this is critically important, IF IT IS TRASH DAY, then trash is not to be put into the trash bag because that would have already been set out on the curb the night before. No, at this point, you have two options. You can either walk the trash out to the end of the driveway and deposit it there yourself.  Or you could add it to the temporary mini-bag that was set up for this purpose and which would be run out to the trash men at the moment of their arrival. Perhaps a specific example would help make this procedure a little more clear. (This is the example I used in my A+ paper, by the way.) Suppose you have a cold and you need to blow your nose. After blowing, one would usually deposit the tissue into the nearest trash bin. That was the usual procedure. But on trash day, that would be the exact wrong thing to do. Instead you would walk out to the end of the drive-way, no matter how ill you might be, and make sure that tissue was safely deposited where the trash men would get it.

I've diverged from the family path a short ways when it comes to trash. I'm not nearly as type A as my mom or grandma. But there is one way in which I've carried on the family tradition. Despite my family's love of getting rid of trash, we've never been very big on making trash. 

When Rob and I were first married (14 years ago next week), we had two housemates.  Soon after, we picked up a third and not long after that we added three kids to the mix. During that whole time, we never had more than one normal sized trash can. (It was a trash can that we found along the side of the highway once on our way back from a weekend retreat in Grass Valley.) When we moved to Colorado we reduced our number by 3 (since we no longer had the housemates) and the kids grew out of the diaper stage, so our trash accumulation plummeted.  Though I've been able to fill a trash can during a deep cleaning week, in general we seem to average about a bag and a half of trash a week (and the bags aren't packed down at all).

So I was struck recently, when reading the blog of an old youth group friend, that some people produce more trash than that in a week. Joanne (the Simple Wife) is trying to become more frugal and one of the by-products of that has been that their family has greatly reduced the amount of trash that they generate each week.  She wrote, "Since we've cut WAY back on being consumers and stepped up our recycling, I'm astounded at how little trash we have on trash day. This morning, there was only one trash can--and it was only half full. Used to be two full cans every week!" That comment really piqued my curiosity. Two full cans?!!!  What would you be throwing away that you'd have that much trash?  I asked that question in a reply on her post, but I suspect that I might have come across as a bit of a snot (not that that was my intention at all.  I am a bit of a snot at times. And generally I intend to be a snot when I'm being snotty. But this is one of those cases where I was asking a question because I was honestly curious, and the snot must have leaked out without my permission.  All I know is, she never responded to me.)

So, believe it or not, the whole point of this long and convoluted post hasn't been to tell you about my Type A family, nor to introduce you to Joanne. What I want to know is, how much trash does your family produce and what goes into it? Inquiring minds want to know.  ... Well, my mind wants to know.

And if you'd like a twist on what to do with trash, check out Cat's post on her garbage experiment in which, for a short time, she got creative about getting rid of the goods.


  1. Ok, I'm your dumpster vote. ONLY because you didn't have 4 big rolling trashcan thingies on the list. Seriously. We have fat trash. And it takes big fat trash bags that then go into big fat trashcans.

    Why is my trash fat? I have no earthly idea. I squish it, punch it, crunch it, smash it down. and it POPS back up LIKE POPCORN before I get the bag closed. I kid you not. I think it's "hubby trash". Hubby's trash is different than wifey trash. Mine is delicate, small. Just, you know... little scraps of trash. His is big fat man trash.

    That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

  2. That man gets packages every day and I don't know what half that stuff is they use for packing material. That's MOST of the problem. I recycle newspaper and cardboard. Good thing! We'd have to have one of those BIG LONG commercial contractor's dumpsters outside otherwise.

  3. flaging this for when I have a brain

  4. Ahh yes. While my mother didn't really take after hers in obsessive compulsive cleanliness, I am familiar with the culture. Trash baskets were never meant to be dirty or littered by... trash. And one must be just as terrified of laundry day as trash day. "Take off your underwear right now! I'm doing a whites load!"

  5. It's amazing the difference that moving makes. In the UK different local authorities have different recycling policies and Essex where we are now is much more sensible than Herts where we've moved from. In Herts you could only recycle plastic if it were bottle shaped for example...

    Here we can put out any plastic but type 6, all paper/card, clothes and shoes, glass, cans, tin foil, garden waste for collection (2 weekly). They give you free composters and cheap water butts and you can arrange for a large waste collection (furniture etc.) as needed. The only things I reguarly have to go out of my way to recycle are water filters and tetrapak both of which are collected at the supermarket.

    The only reason we have as much 'rubbish' as we do is that Elizabeth is in nappies. I do make sure that those are biodegradable so that at least they'll be in landfil for no more than a couple of years (unlike the centuries pampers will be).

