Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What's In My Trash? Moving Towards Zero Waste

I did a little analysis this morning, picking through the trash cans. I don't create much waste, but I still have a way to go to get to zero waste. I wanted to see what was really in there, so I could see if there was any way to reduce my waste even further.

My largest form of waste is used cat litter. I have an elderly cat who goes through two 25-pound bags of clay litter per month. The other cats I care for (spawn of the local feral population) are mainly outdoor cats and do their business outside. For now there's no solution, but since my indoor cat is 17 and in the advanced stages of kidney failure, that will change all too soon.

Next are the cat litter bags and the dry cat food bags. Doing this analysis today I realized the litter bags are probably recyclable, since there's no glossy coating. I bet they can go in the paperboard pile at the recycling center. The cat food bags have a glossy outer and inner layer, but sandwiched in between is a brown paper layer that would be recyclable. So, at least a third of the bag material can be diverted from the waste stream.

The best solution would be to start making all of our cat food, but I don't see that happening with my elderly cat. She won't eat anything that's moist anymore and I don't want to force her to change at this stage. Maybe once she's gone I can switch the others over.

The kitchen trash doesn't build up very quickly, since we don't buy much processed food. It consisted mostly of used plastic wrap, meat wrappers, milk jug lids, cheese wrappers, cracker sleeves, butter wrappers, a brown sugar wrapper and ziplock bags that had held meat.

Here there's room for improvement. I need to buy more glass storage containers, so I can eliminate plastic wrap and ziplocks. I'll also need to buy some butcher paper to wrap the meat in, before placing the meat in the containers. I've been using those nifty ziplocks that allow you to suction the air out. It will be hard to give those up. Are there other ways to guard against freezer burn? Would some sort of oxygen absorber work? (Just thinking out loud here.)

Meat and dairy wrappers are a problem. Next year I hope to get some chickens and meat rabbits, so that will cut down on the problem but won't eliminate it, since we'll still be buying other types of meat. If I could find a meat market that still used butcher paper that would be great, although it's unlikely. Most of them use plastic-lined paper. The dairy issue will remain a problem until I can raise dairy goats. I'd like to get a milk share, but all of the raw milk dairies have waiting lists, and I don't know if any of those use glass containers anyway. But even if they didn't, I could just buy milk and then make all of our other dairy products from that. Then the only waste would be the milk lids.

The brown sugar wrapper. Sigh. I just need to give up sugar.

The cracker sleeves. Need to make homemade crackers--they're the last bread product I'm not making myself.

The bathroom trash was mostly tissues and Q-tips--things that could be composted but might be pretty ewww-y if they don't fully break down. I think I just need to get over that.

Not present at the moment, but still showing up in our trash too frequently, are candy wrappers and fountain drink cups. I don't finance such purchases but neither do I forbid them, so my son uses his own money to buy them from time to time.

Away from home, the only trash I create are used coffee cups. I don't know why I don't take my stainless steel travel mug. I need to fix that.

I'm not doing too badly. This was a useful exercise, though. I learned a few things. We'll see how much further I can take this. I'll keep you posted.

Edited to add:

I forgot about the other things--not in the trash cans--awaiting my next trip to the landfill. There are two lumpy old bed pillows with synthetic fill. I wonder if I could re-fluff the fiberfill enough to make it usable again and then make some new pillows out of that? Then I'd only be tossing the synthetic covers.

I need to make sure in the future only to buy 100% natural pillows.

There's also a bag of meat scraps, fat, and gristle waiting in the freezer. I talked about that issue in an earlier post (Waste Not, Want Not), although I haven't done anything about it yet.

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