"I consume, therfore I waste."

One man's journey to document his waste...and change his wasteful ways.

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January Summary

Things I’ve learned so far:

1) There are always better alternatives…..you just have to try a little harder to use them.  My wife and I have been pretty good about avoiding products that can’t be recycled, but even then there are certain things like styrofoam that are still pervasive in packaging and still found hanging around pots of coffee.  Can we completely live without styrofoam?  Maybe – I’m struggling with finding a cost-effective product with the same insular properties that could be used to maintain cold-chains for vaccine deliveries or transporting organs for transplants.  Could a corn-based product be developed instead?

2) Before reaching for a paper towel to clean-up a mess (which I am very guilty of!), grab a cloth towel.  I think this experiment has definitely helped to curb my habitat of squeezing too much of the Charmin.

3) Compost is black gold.

4) When you start counting your waste you will suddenly realize how much plastic we use!  Seriously, I’m shocked by how plastics are defining our culture.  I remember when I was in Thies, Senegal, my host brother lamented the slow drowning of the city in plastic bags.  Those who have visited know how plastic bags drift around like tumbleweed, clogging the street drains and transforming deciduous trees into “evergreens” of various shades of gray, white, and blue when the occasional breeze scatters the bags into the sky like a flock of birds.  As my Senegalese brother explained to me, plastic bags replaced traditional ways of packaging food and commodities.  Market vendors who wrapped food in paper or banana leaves, now give it to customers in plastic bags.  Unfortunately customers were accustomed to tossing the paper or banana leaf on the ground and continued the practice with the plastic bags.  Of course paper and organic materials breakdown a lot quicker, unlike their tenacious plastic counterparts.   We’re really no different in our own country, but since we have regular trash pick-up and recycling programs we’re not cognizant of the large communal plastic dust bunnies we create by accepting the idea of “one time use” plastics.  Whether we recycle or not, we’re still essentially just unwrapping what we just bought from the market vendor and tossing the plastic bag on the ground.

SO what am I saying? I guess I’m learning again that “trash” production (specifically the things we can’t compost, recycle, or reuse) is driven as much by individual consumers as it is by the companies that produce the products and packaging that end up in landfills and along neglected highway exit ramp islands – that little triangular piece of no man’s land surrounded by highway, overpass, and off-ramp.  It’s easy to point the finger at the companies that produce the plastic products, but we do have a choice.  And perhaps a choice at the cash register is more powerful than the choice we make at the polling station.    

Uh-oh…..I’m starting to sound a little preachy.  Better start practicing.  I still need to do a little research on the trash I’ve produced so far.

Days 24-31

While it doesn’t entirely excuse the long pause in blogging, the electricity went out last Wednesday and didn’t come back on until Saturday.  I can’t say the lack of power necessary changed any of my waste patterns….except of course using less electricity….which one can certainly waste, but is not something I’m measuring….yet.  With or without electricity there is still coffee to make (using a French Press), which finished the ground coffee in the cupboard and left me with a non-recyclable coffee bag.  And of course you can always shave without electricity, but then you’re left with a clogged up “disposal” razor blade.  Unfortunately I haven’t come across a “recyclable” razor blade.  Once the lights came back on there was a halogens bulb to replace, which produced a burned out light bulb that I added to the bin as well. 

This now leaves me with a total of waste that weighs less than what my wife’s bathroom scale can measure.  My guess is that it is less than .5 pounds (see photo), excluding the pet waste, pepperoni, and plumbing rubbish.  The apparent weightlessness of my waste recorded by the scale provides little comfort to me, as I now need to research each item of trash and determine what to do with it.  That will be for the next post….

Days 21-23

The last 3 days have been “trash productive”.  I’ve added a broken rubber band, 5 expired credit cards and used gift cards (I was cleaning out my desk and found them), and some metallic lined paper (it isn’t paper and it isn’t really metal).  At this time I can’t think of a way to reuse or recycle these items.

