1 Year, 8 Months = 1 Bag of Trash!
One year, eight months, one week, and two days. That’s how long It’s taken me (and only me) to toss out one bag of trash from my home. It’s a long time, and I’m very excited to have accomplished this feat. And it might seem as though going this long without tossing away a single bag of trash is impossible for you, but I’m here to say it is not. While it’s not easy (nothing worth doing is easy), with individual small progressive adjustments/steps, it is simple. Let’s dive in!
While my online persona with which you most likely have discovered me through, states that I’m a ‘Reuse Artist’, that’s but a small part of who I am. My ultimate life goal, and what drives my day to day, is to live and advocate for a sustainable life -this mean reducing my usage and waste- and aim to get as close as I can to a zero footprint life (this includes zero waste) as possible. For me, and a majority of people on this planet currently -especially ones who have medical conditions- living a zero footprint/waste life, is almost impossible. But one can come very close.
I do not refer to how i live as a lifestyle choice. Nor do I do this as a fad, a fashionable trend, or because it’s hip (I’m not hip at all!). What i do, is not a matter of choice for me, nor a lifestyle, but a matter of responsibility to my future, the future of humanity, and the world we live in. It’s a way of life. It’s basic common sense, and logic, to observe ones surroundings and witness the slow destruction across the board through consumerism, and out of control grotesque overconsumption and ignorance. Then realize you have a responsibility to act in any way you can to stop, educate yourself…then others, and perhaps reverse such actions.
My aim is to live on a level where anyone could take what I do and incorporate it into their lives. No matter their situation. And to share my experience and knowledge with anyone who is interested. The goal is not to spend more to reduce ones waste, but to spend less, use less, save time, eat healthier, and live a happier life. Depending on where you live and what you have access to, it could be more of a challenge to reduce ones waste to this extent. But it is 100% possible to reduce ones waste from wherever you live to a certain extent, from the amount you produce now, by making one small change after another.
Before I jump into “what’s in/not in my trash can”, let me explain a few things;
1. As I use trashed items in my art, if I tossed or recycled these items instead of saving them, I wouldn’t be able to go this long…at least right now. Therefore, if I was not creating art, perhaps between one year and three months to one year and 6 months would be a closer time frame to what I toss away without saving any trash.
2. In 2016 i had one full bag of trash at my day gig. This was due to a massive amount of bathroom paper towels i used. Since the beginning of 2017 I have air dried my hands by waving them back and forth, then dusting them off on my jeans. As a result, I have perhaps 12 pieces of small trash items in my can at my day gig after 8+ months. These items will eventually make their way into to my apartment trash to keep a better count of what I toss.
3. The items I’ve had to use when not at home (when I’m out and about) which are typically tossed, I’ve held onto and tossed into my trash at home to track all of my waste as much as possible, or saved them for a future piece of art. About 5% -a few pieces- of these items did not make the venture to my home for one reason or another. But I aim to track each piece of trash I produce.
With that in mind, “what is in my trashcan?” Here is a list, but not a complete list as it’s been a long time, of what’ve I tossed away in this time frame. I’ve added notes next to any item that I have diverted elsewhere since my last can of trash was tossed at the end of 2015:
- grease lined paper
- cupcake wrappers (if possible, I compost these if I eat one)
- organic, and nonorganic dust from the floor of my home
- band aides
- bloody tissues
- chemically laden tissues or paper
- head, face, and body hair (this now gets tossed out to the wind, the yard, and compost, as it will decompose naturally [don’t do this if you dye your hair, as most hair dye is toxic])
- nail clippings (this is now tossed into the compost)
- a greasy fry container or two
- tissue/waxpaper from baked goods
- greasy cardboard (grease is only compostable in a high heat commercial composter, thus I’ve burnt all the greasy cardboard I had and will make a ‘black paint’ in the future for my art, but you could use this in a fire as well instead of tossing it…props to you if you know of a commercial composter!)
- newsprint (just a couple sheets to push down the trash, anything else gets recycled)
- small amount of organic food product (all food products I use, get composted now - I’m a vegan leaning omnivore, and I rarely cook meat at my home, so it’s pretty easy compost)
- tape (i started to save all used tape to be used in a future project. this would all get tossed if I wasn’t creating art..I plan to switch to compostable tape once everything I have now is used up)
- food labels (same as above, plus I avoid food with labels if at all possible - farmers markets!!)
