Periodic freak-outs seem to be a part of my process. Since the beginning of our Year of No Garbage, the corner of my kitchen has served as the hub of all things not single-stream recyclable or compostable. Call it my “wishful recycling” pile. In the early days back in January it was downright adorable: little glass jars holding tiny piles of colorful bits and pieces. A piece of twine! Some yarn! A handful of wine corks!
Fast forward to May. And not just May, but May after seven weeks of quarantine. The corner of my kitchen had morphed from Martha-Stewart-photo-shoot-ready into an pile of indeterminate proportions, possibly escaped from a low-budget horror film entitled THE GARBAGE BLOB THAT ATE MY KITCHEN.
Here’s my strategy when things like this develop: Ignore. Ignore. Ignore. Ignore. Ignore. Igno-SUDDENLY FREAK OUT. I am very good at this. So when my husband walks in and sees me sitting hip-deep in a pile of what most people would call garbage, carefully separating tangled thread from a wad of I VOTED! stickers and the disembodied wire from a long-lost spiral notebook, he knows not to assume I’ve lost my marbles any more than usual.
This is what happened the other day when the wishful recycling blob suddenly destabilized and started cascading onto my kitchen floor. Once I had to wade through plastic bags and random pieces of cellophane to get to the stove, something was bound to give.
Fortunately my daughter Ilsa was there to help. The two of us pulled everything out, and began sorting up a storm. Because I’ve decided I don’t believe in such a thing as non-recyclables, and yet there are still so many items that are awaiting official answers as to where and how they can be recycled, I knew I needed to abandon the dainty little system I had begun with in favor of something a bit more rugged. Out with the adorable mason jars, in with the large, practical bins.
Next, we had to figure out what, precisely, the categories would be- I had five big bins and one small one. What warranted its own bin? What could do with something smaller? This is, of course, something I would have ideally set in place at the beginning of our project, but back then I had no idea what the categories would be, or how much of each one we were likely to collect; now on our fifth month, this pile was now the big, ugly answer to that question. In the end, Ilsa and I came up with a system that I am unreasonably proud of and here are the six major categories:
- Polyethylene #2 and 4: This is what I wrote about in my blog in January, this is the flexible, stretchy plastic also known as “plastic film.”
plastic supermarket bags
produce bags (both the kind that come in rolls at the store and the kind apples and oranges come in)
plastic overwrap from things like paper towels, toilet paper and water bottle cases
dry cleaning bags
bubble wrap and bubble mailers
deflated air pillows and plastic mailing envelopes
cereal box liners (unless they tear like paper)
SOLUTION: Recyclable at the supermarket bag recycling bin, once that opens up again.
Difficulty level: Easy
- Multilayer/ Multi-film Plastic: This is what I wrote about in my blog in April, plastics that are co-extruded (read: scientifically smooshed together) and therefore use several different kinds of plastic. This makes storing food wonderfully easy and recycling impossible very hard.
pouches used for vacuum sealing, such as for meat
plastic bags used for frozen vegetables
SOLUTION: Working on it.
Difficulty level: Tough.
- Packages Using Foil: These are also multi-layer packages, but in this case they sandwich foil with paper and/or plastic.
candy and granola/breakfast bar wrappers
SOLUTION: Working on it.
Difficulty level: Tough.
- Crinkly Plastics and Cellophane: Any flexible plastic that is shiny, and makes crinkly noises. Unlike polyethylene, it does not stretch when you pull it.
Includes: Those heat seal shrink wrappers that come banded on the top of so many products. Also, packaging for practically every product you can think of. If it doesn’t fit in any other above categories it is probably this.
SOLUTION: Working on it.
Difficulty Level: You’re killing me here.
- Wine Corks: Because apparently I’m a wino. I blame the pandemic. Also I blame wine.
Um. Wine corks.
SOLUTION: Start a business making wine cork keychains? Check Pinterest? Note to self: buy a glue gun. Also, I read you can soak them in alcohol and use them as fire-starters, so my inner pyromaniac finds that promising.
Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate
- I Don’t Know!!: This is where I put the fun stuff.
deflated birthday balloons
two pieces of styrofoam
a burned out lightbulb
plastic produce netting
hard plastic with no identifying numbers
used up ball point pens
old mascara containers
empty mailing tape dispenser
irredeemably bent coat hanger
a plastic pickle holder that looks like a parasol for a leprechaun
SOLUTION: I swear to God I’m working on it.
Difficulty Level: Ninja.
On smaller shelves underneath the large bin area, I also have eight smaller containers for things that don’t come up as much/ don’t require much room. They are labeled: Tin Foil, Wax, Silica Gel Packs, Batteries, Stickers, Plastic Doohickies, Caps, Plastic Wrap.
I know what you’re thinking. “Eve? Haven’t you just, you know, washed and dried and KEPT all your garbage instead of sending it to the landfill? I mean, what is the point of all this sorting if there is no solution for these things?”
I know you’re probably thinking that, because I think it myself about once a day. But then I realize that all of this stuff, ALL of it could fit into one 96 gallon trash container. That’s the same trash container that until only recently we used to put out, full to bursting, every single week. If I make my calculations right, at 18 weeks in, to date we’ve avoided sending 1728 gallons of garbage to the landfill.
A whole year of filling up our trash container, by the way, amounts to 4992 gallons. So even if, at the end of the year, we end up with say, two containers of I couldn’t solve this– 192 gallons- I can still feel pretty good about the other 4800 gallons we saved from the landfill, primarily because we decided to start paying attention.
Just to be super geeky, I tried to figure out what weight is represented by those 4800 gallons of trash. Would it equal a small elephant? A grand piano? Unfortunately, because gallon is a measurement of volume, not weight, that’s a very tricky thing to figure out. Online I found wildly different estimates as to how much an average gallon of household trash is supposed to weigh. Is it a half a pound? Or four pounds? Depends who you ask.
But what we do know is that the average American throws out 4 pounds of trash per day, or 1460 pounds per year, which is to say 3/4 of a ton. In a household of four people that would equate to about 3 tons per year.
That’s like throwing away a full-grown rhinoceros. Crazy, right? It’s enough to make a person freak out.
But I promise not to freak out again. I’m done. For now.
4 thoughts on “The Garbage Blob That Ate My Kitchen *or* How to Set Up Your Home Recycle Absolutely Everything Center”
Wow! You are awesome – and all this during a pandemic!! Double wow!!
I have no solutions to offer – we heat with wood so a lot of stuff gets tossed in the woodstove – eg. wine corks – but only if it’s burnable with no toxic fumes. Will be interested to hear of your solutions.
Thank you!! Stay tuned…
Thanks for continuing to post and being so inspiring! Are the mascara containers just the containers or wands too? Wands can be donated https://www.appalachianwild.org/wands-for-wildlife.html
Keep safe, healthy and sane:(
Oh that’s a good one! I should post about that! Thank you!!