Re-evaluating the kitchen trash can

How many months ago was it that I drug the kitchen trash can into the laundry room and did a victory lap?

Oh. September. Huh.

It was my hope that, having the garbage can so far out of sight — a mere 18 feet or whatever from the kitchen, whatever, details are boring — that it would help us lower our trash output. Or at least make Eric and the girls think about what they were about to toss.

And that sort of worked. I would go through the can and take out what could be recycled — mostly things like cereal liners because apparently no one in this household believes me when I say they can be put with the bread bags — and it did seem to work.

Nope, your eyes do not deceive you. Unfortunately.


(Why is there always a “but”?)

Two kitties found us (they’re both in time out right now for fighting, the jerks) and the kitchen-turned-laundry trash can became Eric’s bin of choice for cleaning out the litter boxes. And I’m in no position to complain about that, because I don’t have to do it. But going through the can now to separate the true garbage from the not garbage was suddenly way less appealing.

When I discovered that Eric had a contraband garbage sack under the kitchen sink, I was fairly horrified. We’re THIS CLOSE to being at Month 11 of a zero waste project. What the WHAT!?

But then it occurred to me that maybe he was on to something. The amount of trash we produce is holding steady — because we don’t buy much that can’t be reused, composted or recycled — but my ability to pick through it was non-existent thanks to the aforementioned kitty litter.

Bear’s kind of excited, though.

And, I mean, kitties. Pearl has actually started to trust us (Reader’s Digest version for new readers: We’re her fourth house so she’s got some trust issues) and Bear just loves us too much. And we are, quite frankly, attached to both. Waste be damned.

We had a small bin that used to be in the bathroom — I think? — of one of our other houses (which is really saying something, the fact that it’s still around, since we’ve been in this house for 14 years) that Eric cleaned out and put under the kitchen sink on Sunday.

Pros: I can pick through this can for anything that gets tossed that shouldn’t be in there. (Eventually they’ve got to believe me on the cereal liners, right?)

Cons: I feel like we’re backsliding.

Abby says that’s stupid because it’s not like suddenly more trash is going to appear in the house just because there’s a can under the kitchen sink now. I know she’s right, but it feels a little … well, like a failure. I know we’ve done so much on the zero waste front — I mean, where we are right now and where we were this time last year, it’s amazing how far we’ve come — but I kind of wish we could be one of those “trash fits into a quart jar” kinds of families RIGHT NOW.

We’re just not going to be, at least not at this point. We will definitely keep working towards lowering our waste after the project is over, so maybe someday we will.

Waste so far this week: Cheese wrapper, band thing that goes around lettuce, and what appears to be part of a granola bar wrapper. (Um, Johanna?) The big plastic bag is what Eric has lined the bin with. I’m not even sure where he got it — I thought we were out.

How far can you go on the zero waste front in a small town and with a family? Pretty far, it turns out. But not to zero.

I’m trying to be good with that.

Next up: Bag ban in action, a boil water emergency and whatever occurs to me over the weekend. 😉

11 Responses to Re-evaluating the kitchen trash can

  1. I understand that backsliding feeling. I recently started buying cheese in a wrapper again, because getting it from the deli counter was becoming too expensive, and any local dairy source cost about 5x the price. I had been so happy about eliminating that cheese plastic, and was disappointed to go back to it.

    It’s a topic that I feel is underrepresented in zero waste discussions: how to navigate non-perfect decisions, with a wider perspective. And also: how important are these small things, really?

    I recently read How Bad are Bananas, which is about carbon footprints of different things, and it reminded me to keep a sense of scale. If you’ve reduced your trash by 80%, and getting to actual 0 would take the same effort all over again (or likely be impossible in the end) for what is really only 20% of the battle, is that really worth that effort? Or are there more important environmental projects, overall, that are a better use of that same effort? Sometimes I think the push to total zero waste, for me, is a kind of perfectionism, rather than a sensible decision. It can become more about feeling proud of myself, than about doing what’s actually good or makes sense. Maybe I’m off base here…just something I’ve been pondering.

    • I agree, that is an underrepresented topic — because if something isn’t sustainable (too hard, too expensive, too whatever), then keeping it up is probably not going to happen.

      OH MY GOSH, lightbulb moment! Zero IS about perfectionism, not sustainability! Getting to 80 percent is amazing, so why are we beating ourselves up?! You are wise. I’m going to be pondering this now too. Thank you!

  2. What is the yellow wrapper? From the picture, it looks like something that could be recycled with plastic bags.

    • It’s the cheese wrapper. Out of curiosity, because I just assumed it was trash, I just did a search to see if they are recyclable … and they are not. It would be amazing to have a package free cheese source!

  3. I understand the backsliding feeling, but I honestly don’t think it’s as bad as you think it is. Your household has just grown by 50%, and every member, human or not, produces some degree of additional waste, so I actually think you are doing really well to be keeping your trash waste at the same level. Rather than beating yourself up over an extra bin which holds the same amount, I think you should be focussing on all the progress you have made in the last almost-11 months, not just in your own household but also in inspiring others, like me.

    I found this blog when it was still written by the original writer (whose name I don’t remember – sorry!). When I first read that the subject of this year was zero waste, I really wasn’t very keen on the idea (I had recently read a very famous zero waste blog and hated it with a passion), but I have ended up loving this incarnation more than any of the others, and it has inspired me to keep trying to decrease the waste that we generate in our household of two adults, 4 cats and lots of visitors. I generally find the tone of zero waste articles either very condescending or so perfect that I can’t possibly imagine getting to that point, which is very demotivating. You are the first person writing about zero waste who I feel I can relate to, despite our different locations and life circumstances, because you are honest about the ups and downs of the process, and you don’t have all day every day to spend pursuing this goal. I know I don’t comment often and when I do, I tend to gush, but in this instance I think you are being too hard on yourself. I just don’t see a year’s worth of trash in a pinterest-worthy mason jar being something that most people can or want to achieve, but the progress you have made over the time you have been writing about this project is huge, and very inspiring!

