Day Two: Are Having Fun Yet?

January 7, 2020 § 13 Comments

“Well THIS is going to be fun. I don’t get to have crackers for a whole year?”

Greta was fuming. Grouchiness was coming off her like vapor off a steam engine as we plodded back to her Brooklyn apartment. We were returning from our first visit to her local grocery store of the new year- the brand-new Year of No Garbage for our family- and I think it would be fair to categorize it as an unmitigated disaster.

“I’m just saying. Carr’s Crackers are my childhood. They’re part of my ritual when I come home from classes. I mean— I’ve finally figured out all the things here that have no sugar!!!”

Greta & Ilsa were SO CAREFUL to make sure their coffee cups and lids were recyclable. This is the moment we realized Rockefeller Center has removed all recycling containers for security purposes. We carried those cups around for HOURS. Alternate caption: Mom’s Projects Suck

I felt terrible. Everything I said to try to console her just turned into another argument. We can make crackers! Yeah, but they won’t be as good. They might be even better! Probably not.

Of course it wasn’t just the crackers. The first five things we had picked up in the store were returned to the shelves in despair: clementines in plastic netting, no-sugar bacon in vacuum-sealed plastic, bread in shiny see-through bags, cheese of all shapes and sizes in cellophane, and of course, the infamous, last-straw Carr’s Crackers which had become a staple in our house during the Year of No Sugar, and which we well know contain a cellophane bag inside their paperboard box.

Ilsa was just as indignant. Her eye had been on a package of smoked salmon and cream cheese pinwheels that had been wrapped in approximately fourteen different kinds of plastic, all of which screamed LANDFILL to anyone who would listen.

So in between sparring with Greta on the hopelessness of our situation, Ilsa jumped in with her own commentary. (me:)What if we make our own pinwheels? We could buy smoked salmon and cream cheese… Smoked salmon comes in plastic. We can get it at the fish store! I don’t like that kind as much. Besides they won’t sell it to you without a plastic bag either.

Despair, despair, despair.

In desperation I even pulled out the Big Picture Talk: “You know guys, this year… it’s going to be a process. It isn’t going to just be easy. And a lot of things we’ll have to research and learn and… that’s the value of doing this whole thing, right?”

They just looked at me with utter blankness on their faces. Well known to parents of young people, it’s the look that says: “Yeah. Right.”

By the time we got to Greta’s basement apartment, I had about had it: Look. Guys. It’s Day TWO. Are we ready to give up? Is that it? And Greta, you volunteered to do this in the city. If you don’t want to do this then you don’t have to. Yes I do! No you don’t! Yes I do!

There was an aggravated silence, broken at last by Steve. “So! How was the store?”

“It was awesome. EVERYBODY’S MAD AT ME.” I responded.

“I’m not mad.” Greta said, growing quiet. “I guess I’m just… scared.” I was stopped dead by the abrupt shift in her demeanor.

“I’m sorry mama. I just feel like, if I don’t do this project… I won’t be a part of this family anymore.” She paused. “And, I also feel like you’ve forgotten how hard Year of No Sugar really was.”

She had me there. “First of all, you are ALWAYS a part of this family, no matter what.” I said firmly. “And second… you’re right. Sometimes I think I remember, but I also think I forget too.” After a pause I added, “Plus, you guys are older. You fight back much harder now.” This made the girls smile. And just like that the First Big Argument was over and we were on the same team again.

The fact is, I had forgotten how hard it is to do a big against-the-societal-grain-project like this. It’s like swimming upstream, all day long, every day. How could I have possibly forgotten that? And how could I fail to take into account the amount of strain that puts on our family? Of course I knew the answer to my own question: it was because I get so mesmerized by the power of The Big Idea, and I want so badly to do it. Was it wrong for me to ask that of my family? I don’t always know the answer to that question.

But I was heartened by Greta’s ability to identify her anger as fear, and her ready willingness to express it. If only, I thought, if only we can all manage to work together as a team, and not take our frustrations out on each other, that would be essential to getting us through this year in one piece. That, and a little luck. With that thought, I breathed a sigh of relief as we put the last groceries away in the cupboard.

Then we went outside to find that our car had been towed.


Year of No Garbage Day One

January 1, 2020 § 10 Comments

I’m terribly excited to announce that our third and final family Deprivation Adventure will be…. a Year of No Garbage.

So far I’ve only told a handful of folks about this project. Their response is always the same: there’s a pause, a thoughtful “hmm” look, followed by a small smile and then: “What about (insert trash item here)?”

What about milk containers? What about old clothing? What about the plastic cellophane wrap at the top of a water bottle?

Believe me, as January first loomed ever closer on our family calendar, we’ve all stopped countless times to look up at the rest of us and suddenly ask a variant of this question.

What about Band-Aids? What about the paper they wrap our sandwiches in at the local deli? How about chips? Are those bags recyclable? What about toothpaste? Or plastic pull-tabs?

So many questions. Which, of course, is one of the reasons I love this project and why I’ve been thinking about it in the back of my mind for- I’m not kidding- years now. As this last week of December unfolded and New Years approached, it was as if every time I went to throw something into the trash I’d go into slow motion, pausing to consider: what was I really throwing away, anyway? And, as if for the first time I really looked at our trash and thought about it. Sure, there were things I realized on second thought were probably recyclable after all, and which were then rerouted to another bin, or the compost container. But many things were just “hmmm” things— things I had really never been given a real reason to stop and consider before.

There were yarn bits from a knitting project. The plastic wrapper from a block of cheese. The plastic netting from a bag of clementines. Foam packaging from a new piece of technology. The wrapper from a stick of butter.

Oh my yes, this will be a very interesting year.

Just as in our previous projects, of course, there will be rules– some parameters we’ve already decided and others that we haven’t even yet realized we need to consider. The main gist is this: we can recycle. We can compost. We can donate, give away and sell. But no trash, no garbage and no landfill. After one big final garbage sweep of the house (see our one minute video above) all the trash cans in our house have been removed.

And, as before, there will be exceptions. The first is health and safety. If one of my kids needs a Band-Aid, or medicine with a made-for-the-landfill wrapper? They’re getting it. Period. Also, my husband’s photography business will need to continue to function, so his studio across the street will still be able to throw away trash, with the understanding that he will work to minimize it as much as possible.

Both our daughters Greta and Ilsa, now ages 19 and 14, will participate. Given that Greta now goes to school in New York City, that should prove to be an especially challenging and interesting part of the project.

And as before we will, of course, make mistakes. There will be dead ends. There will be a box to contain the items that represent those moments, which I have named the Whoops Box and my husband has alternately named the WTF Box.

Our garbage company allots us one 96-gallon container worth of trash removal a week, and I’ve been paying attention: we fill it every week. That means our household alone is contributing nearly 5,000 gallons a year to a landfill somewhere. This year? Our goal is to reduce that contribution to none.

Think we can do it?

Stay tuned to find out. Be sure to follow me on Instagram and use the hashtags #yearofnogarbage and #trashlesseve

Happy New Year everyone!

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