  6. For some reason I have more trash in the USA than I did in Canada. I had a compost in Canada, so my scraps went there, and I didn't use a lot of boxed things. We don't use a ton here, but 3 people vs 1, Tim eats a lot of cereal, maybe things are more packaged here? I dunno.

    In Canada a smallish garbage can would get filled up over 3 weeks. Here we do a kitchen bag every couple days. Feels like more, I dunno.

  7. okay, I've managed to get up from the floor after reading about your family's rubbish policies... can't vote in your poll as I haven't a clue how to translate those things into british equivalents. here we have wheelie bins handed out by the local council, I've no idea what the volume is (husband would know, he's really into all that) but for just two of us we find them massive so we don't put them out every week. there's tons of stuff that we can easily recycle here - the council also issues a separate wheelie bin for recycling and we can put into that: paper, card, glass, recyclable plastic, tetra pak, tins, and probably other stuff that doesn't spring to mind right now. we also have a compost bin in the garden so all our fruit/vegetable peels go there. and other food leftovers simply get eaten by husband :-)

    edit: got curious and checked on our local council's website - apparently our wheelie bin volume is 140 litres. (tried to convert this to us gallons but it gives me the option of dry or liquid. huh? in liquid gallons it translates to approx. 37, in dry it's approx. 32.) it really is massive - but then it's a standard size per household and we're a small household. it's enough for three weeks for us!

  8. This seems to be a lot of our trash too...when I end up putting out more than one trash can. Styrofoam, packing peanuts and plastic seems to be common favorites of shipping companies...and my biggest annoyance.

    As for our house, we average one trash can per week. Of that, only 1-1/2 13 gallon trash bags are "real" trash (broken things, used tissues, frozen food boxes and the like). We are big recyclers. A giant rolling bin is filled to the brim virtually every week. I don't compost, nor do I care to. I do use my garbage disposal quite a bit, rather than empty scraps into the garbage bag.

    For the past couple of months, we've been putting out two cans of trash per week. Part of this is due to getting rid of stuff and the other part is due to all the packaging around everything new we buy. I recycle what I can, but it still leaves a lot of flat out trash.

  9. LOL I am somewhat guilty of this...though I've gotten better (or just lazier) now that I work outside of the house full time.

  10. Oh crap, is that bad? I don't have trash issues, but when I do laundry I want to be DONE. If I hear so much as a sock hit the hamper from across the house while the last load is going, I tend to lose my mind.

  11. yes, I get seriously annoyed about this, some companies just so overdo it - there's one online outfit that I've stopped ordering from because they go so way overboard with excess packaging. I bought a book from them and it came in a way too large cardboard box filled with those wormlike things... not to mention when I ordered a calendar and that came at the bottom of a deep box filled with worms... oh, and don't get me onto HP ink cartridges - two teeny weeny cartridges in a large box filled with stuff... This has meant I make the effort to go to an actual shop out there and buy cartridges - which I guess is good for the local shops, so perhaps this is a blessing in disguise :-)

  12. I started saving the peanuts in big trash bags to reuse them. Notice though they STICK to every part of your body. Open a box with styro peanuts and then go out. Strangers start picking them off your body and out of your hair.

    Then... I started drowning in them here. Had to start throwing those out as well.

  13. Exactly. At last count, we had 4 black lawn and leaf bags stuffed with those damned peanuts. What do I end up almost always using when I mail stuff out? Our shredded paper. I completely forget to use up those stupid peanuts. LOL

  14. Biodegradable packing peanuts have been around for well over 20 years. If you run water over one and it dissolves then they are most likely made of corn starch. I get these all the time from places I order from.

    Just make sure before you completely write a company off. Some of these peanuts can literally be thrown in your yard and watered in with a hose.

  15. we've gotten the biodegradable peanuts before. the kids like to play with them in the tub before we throw them in the compost. ... i suppose as they're getting older they might not enjoy playing with them quite so much.

    but when rob orders steen's for his oat cakes the cans (cans, mind you. not glass but metal cans) come packed in so many non-biodegradable peanuts that it pretty much fills half the kitchen trash bin. :-P i think we need to find another cane syrup company to order from.

  16. kelly emailed her reply to me because she couldn't remember her password:FWIW we have about one small trash can full a week. It gets filled with non-recyclable plastic, broken irreparable toys, a few pullups (1/night), dead Ziploc bags, cut off seams from clothes turned into rags, sometimes moldy bits of food still in their plastic containers that I don't have the stomach to take out to "the bunny ditch" where we dump our compost, paper maxi-pads when I run out of clean cloth ones, meat bones/scraps when we have them, lots of food wrappers e.g. the plastic bag that cheese comes in... lint from the dryer... the occasional dead pair of shoes, dead toothbrush, etc. Gosh, I dunno what else.

    we burn all our paper and cardboard in our woodstove, we compost the ashes, we compost all vegetable matter from our food, we recycle glass/aluminum/tin/steel and #1/#2 plastics... and yet we still generate an unconscionable amount of trash. I'm embarrassed by it. I don't know where it all comes from. I guess it would be good for me to pay more attention.

