I'd Rather Dry My Hands On My Pants
2016 seems like so long ago, almost like a dream. I ask myself; 'Self, dId all of that really happen?' My reply; 'Oh yes, it really did happen. You better get ready for 2017 fool!'
Indeed all of that did happen, and 2017 is upon us. But before I get into all sorts of trouble with this new year, let's go back a bit. Back to the beginning of 2016… (cue dream sequence)
At the beginning of last year, I gathered up all my trash in my apartment to see what I had accumulated over the course of 2015. While I knew roughly what I had (since I hadn't taken a bag out yet) it was still a delight to see the changes I made in my life become a full blown reality. Over the course of one year, I had produced just shy of one full bag of trash from my apartment. (This did not include what I threw away at my day jobs, or at random other places…more on that in a bit).
This might be my greatest accomplishment in my life thus far. Going from having very little awareness of what I threw away, used, and purchased, to reducing my waste stream to about one bag, in a bit over two years with simple changes -and still living in a full blown over consuming commercialized society- is hard to beat as a life accomplishment. Its everyday real world effects are right there for me to explore.
After I knew that I could accomplish this feet consistently without much thought and effort -as it had become my new norm- my next question was; how much trash do I produce outside of my apartment? This is what i planned to do in 2016.
Since all I had to go on at the beginning of 2016 was a vague guess of what I thought I threw away outside my apartment, I chose to observe everything and anything I threw away. And either keep it (to put in my home trash) or make a note of it. Which wasn't out of this world, as I was doing just that up until this point, just not at this next level.
For my day job, I put a small post-it-note onto the trash can underneath my desk that read; "please do not toss this trash". Sadly, the trash got tossed that very evening. With almost nothing in it mind you. Why do cleaners toss trash bags with nothing in it?! It is an incredible waste of time, money, and resources. (This is a whole other subject for another time!)
After the post-it-note failed, I put another post-it-note on it. Only this time I put a cardboard box lid on top of the trash can, with the note clearly visible. Feeling that this would surely be a sign that I do not want my trash to be tossed out, I moved on with my work. A couple days went by, and I checked my can/tossed something away, and what do I see? A brand new bag, just for me! No more note, and the box lid nicely placed back on top of the can.
At this point I'm sure I had obscenities flying through my thoughts. Something along the lines of; 'WTF?! Did you note see my note??'
After a couple minutes, the initial shock and frustration dissipated, and I thought about what had happened. Perhaps my note was too small? I did put it in all caps and in red sharpie, which looked super clear to me (i think it was red, I can't honestly recall this detail). Thus, what do I do now?
Make the note bigger, as in full page big! With big letters saying; 'DO NOT EMPTY THIS CAN!!.' And once the note was on there -almost as tall as the small waste can itself- I pushed it as far back under my desk into the darkness as possible. And put the cardboard box lid back on top of it.
This time, it worked! The bag was never tossed or touched for the rest of the year by anyone but me as of this writing. One small victory at a time! (For reference, I couldn't ask the cleaning people directly, as they came at night, when nobody from my department was on the clock. The note was the only path I saw.)
Getting back to the main focus of this writing… the one small bag of trash at my work was full to the brim after 2016. However, this doesn't include about half of the paper towels I used to dry my hands of with. These ended up in the bathroom trash. Sometimes I remembered to keep them for my own trash, but it wasn't constantly. Personally, I'd dry my hands on my pants. Save the company some money, and reduce waste! However, it's unprofessional and frowned upon to walk around with water marks the shape of your hands right below your knees. But you can have as many free cups of individually brewed coffee using the the wonderful 'K-Cups' as you can handle!! (Sigh…)
Now, figuring in all of the bathroom paper towels (how much space they took up) plus all of the other items (roughly, as I might have missed one or two) that I used over the year outside of my home and that I didn't take back to my apartment for whatever reason, I've come up with one (estimated) tall bag of kitchen trash for everything outside my home and work for 2016.
As for my apartment, I accumulated just a bit less trash than the previous year; a bit over a half bag in my kitchen, and a bit over a quarter bag in my bathroom.
Thus for 2016, my overall bag total, including the estimate outside bag, is about 2.75 bags of trash. That's more than 2015, however, this past year was vastly more detailed and thorough. And I've made more progress in monitoring my waste reduction, and consumption of goods through this process.
Now, if you are still with me, how did I do it? What was in my trash?
First, How did I do this?
It didn't Happen over night. My progress up until this point has been steady, but aggressive. My goal is to fully eliminate my waste, which isn't going to happen for reasons out of my control unfortunately. Mostly it's medication that will not allow me to go 100% zero waste… even if I get to that point.
What i've done (and continue to do) is systematically go through everything I purchase, use, consume, recycle, and throw away. I ask myself; 'do I really need this item?' And if I do, I then investigate how I can get it without packaging. And if it does come in a package, is the package compostable or recyclable? I then inquire where the item is grown/made, how far it had to travel, and if it can be gotten locally. These are basics of what I go through when I purchase anything. And I mean anything.