Fortunately I have found a reuse for my used dental floss!  My daughter and I were conducting a science experiment in the basement. Using a diluted solution of Monoammonium Phosphate (MAP), we were trying to grow crystals.  To make larger crystals you need to suspend a smaller “seed” crystal in a container of MAP.  But what can one use to suspend a small crystal in a container?  Used dental floss of course!  Tied one end to the seed crystal, wound the other end on a pencil, then lay the pencil across the top of the container.  Voila!  Unfortunately the rate at which I produce dental floss far exceeds our abilities to produce crystals.  At least I found one reuse for dental floss.

I did throw away some bad pepperoni over the weekend.  This was something I didn’t want to reflect upon too long.  Basically I was trying to make some pizza at home for dinner and was going to use some prepackaged sliced pepperoni we had in the fridge.  The off-putting gray color and faint glimpse of fuss on a few pieces made me decide to throw it all out.  The packaging I recycled but the pepperoni went into the trash.  I felt bad.  You can’t compost meat.  While you can recycle meats into other dishes, like extra spicy chilli, overtime botulism will eventually win.  Learn when to say when with recycled meats.  Reusing meat could have been interesting (I haven’t made a meat helmet in years), but I determined that it would be safer to just throw it away (it was about 30 sliced pieces of pepperoni).  Makes me think back on my vegetarian days; vegetables can go bad too, but at least you can compost it.

Days 19-20

I’m not overly obsessed about waste….at least I don’t think am.  I’ve certainly become more perfunctory in processing my trash and I think I’ve found a healthy balance between living conveniently and making healthy choices in the products and services I use.  Having come-up with these rules has helped me to police my own behavior and view many waste products a normally produce as more inconvenient and troublesome, so I’m more likely to avoid them.

I have found myself squirreling away more things in my pockets in hopes of finding a recycling bin to dispose of the item: paper wrappers, plastic twists, random pieces of metal, etc.  Normally I just would casually toss them in the nearest trash can, but now I feel like I’d be disloyal to my own rules.  I’m playing mind games with myself….and I’m winning!

My trash can in my office remains empty and I’m definitely making more trips to the recycling bins at home.

Day 16-18

So a few items of trash have been added to the trash bin of reflection over the weekend.  Sort of random stuff, but still stuff that I can’t figure out what to do with…yet. 

Used gift cards – I might be able to recycle them, but they don’t indicate on the card if you can.  I’m sure someone, somewhere has made something useful of all their expired credit cards.  I’ll need to think some more on this one.

Wire twist tie – it has a tinsel like quality but with the extra rigidity of wire.  I probably can save and reuse it to keep tomato plants from drooping over in the Spring…of course now I will have to plant tomatoes.

Decorative ribbon –  I shouldn’t have opened the bag of chocolate covered pretzels. Now I have this white ribbon.  Again, I guess I could “re-gift” it by reusing it to wrap a gift for someone….so I guess I will “re-wrap” it, for lack of a better word.

Muffin wrapper – Yes, it is the return of the muffin wrapper, but this time it isn’t biodegradable.  It did however contain an amazing red velvet cupcake that is now composting in my stomach.  My daughter would like the cleaned wrapper to make a hat for her doll…I may oblige her.

Day 14-15

Truth be told, I don’t like blogging very much, so in a way my greatest incentive to reduce waste is so I don’t have to write about it on this blog.  The bulk of waste I produce seems to be either paper, plastic, or metal, but fortunately most of this stuff can be recycled.  Over the last two days, however, a number of items have caught me off guard:  wax covering the last piece of Edam cheese in our refrigerator; medical packaging (sort of like a thick potato chip bag); a cork from bottle of wine.

I’m sure I can figure out ways to reuse these waste products – melt the way down and make a candle, cut the packaging into strips and weave a bag, drink more corked wine and use the leftover corks to make a coaster.  Yet, the point of the experiment is really to reduce the amount of waste I produce, so to that effect I’m going to try to buy the twist-off wine bottles (hey corkless wines are good!  Don’t let anyone tell you different), and I’m not going to buy cheese with wax on it (that sucks).  For us, the medical waste is going to be a constant.  I’ll need to reflect upon that some more.  I wonder how much medical waste is produced annually?

