Once-A-Month Challenge

Our first guest post comes from Nicole, a PhD Candidate and Urban Studies and Planning in the Northwest. She’s a long time fMh and BCC lurker.

Limiting our trash to a 32-gal can for the month is the gift that keeps on giving. It is true that our trash bill has been cut nearly 40% ($16 vs $26/month). Yet I’ve been surprised at how pleased I feel each 1st Friday when I wheel that small can out to the curb. It feels like such an accomplishment!

My husband and I are admittedly a bit fanatical about recycling and reducing. As examples, we cloth-diapered even in and out of apartment buildings and have been known to track down availability of recycling pickup on a block or apartment building that had no obvious existing service. We also sit in a place of privilege; our eyes were opened to how much could be recycled and composted when living in San Francisco (hands down most aggressive program in the country), and we currently live an aggressive recycling town – Portland, OR. Still, we were a bit skeptical that we could manage once-a-month pickup.

Let’s just try it for one month. If we can’t manage, we can call the trash people and change it.

We probably uttered that phrase at least a dozen times that first month. 3 pickups later and we are still managing. How have we done it? Reducing solid waste requires reducing the amount of waste brought into the home through strategic purchasing and reuse while shifting a large amount of the trash stream to recycling and compost.

· Learn the rules of your recycling program.
o Curbside pickup generally can include almost everything paper and glass and most plastic. Exceptions include freezer boxes (has plastic laminated within), soiled paper products (worries about contamination), and plastic bags (mucks up the machines).
o Trash collectors often pick up recycling (and yard waste) every week even with a once-monthly trash pickup.
o Sometimes there are places (recyclers and some grocers) in your city that will take plastics that curbside will not. Make a bin to set aside for this purpose.
· Place multiple recycle bins in your house just as you have multiple trash bins.
· Rethink once-used paper goods by switching to cloth napkins, dishcloths, cloth diapers, etc. Old sheets + sewing machine make great reusable cloth.
· Repurpose trashed clothes; donate good condition clothes.
· Say no to bags and packaging when shopping.
· Rethink your kitchen habits.
o Buy meat from a meat counter instead of packaged on Styrofoam trays.
o Stop buying frozen box goods and soup boxes since these cannot be recycled. The soup boxes are actually our one guilty pleasure since our 3-year old apparently subsists on boxed tomato soup.
o Realistically plan out portion sizes to either eat the entire meal OR have enough for a true leftover.
o Stop going to take-out places that over package their food. Note that pizza boxes cannot be recycled but can be composted.
· Compost as much as you can. We put everything but meat remnants and citrus in ours. Citrus goes down the garbage disposal. Note that grains in large quantities will attract rats if you don’t have a predator-proof recycling system.

It has been easier than I imagined moving to once-a-month pickup in our home. I think we are even going to have room to spare this month. But even if you can’t envision your family managing once-a-month, consider committing to an every-other-week pickup. As a bonus, you can often get the same cost savings if you are willing to dive in with a neighbor and share cans.

Is there an item that seems to demand more of your trash bin than you would like? What ways do you reduce trash and encourage recycling in your home?

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18 responses to “Once-A-Month Challenge

  1. ajbc April 29, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Having also lived in the Bay Area once upon a time, I really miss their aggressive recycling and composting program. Where I live now, fewer plastics can be recycled and our community compost bin is for veggie waste only. I could/should probably go seek out other resources, as was mentioned in the post….

    One thing I’ve noticed is that there are rarely recycling bins in our churches, at least where I’ve been. I also think it would be really cool to have a large church compost bin that could handle meats, since that’s a lot harder to do on a small scale.

  2. mfranti April 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    ajbc, you bring up a couple of important points about church buildings. What if we had a ward environmental steward (or something with a more clever name) that was responsible for managing the recycling or composting or parking lot garden?

  3. Kristine N April 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Great suggestions! We’ve migrated to about the same situation, though we don’t have to pay for trash pickup so we only get the warm fuzzies. I do love putting out a nearly full recycling bin next to a nearly empty trash bin every couple of weeks.

