I have officially fallen out of love with garbage. Our relationship has been based on a series of lies and half-truths, and, at times, downright fantasy. It’s been unhealthy not only for me, but also devastating for society, the environment, and the planet as a whole. It’s time to break up.
Consequently, my first New Year’s Resolution is to cancel my garbage service. With very few exceptions, having garbage hauled away to be landfilled or burned is unnecessary: if we are thoughtful, virtually everything our household takes in can be recycled, reused, repurposed, donated or composted. The few things we actually want to throw away (such as Band-Aids or feminine products) can go to the dump on a pay-by-the-bag system, saving us around $60 per month, or $720 per year.
My second resolution is no more fake recycling… Realcycling only. Much to my dismay this year I learned that the miracle of Single Stream recycling is largely a mirage: even if your provider accepts plastics #1-7, the only ones actually, truly getting recycled are #1 and #2. This is why my local dump takes #1 and #2 plastics– and no others– for free: because there is an actual market for them.
Unlike the resourceful Zero-Wasters who can display their yearly garbage in a jam jar, I have yet to figure out how to feed a family of five without buying products that use plastics that aren’t easily recyclable. This leads me to my third resolution: send non #1 and #2 plastics to Terracycle. Yes, it’s undeniably expensive, but not more expensive than the garbage service I’ll be cancelling— this year so far I’ve spent $481 on Terracycle boxes. Coupled with cancelling my $720 garbage service I’ll still be saving over $230. Although, like many people I’ve talked to, I have reservations about the Terracycle process— does shipping our trash to recycle it really make sense? And where is the YouTube video showing their actual recycling process? Can we trust them?— it is still the best, only chance I’ve found to do the right thing with these materials that really should not be being made in the first place.
In the meantime, resolution number four is that I will support EPR Legislation: Extended Producer Responsibility. This is the system by which companies are required to handle the waste generated by their product, rather than pawning it off on their customers. Think: bottle returns, or tire and paint take-back programs. Taxpayers need to understand that when companies aren’t responsible for “end-of-life” for their product and packaging, we foot the bill, through landfill and incineration costs, or clean up costs to remove it from the landscape and the ocean.
Lastly, resolution number five is that I will contact companies whose products I buy and let them know their packaging needs to be more earth-friendly. It seems like a drop in the bucket for one person to complain, but then again, they say one letter is worth like, eight million people out there who think the same thing, right? Stay tuned in this space for their responses.
Some Final Thoughts
Although I started this Year of No Garbage without really knowing where we’d end up, I’ve arrived at a place of conviction: garbage– in the conventional sense– is both harmful and unnecessary. But far and away the biggest offender is a material that didn’t even exist until the last century: plastic. The tens of thousands of variations of plastic made today do not degrade– and I’d argue that the fact that my toothbrush will outlive my great grandchildren is unethical. Immoral. A sin. Micro-versions of these plastics are showing up now in our bodies, our food, our poop and the placenta of newborn babies. They are killing animals and bird life everywhere in horrific ways, filling up our ocean water and destroying ecosystems. They create carcinogens, toxins and contribute to global warming every step of the way: from creation, through transportation and use, to disposal.
This is why I never want to use a garbage can again. My family, on the other hand, isn’t so sure. It was much the same when we did the Year of No Sugar project- I’m always the biggest zealot in the room. Just because I’ve become a fanatic, doesn’t mean they have.
At one point when we were all in the kitchen yesterday— cleaning, making food, chatting—the conversation turned to the end of the No Garbage year. My daughter Greta was looking forward to not having to wash, dry, and save every piece of plastic, Saran Wrap or tin foil that crossed our doorstep. My husband Steve is talking about bringing a garbage can back to the kitchen, which I am against, but am sure to be in the minority on. My younger daughter Ilsa just seems relieved that the third and final official project will be behind us.
Every once in a while I feel an unspoken question in the air: Can’t we just be a normal family? I feel bad about that. I hope I haven’t traumatized my children too much in the last decade, asking our family to interrogate basic things everyone else around us takes for granted as part of “normal” life… sugar, clutter, garbage: the things we eat, the things we keep, the things we throw away.
Socrates once said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. Or maybe it was George Carlin. Either way I hope my kids will grow up with a sense of curiosity about the world and our place in it. I hope that if something doesn’t seem right, they’ll know that blind acceptance is not their only option; that one person can make a difference, by the simple act of slowing down and taking a closer look.
And, “normal”? I guess they’ve figured it out by now: I’m just not that mom.