Extreme recycling

Trash Talk

Sandee ScottJanuary 2, 2013 

In your lifetime, how many of the following do you suppose you've thrown away?

Pens, disposable razors, lipstick and mascara tubes, disposable lighters, socks, combs, hair brushes, cassette tapes, toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes ...

By the end of the year, the Johnson family of four, who live not far from San Francisco, throw out only enough trash to fill one large mason jar. That's all their trash from one year. Perhaps you've read about them, and wondered, as have I, How do they do that? Inspired by wanting to live a more simplified and less cluttered life, they choose to avoid impulse buying and recreational shopping. What they no longer need is recycled, repurposed, given away or composted. Mrs. Johnson makes her own household cleaning product and teeth cleaning formula, buys staples in bulk to eliminate packaging waste, and limits clothing and, for her sons, toy acquisitions. In addition to freeing up "stuff-shuffling" time with this near-zero-waste lifestyle, they figure they're saving about 40% over what they used to spend. Their motto is "Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and as a last resort, Recycle."

According to Edward Humes, author of Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, Americans, making up five percent of the world's population, account for 25% of the world's trash. Collectively, we throw out 780 billion pounds of trash each year, not counting other waste products such as sewage and industrial waste. If every country consumed and threw away at the rate American do, it would require five more planet Earths to meet the demand for resources.

Even if most of us cannot attain the level of environmental consciousness of the Johnson family, surely we can resolve in the new year to take a chunk out of that 780 billion pounds and leave a smaller pile of trash.

What can we do?

Here are some suggested questions to ask yourself before buying an item:

Do I really need this?

Can I live without it?

Is this something I can make?

Can I buy in larger bulk and avoid superfluous packaging materials?

Can I find this in a thrift shop?

Some suggested questions to ask yourself before throwing something away:

What else can this be used for? (Think creatively for some non-obvious ideas.)

Who might appreciate this item?

Can this object be given new life?

Could this unwanted thing serve a structural or decorative purpose in my garden?

Other miscellaneous suggestions for reducing unwanted stuff:

Reduce or eliminate plastic bags and plastic bottles.

Use on-line banking and receive electronic bank statements.

Ask to be removed from catalog mailing lists.

Take advantage of local recycling centers for added cash, or contributions.

We can make a difference, but only if we change our ways. If you're inspired to become a zero-waste home, check out Bea Johnson's blogspot for many ideas, suggestions and recipes.

References: Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes; zerowastehome.blogspot.com.

Details: Sandee, (559) 760-1058.

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