Day 12-13

I’m rethinking my thoughts on pet waste.  Yesterday I had to give our dog her monthly flea treatment.  We use a chemical based product.  I was left with an empty bottle but justified that it was my dog’s waste, not mine!  That’s ridiculous!  Of course I should be responsible for my pet’s waste, including the plastic bags used to pick-up her poop.  As for the poop itself…..well…..I’m still not taking ownership of that.

I’m reminded of the movie “Envy” starring Jack Black and Ben Stiller.  Jack Black’s character invents a new product called “Vapoorize”, an aerosol spray that makes poop vaporize.  He becomes a millionaire overnight, and loses everything when the product is blamed for damaging the environment and is pulled from the shelves.  Besides not owning a pet (which is not an option for us), what is the best way of disposing animal waste?   Maybe I could try to make a backyard biofuel converter?

In other waste news, I’ve also been ignoring a major trash producer….the coffee machine at the office!  This is the fancy kind that will make all sorts of tasty caffeinated drinks to fuel the workforce.  The different coffees come in little packages that you drop into the machine.  The machine whirls, hums, and squeezes out something that tastes and resembles coffee…..and the pouches magically disappear! ….oh, but they don’t.  They fill-up a bin at the bottom of the machine.  I’m going to have to find a better alternative…..sigh….this is going to be harder than I realized.

Days 10-11

Hmmmm……dental floss.  I’ve been squirreling away my used dental floss in my bathroom cabinet thinking I’d come-up with a brilliant idea of how to immediately use it, but I’m faced with another potential item for the “trash bin of reflection”.  What can I do with used dental floss?  Will have to add it to the January numbers.

I also will also be adding to my trash count a used black pen that no longer has ink.  To prevent further trash due to used-up pens, I’m thinking about changing the type of writing instrument I use.  Or I will need to come-up with a way to reuse spent writing implements.  Perhaps another question for the reuse connection site.

Day 8-9

I’ve now realized that I failed to address the issue of pet waste in my rules.  How should I categorize my dog’s poo?  Our Black Labrador Retriever produces about 2-3 piles of poop a day.  Being considerate dog owners our family picks-up our dog’s poop using little plastic bags to help protect our water shed from fecal contaminants and prevent other people from hating dogs when they inadvertently step in a pile.   Of course I can’t classify, or dispose of, my dog’s waste as I would my own – I’m not flushing it down our toilet.  As a dog owner I am responsible for my dog’s waste, but for this experiment I am looking at my own personal waste reduction and therefore will not be counting the plastic bag or the dog poop towards my waste count.  It is going in the trash can.

Similarly, my 6 year old daughter came to me with a problem with regards to her used-up markers.  She has been holding on to several dried-up markers…what should we do with them?  In this case I could argue, as I did for my dog, that I’m not responsible for another family member’s waste (at least for this experiment).  However, the dried-up markers intrigued me.  They aren’t recyclable….maybe we can reuse them?  I’ll post the question on the reuse Facebook site.

Day 6-7

Darn it!  I fell off the “no waste” wagon. 

Yesterday night my wife reminded me that there was a sulfur smell coming from our bathroom sink; a slight but noticeable odor of eggs.  None of the other sinks have that problem so I figured there was probably some hair and gunk trapped in the pipe causing the smell.  What started as an easy “check the pipes” project turned into a complicated plumbing job requiring a frantic run to the hardware store and sopping-up 40 years worth of black inky sludge and grime. I successfully removed most of the foul-smelling nastiness, resealed the pipes, replaced o-rings, but had a small bag of sludge-stained rags and paper towels, bits of corroded rubber seals, and pieces of old pvc pipe as a lasting reminder.  I placed the bag of trash on the bathroom scale – .35 lbs.  Sorry, but this stinking trash is not something I’m going to hold on to until the end of the year.  I brought it outside and tossed it into the garbage can.  

In retrospect I may have been able to reduce most of the trash if I hand-washed the rags (I think the oily black mess would have been too much for even the strongest industrial washing machine).  The smell and general grossness of what I had produced fixing the sink was too overwhelming.  I was completely unprepared for the escalating complexity and so resorted to quick shortcuts that in the end created more trash……hmmm….maybe there is a lesson in that. 

I’ll record the “trash” for the month of Jan, but the next time I jump into a project I’ll be better prepared and think it out first.  It may produce less trash in the end.