    • Oh, Karen, thank you — this was another lightbulb comment for me. I’m comparing our progress to what I see on other blogs and other boards, and that’s unnecessary. Again, it’s the sustainability question — if it’s too hard or too intimidating, who’s gonna even want to try?

      I appreciate the gushing. 🙂

  4. Like you I feel like I have a bit of environmental guilt over what goes in the trash, always wondering if I could do better and if so how.

    I know you keep things simple/minimalist in your buying so perhaps you don’t have as much guilt as I do over electronics.

    Perhaps it’s just my perception, but the electronic items especially seem to not last very long these days. And I am increasingly frustrated by the lack of thought the manufacturers and government have put into the full life cycle of these products.

    I think as a society we are doing well with computers, cell phones, TVs, and other computer type gadgets (ipads, ipods, tablets, cd’s/dvds, etc.). And clothing/shoe recycle containers seem to be quite prevalent these days too. Even large appliances seem to have places to recycle them such as washer/dryers, refrigerators, etc. I think we are doing better at providing options for recycling or donating these items at the end of their life.

    However, over the past few years I’ve had a difficult time recycling other small appliances or tools. I’ve spent a lot of time chasing down recycling suggestions for these items and most have eventually been failures. I’ve made phone calls and gotten puzzled responses like “we didn’t know we were listed on there, this is for small businesses only” or “no idea – we don’t take that product”. And I feel like I have the guilt of “did I try hard enough” on these items. In the end I did what I could, but still – there’s that doubt. So I wonder why aren’t the resources out there for recycling these items? Is it less expensive to put them in the landfill rather than recycle them?

    Within the last few years these are the items that have failed or batteries exploded in them (humid climate) rendering them useless. In each case I have looked for ways to repair them – not financially feasible usually (or youtube didn’t have the answer!) or tried to find where to recycle them responsibly but have not been successful. Occasionally I will put the items on the curb during heavy trash pickup in an obvious place and someone roaming the neighborhood will collect these items before the trash pickup. I just hope they’re being recycled or fixed in some way not going to a hoarders pile.

    *electric kettle (fixed it a few times before it finally gave out)
    *emergency battery fan
    *cordless screwdriver
    *clip on reading light
    *electronic watch
    *camping/emergency lantern
    *wind up emergency radio (rusted inside)
    *slide scanner (stopped working, manufacturer no longer in business)
    *vcr (tried to fix but unsuccessful, electronic recycle wouldn’t take it)
    *Waffle maker
    *toaster oven (Manufacturer replaced, but only wanted the cord back to prove I had the item – so a broken & then cordless toaster oven was the result)
    *iron (electronic recycle refused to take it)
    *outdoor solar lights (path lights and spot light both gave out with in a year)
    *non-stick fry pan (you know that non-stick wears off & you wonder – is this still safe?)
    *regular batteries (researched locally just says put them in the trash!)

    It’s all weighing on me, but I know that I tried my best in each case given my local recycle options & budget. I guess I’m still hoping for the magical place that will take all my worn out electronic junk so I can feel less guilty. And of course going forward I’m buying less items so I don’t create so much electronic trash.

    • Hi Mary, I too have a scratched non-stick frying pan which I keep hanging onto! Don’t know what to do with it.

      On the topic of these hard-to-recycle items, I recently read a book about the scrap industry that might be interesting (if you like to read): it’s called Junkyard Planet, by Adam Minter. Basically, what we think of as recycling for a lot of these items is actually a profit-making business, because there isn’t funding to deal with them if it doesn’t make a profit. It’s an interesting read and sheds light on the behind-the-scenes of recycling metal and electronics in particular.

      • Thanks Jennifer! I will look for that book at the library. With the time change here I thought of another one to add to my list for the last few years – a broken clock that we tried to fix but couldn’t. I do admit that I donated that with a note explaining the issue hoping someone might buy it for parts or that they might be able to fix it! I’m sure donations centers get a lot of items like that, with hopes that it doesn’t go to the trash. I donated a sewing machine a few years ago, and they asked me to put a note on it detailing if it was working or what was wrong with it.

        Maybe something like an electronic “deposit” system could be developed similar to drink can deposits in some states. That way we would return electronics when they’re done with their life & we get a deposit back and at that scale the deposits would help pay for their recycling. So while the items are in use the government entity has the deposit earning interest or paying for the infrastructure for safely disposing of similar items. Or another idea is that each company selling products pays into a life cycle fund where they pay towards recycling centers for their products, that way the price reflects the true cost of the product life cycle but we have flexibility in where we go to return the item at the end of its life. Thinking though…. maybe the deposit might have more incentive for owners to drop the items off at the recycle center or similar to aluminum cans, people would collect these to drop off to get back a deposit. An incentive system to keep them out of the trash!

    • It seems like nothing these days is made to last — I have my own theories on that (consumerism is king, etc.), but whatever the reason, it’s sad. And I know how hard it can be to try to get rid of something in a positive way. We’re actually looking into donating an old computer CPU and a couple of monitors to Abby’s school tech class — mostly just to see if they can use them for parts for other projects. And I’ve noticed Repair Cafes popping up here and there in our area, the idea being you take your broken whatever and see if there’s a volunteer willing to take that project on. But both of those aren’t necessarily great options.

      It sounds like you’re doing your very best to get rid of things responsibly — that’s all we can do. I appreciate this comment so much, by the way. It’s hard to keep going when it just seems impossible. My hat is off to you!

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