- other adhesive labels (same as above)
- receipts (i say “no” whenever I am asked if i want a paper receipt, or I get it sent to my email. Still have a lot of receipts being tossed as they are not recyclable due to the paper used)
- a paper towel, napkin or two (I haven’t bought paper towels in almost 8 years, and I’ve never bought napkins. I use reusable, washable hand towels. Napkins sometimes end up in my apartment from a meal out, but most can be composted)
- a piece of plastic, plastic wrap or two (I avoid plastic at all costs, reuse what I must purchase/use, use the unusable in my art, and recycle the tiny amount i can’t reuse)
- a bug or two
- a contaminated pastry bag or two (when purchasing pastries and baked goods, i use my own container)
- sandwich paper wrapping
Here is a sample list of items that you might ask “Well, where is this? Why is this not in your trash?”:
- Meat packaging and products: I don’t cook meat at home, and I typically only eat meat a couple times a month when I’m out (I consider myself a vegan leaning omnivore). And it’s typically chicken. Quality meat is expensive. Meat farming is incredibly harmful to the air, land, water, and it’s contributing to the destruction of the amazon, not to mention the brutal and cruel treatment of the animals themselves. Meat packaging is toxic to the environment and does not compost as it’s mostly plastic and styrofoam. Fresh meat goes bad quickly if not properly stored. For protein, I eat lentils, rice, and beans, as the main sources.
- Any food packaging: I purchase all of my food in bulk using my own containers. Any containers i purchase, I reuse, or recycle. Thus I have no food packing to toss or recycle. Packaging is totally unnecessary. Almost every food product out there could be bought in the exact amount you want, with your own container. The more people seek these avenues out, the more options that will pop up.
- food wrapping such as chip bags, cookie bags, individually wrapped items, etc: I don’t purchase any of those, as all of my food is purchased in bulk.
- take out containers: while I might have one or two paper/wax fry trays in there, I always have a “to-go” container with me in my vehicle to take into restaurants, business, and any place where I might eat outside my home. I don’t eat fast food, nor do I get food delivered to my home. If I happen to come across a styrofoam to-go container, I save it, and will turn it into art. But this amounts to possibly 2 or three per year. If that. Note: my to-go container is 2 aluminium pie pans, binder clipped together, with a set of silverware inside.
- toothpaste brushes and tubes: I’ve saved these for a project. Currently I’m using (experimenting with) baking soda as a tooth powder, and plan to switch to a bamboo/wooden brush in the next cycle. If I wasn’t an artist, these items could be in the trash.
- the box/wrapping hand soap comes in: I buy my soap naked, or with a tiny barcode on it, which I then save. If I wasn’t an artist, these barcodes would get tossed. if they started to make them from plant fibers (which they can, as labels and adhesives from plants are available), I’d compost them. My bar soap is also vegetable based.
- clean cardboard boxes and containers: all recycled
- envelopes, letters, and junk mail: i get perhaps 3 pieces of mail a week. And rarely get junk mail as I’ve individually stopped each company by calling them and asking to be removed from their lists. I recycle the paper, and keep any plastics for my work.
- cleaning products: Water, vinegar, and baking soda, are the only items I use to clean everything in my home. They work great. The only drawbacks; gotta watch what you put the soda on as it can scratch, and the vinegar comes in a plastic jug. The plastic jug I reuse (keep an eye out on my youtube channel as I’ll have a video up about reusing this as a funnel), or recycle. I’d rather not buy the plastic vinegar jug, but I have yet to find a place where I can buy vinegar in bulk.
- dryer sheets: I do not use dryer sheet as the are toxic. Instead, I’ve replaced them, along with fabric softener, with 100% wool dryer balls. Which last for 1,000s of cycles, and are compostable when exhausted.
On top of all of the trash that I have, I still have recycling. My recycling is a milk crate which gets emptied once every 4 months or so. The items are all metal or glass, except for one or two pieces of plastic a year.