    This might be rationalizing, but I think some of this is a result of being the "last stop" for lots of clothes and toys and other household goods that others give to us rather than discarding (or that we buy at the thrift shop or rummage sales.) Clothes arrive here half worn, toys half broken, machines and utensils with most of their life gone. We do a lot of sewing and glueing and fixing but ultimately nothing lasts forever. The first and second users can feel good about passing on their clothes etc rather than throwing them away... but we can't; we're the ones who finally use up the last of something's life and then have to (gasp) throw it away.

  17. If you quit buying from them, they'll just continue to send non-degradable peanuts to all their other customers. You should voice your concern with the company and maybe they'll switch to the biodegradable kind. That's less non-degradable peanuts in landfills all around. ;-)

    I can understand the packing though, some people get weird about dented cans. :D

  18. When we don't buy, they send us a big box of peanuts with a little catalog stuffed inside that says "this is your last catalog if you don't order' warning on it.

    I WISH.

    Mailman hates us. Has to get out of his truck, walk up our long walkway carrying a box of peanuts. With a catalog inside. The CATALOG would have fit in the mailbox. The box it came in and all those peanuts won't.

    I'm curious now... I might have to water down some peanuts.

  19. Don't get me started on the council we had when I was at Uni in Nottingham (Broxtow Council, since we lived just outside Nottingham Councils area), they alternated garbage and recycling, so one week garbage, next week recycling, and we just got one tall wheelly bin for each. This was an area with a big student population, so often 5+ people to a house, and in many cases, lots of packaging from ready meals, packaging from takeaways....We had to get our landlords to buy a second dustbin to put out (and our house was 6 people + a permenant boyfriend). The recycling bin was just one bin, so the stuff all got mixed, whereas here, we keep a bag for recycling (or a small bin in my room) then when it gets fill, take it out to the boxes and fill as appropiate.

    Here, we get dustbins weekly, and recycling on a rota, one week paper, next week glass, then tins etc, each in a different colour box, as well as the dustbins. The council will come pick up large items, but you have to arrange it by ringing them up, however there is a dump reasonably close, if you can get it in your car. I find it amusing that dustbins are usually emptied by 10 or 11am, whereas the recycling doesn't get taked til 1 or 2pm.

    We vary from one big binbag, to a dustbin (which is medium sized, I'd say), when there was five of us, there could be up to two dustbins (especially since in those days, there was no recycling pick up, you'd have to go across town to the recycling plant). I'm not sure on garden waste, but you can take stuff in bags to the recycling centre and drop it off there to be dealt with.

  20. That sounds so much classier then American trash.

  21. My boss was really type A (for a***) and insisted we put all clean wastepaper in a blue recycle wastebasket. I wondered where this stuff all ended up. Turned out (I discovered later), there was only one dumpster behind the building, and everything ended up in that same dumpster for landfill disposal.

  22. That's much like what we get over in the Netherlands, IvyMutant.

    I love how here in America (I'm on holiday in CA) you also recycle tins and plastic; we don't do that yet.

    We do recycle glass by colour, in our defence, and paper and the municipality turns the leafy remains (fruit, veg & garden) into compost. We all get one big bag for free every year, yeay!

  23. he didn't take the blue bin to a drop off point somewhere?

    i've heard many stories of recycled materials ending up in the landfill. it reminds me that if i'm not Buying stuff that's recycled, then i'm not helping to create a market for it.

    ... anyone have thoughts on recycled tires or plastic, though? i haven't bought something like a recycled plastic chair because i don't want a plastic chair in the first place. anyone know of recycled plastic that's been turned into something you'd actually want?

  24. Whole foods sells bags that were once plastic bottles. They have Sheryl "One Sheet of Poo Paper" Crow's signature on them!

    Or should that be Sheryl "Don't Shake Her Hand" Crow? I'm not sure.


    Oh, and a friend of mine told me she saw purses that were made from recycled bottles also, and they were not too horrible. ;)

  25. yeah, i have a few of those.

    sheryl crow tp? what in the world?!!!!

  26. I keep wishing our city garbage collection would give us a smaller bin for trash. They charge us $50/month for garbage collection, but as we recycle almost everything possible, compost our scraps, and cook from raw materials most of the time, rather than buying packaged foods, there's amazingly little actual trash left; we've often thought about just canceling our garbage service, since what we generate comes out to maybe a medium garbage bag per month.

  27. did you read about cat's experiment? you might appreciate that if you plan to cancel your trash service. she gives a somewhat humorous rendition of how she got rid of her bits of trash here and there.


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