p070621Last month we featured Betty Shelley, long-time NWEI volunteer and waste reduction expert on our blog. Betty and her husband Jon generate only one can of garbage per year. Yep, per YEAR. Applaudable, and for the rest of us, seemingly impossible, right? I signed up for Betty’s “Less is More: Getting to One Can of Garbage Per Year” class to find out just how she does it, and how I could reduce my family’s garbage.

We’re no strangers to the 3 R’s — reduce, reuse, recycle — but are hard-pressed to keep our family’s garbage to one can per month. I signed up for the class hoping to learn some new “tricks” from Betty, but after participating, I’m finding the biggest benefit to attending the class was that it inspired me to take a deeper look at some of the issues, and reignited my motivation.

The class featured a video demonstrating how a landfill works. Like many people I suppose, I hadn’t given any thought to how a landfill works, and I had no idea that landfills are engineered to prevent their contents from decomposing. So those biodegradable dog poop bags I’ve been buying? They are, like everything else at the landfill, sealed off from water and air, lingering in perpetuity. Hmmm.

The class also called upon participants to do a waste audit of their household trash. My small family: two adults, a baby, a dog, a cat, and three chickens, has two problem areas revealed by the waste audit: packaging and poop. It seems that all snack foods, even the healthy or organic options, come in non-recyclable packaging. For instance, the items of convenience that make it easier to get through a busy day, like Lara Bars and Cheerios for the baby, are often in non-recyclable packaging. The poop problem is probably familiar to anyone with pets and babies. While we cloth diaper 90% of the time, disposable diapers are handy for traveling and at night. But they also generate a lot of trash! And the pets add to the problem between needing to maintain our good-neighbor status by picking up after our dog, and dealing with the litter box.

The Less is More class inspired me to do some additional research, and while an animal septic tank is out of the question here in Portland because of clay soil, it’s good to know that there are other options. I’ll also be skipping the biodegradable bags, because given where they are going to end up, it seems like a better option to reuse a plastic newspaper bag and at least give the bag a final use.

My “Less is More” wake up call has been the need to really consider my options and weight the benefits of convenience with the reality of waste disposal. While the garbage truck takes our trash “away”, it stays with us far too long (some things probably forever!) to justify taking the convenient route all of the time.  I don’t think we’ll approach the one can per year mark, but every little bit helps, so I’m keeping that in mind!

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