  4. reader Rachel April 29, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    I wish our area had a once a month pickup option. But no, trash collection is every week, recycling is every other week. The only times we ever fill our trash can is when we are doing some kind of home remodel. Otherwise, it’s just one, sad kitchen-sized bag worth of non-recyclable, non-compostable trash each week.
    And I love that you recognize the importance of strategic shopping to reduce the amount of trash your household is responsible for generating. Keep up the good work!

  5. nat kelly April 29, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Wait, you can’t recycle pizza boxes? Why not? I am so woefully uneducated about this stuff. But I have really good intentions.

  6. Nicole April 29, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks for everyone’s comments! So exciting 🙂

    Nat – I am not a master recycler and may be wrong, but I am pretty sure that food contaminates the recycling supply. Pizza boxes often have grease all over them, etc.

    ajbc – I actually was a part of a discussion about recycling in church buildings in a progressive area of Portland, OR 3 years ago. The YW and YM wanted to set up a program at the building but we were told by the bishop in charge of building maintenance that it was a no go since we would have to pay for commercial pickup. I moved shortly thereafter, but I am guessing if it is a no go in Portland, it is going to be a hard sell anywhere. Any evidence to the contrary?

  7. Nicole April 29, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    mfranti – I LOVE the idea of using the church lawn for a community garden; many churches do that here. Do you think it would actually fly?

  8. Tatiana April 29, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    I’m looking hard for a good cat litter system that’s 1. healthy for the cats — most litters have too much dust that causes lung problems, and clumping is reportedly bad for the gut — 2. cheap, and 3. environmentally friendly. So far I’ve found two out of three. Any ideas?

  9. ErinAnn April 29, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    I am really looking forward to having a compost bin. I am in a condo right now and there is no practical place to have a bin, besides my neighbors objecting if I had one outside. However, we hope to be selling the place soon. I look forward to taking on such a challenge as this. Although, I’m not ready to switch to cloth diapers for my current baby. Perhaps after we move I’ll be there. It would be awesome to reduce our waste.

  10. reader Rachel April 30, 2011 at 6:09 am

    ErinAnn–You could try setting up a relatively small worm composting bin inside your condo (or on your balcony if you have one). We did that when we lived in an apartment, and it worked pretty well. The kids loved the worms!

  11. SteveP April 30, 2011 at 10:10 am

    What great suggestions! Composting pizza boxes! I did not even know that.

  12. missy. April 30, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Reader Rachel, can you point me toward more information about indoor composting? I’d like to learn more about that.

  13. ajbc April 30, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Nicole – I had no success getting a recycling box in the Berkeley singles ward of all places, so my bet is that it would be nigh impossible to do a commercial recycling pickup without some sort of directive from further up the chain. Composting and gardening would be another story, though. For composting, you’d only have to raise money and enthusiasm for a bin, and for gardening, all you need is for it to be okayed.

  14. nat kelly April 30, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    ErinAnn,
    We’re also in a tiny apartment and have no room for a compost bin per se. What we’ve done is just put a paper bag in the freezer, and put our compost in there. That way it doesn’t stink if we don’t have time to take it out as regularly as we need to, and we can just dump it right into the compost container for our building.

    Then again, Seattle has a city-wide composting program, which might not be true in your area.

  15. nat kelly April 30, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I’ve also heard the worm thing works really well. People just keep it in a little box under the kitchen sink and never have to worry about it.

  16. TopHat April 30, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    This would be so easy for us to do since we live in the Bay Area- and in fact, they accept food-ridden paper products in the green scraps bins, so we can recycle (or more, compost) pizza boxes! We’e moving to a new place with a garden area, so we’ll get to save some compost for that as well.

  17. Pingback: In Our Lovey Deseret « Our Mother's Keeper

  18. reader Rachel April 30, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    missy-We did something similar to this: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Your-Own-Worm-Compost-System .
    We bought our worms at a local nursery and set them up on our balcony. At the time, we were a family of four, and our single worm bin couldn’t quite keep up with all of our kitchen scraps. But our kids loved the worms, and as long as we didn’t over feed them (or let them dry out) it was fine.

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