As a result I rarely, if ever, purchase meat. Meat is typically wrapped/packaged in non-recyclable or compostable materials. The cost of processing meat, to non-meat alternatives is not even close. Meat, in every way, is much more expensive and polluting. Plus, the vast amounts of land and crops needed to raise live stock for consumption is absurd compared to simply growing crops for food. (About 25% of available land on earth is used for livestock. And about 33% of crops grown on this planet, are used to feed that livestock.)
A third of the worlds agricultural land (this includes forests/rain forests turned into farmland) is used for crops that are grown to feed the livestock that we eat. From every angle I can think of besides; "man, that tastes good", there isn't any reason humans have to eat as much meat (especially cow/beef) as we currently do.
Now, I don't consider myself a vegan, nor a vegetarian, nor a carnivore. If you want to label me, call me a vegan leaning omnivore. If I decide to eat meat (because it can be delicious!) I go out to dinner. And I almost always eat chicken. Why? Because raising chickens takes up far less room than a cow or other form of livestock. Plus the the amount of waste and pollution raising a chicken produces, doesn't even come close to a cow, goat, or other animal. But in general, I avoid meat. And while at home, all of my cooking is done without meat. (For the record, I still eat eggs, cheese, and drink milk. So, a cow is still in my diet. Cheese will be the last to go, in regards to what comes from the cow. Cheese is so good!!)
Items I use instead of meat are; beans, lentils, and rice. There are other forms of protein out there that are non-meat, but theses are my staples. And I purchase all of these in bulk. Not bulk as in a big box store, bulk as in 'bring your own container, use this spoon, fill your container up with as much as you'd like' bulk. As a result, I reduce my waste by not purchasing this item in provided packaging, and I can purchase in any quantity I'd like. And for less than what is costs to purchase it in a prepackaged container, that just gets tossed anyways, it just makes sense on all levels.
Some other things I purchase that I've replaced from previous methods;
• bar soap; Instead of individually boxed/wrapped bars, I purchase bars made from vegetables, with a single tiny barcode sticker (that I trash) on each bar of soap. No packaging.
• laundry detergent; I purchase a plastic jug that, once empty, can be sent back to the company at no charge, for them to clean, fill, and resell. Instead of tossing or recycling the plastic.
• coffee; I don't drink it. H20 all the way!
• dish cloth; I use a sustainably made, biodegradable, compostable cloth that I will eventually -once completely destroyed- compost.
• all baked goods; I purchase directly from local bakers, and use my own containers. Therefore, no wasteful packaging to toss away, and the items are better than anything store bought.
These are just a select few items I've pulled out of my life to give you an example of what I do. If you have something you use, and would like to see what I have done about such an item, please, don't hesitate to contact me! I'm more than happy to share my experiences, trials, and failures! And boy, have I failed!
Now, the second part; What is in the 2.75 bags of trash?
Even though I aim to reduce my waste to zero, I'm still producing trash. Here is most of what I've thrown away this year (there are things I'm sure I'm forgetting, that aren't on here):
• Dust and dirt from the floors of my apartment/studio
• Grease laden paper from the bottoms of pizza boxes and a take out container
• Portions of grease laden cardboard from pizza boxes, used to compress the trash down, and provide a barrier to smells (if need be)
• Deli paper from sandwiches that have been contaminated, and are no longer recyclable/compostable
• Tiny shards of thread (sewing discards)
• Dried glue shavings; silicone, construction adhesive, and wood glue
• Used tape
• Recycled (post consumer) toilet paper
• Cotton/Q-tips (although these are now compostable)
• Laminated paper
• Used eye wipes
• Paper towels
• A dead bug or two
As I don't purchase plastic unless absolutely necessary, you won't find plastic in either my trash, or my recycling. If I purchase plastic, It either gets reused somehow as a container, or it gets put in with my art supplies for future work.
Plastic is a worldwide toxin. It never truly disappears, and all of it will out last the very last human alive on this planet. Plastic breaks down slowly into smaller, and smaller pieces over very long periods of time without ever actually being absorbed back into the environment organically as a uncoated paper product would. Plastic is a marvelous yet disastrous creation.
And in regards to recycling; typically I recycle my beer box full of paper, my milk create for glass and aluminum, and my plastic bag of…plastic bags and wrap, twice a year.
That brings us up to speed, for the most part, of how I do what I do. As I am an artist, there are a few things that I use during a year; glue tubes, a wrapper here and there, eye drop bottles, eye pad wipe wrappers, plastic lids, plastic seals, and broken stuff, that if I died, there would probably be another 2 bags of what some would call "trash" in my studio that would get tossed out or recycled. But for now, they reside in my studio as material.
As what i've mentioned here is just a taste of how I reduce my waste, feel free to contact me with any questions or comments in regards to what I've written about!
And if you want to start rethinking your own life, start small!! If you take too much in at one time, you could get overwhelmed and stop the whole process. One step at a time! And if you'd like, one QUICK step ad a time!
Rethink. Reduce. Reuse. Repair. Recycle.