Some simple things you can start doing right now to reduce your consumption and waste:
- If you drink coffee, ALWAYS use your own cup. Coffee cups and lids are not disposable or compostable, and are a major worldwide cause of landfill.
- NEVER purchase a plastic water bottle. ALWAYS carry with you your own water bottle. Plastic bottles are EVERYWHERE. By using your own container, you’ve made a huge step forward.
- If you tend to eat out, keep a non-plastic to-go container with you in your vehicle, or bag. I say non-plastic, because if you leave this in your vehicle on a very hot, or very cold day, the chemical properties will change, and could/will contaminate the food you put in it. I have two pie pans, with silverware inside, binder clipped together, siting in my vehicle almost all of the time.
- Along with your to-go container, keep inside it a set of silverware. While 100% compostable silverware does exist, typical plastic silverware IS NOT DISPOSABLE. No matter what anyone tells you. Plastic will be here long past your life, for 10s of thousands of years.
- Refuse a straw whenever you are given a drink. Simply say something to the nature of: ‘water with lemon, no straw please’. Sometimes, as this is not typical, they will forget. But ALWAYS, especially if they don’t bring you a straw, say thank you. Note: if you use straws at home, there are multiple options available such as glass and metal. However, my pick for a straw is bamboo. Bamboo straws are 100% natural, take little to no manufacturing, are fast to regrow, and are compostable.
- Refuse as much plastic items as you can. While plastic might be the the greatest invention for it’s usage possibilities, it’s also the worst as it’s toxic, isn’t natural, and takes 10s of thousands of years to degrade.
- Get familiar with what you can recycle in your area, as not all places are the same. Note: the triangle on the bottom of an object DOES NOT mean it’s recyclable. That is purely to signify what type of material it is.
- Get familiar with donation centers for such things as cloths, furniture, electronics, and almost all household items.
- Get familiar with local reuse, reclaimed, and salvage stores in your area. They take a lot of the items people typically toss out.
It is virtually (but not totally) impossible to live on planet earth, in a typical society, and be ZERO waste, or have a ZERO footprint. But you can live the same life, if not better, by taking small steps, to reduce your waste and consumption to a drastic extent. It took me almost 5 years to get to where I’m at with my consumption and waste levels. Two years with small steps, and research, one year of really pushing hard, and from there simply adding to the knowledge that is now second nature, one step at a time.
Reducing ones consumption, thereby reducing ones waste, is not a difficult task, although it can be challenging given your situation. What you must learn to do, which in the beginning you might need to force yourself to do, is observe everything you buy, use, and discard and ask yourself a few questions such as; do i need this? can i get this in less packaging, without packaging, or with compostable/recyclable packaging? Can I use my own container? Can I replace this with a healthier, more sensible to life, choice? These questions and more will guide you through reducing your waste, and making changes in your life that will save you money, reduce your consumption, reduce your waste, and lead you on a path of healthy actions and choices. Al with the aim of making your life, and the lives of those around you, better.
A related word of caution: while i’m for making a living off of something that is positive, beware of individuals and companies who champion a ‘lifestyle brand’ that capitalizes on ‘hipster’ or ‘elitist’ vibe marketing tactics in waste and footprint reduction, that over price their items. This is not the correct method in getting to the people who need to be reached in order for the world to change. No. Minimization and reduction of usage and waste needs to happen on a common level, in small towns, backyards, side bars, in schools, on neighborhood blocks, in big cities, in food marts, and truck stops. The change needs to be relatable, and needs to happen almost everywhere. Turning a responsibility into something hip, fashionable, this weeks fad, and expensive, is never going to work. Reducing ones waste, and consumption, is only expensive if companies choose to make it so. Beware of the ‘lifestyle brand’.
As this writing doesn’t fully cover my journey, what i’ve removed form my life, reduced, or reuse -it just tip toes on it- i urge you to reach out with any questions you might have. Or check out my website and social media as I have info and tips posted that might help you. And while I don’t claim to know everything, as I learn and fail everyday, I do have experience to which I am 100% open to sharing in an attempt to help you in any way that I can. Life is better if everyone succeeds!
Rethink. Reduce. Reuse. Repair. Recycle.