Friday, March 18, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 12: Waste Disposal

What's been funny for me (in an ironic funny way, not a "LOL" funny way) during the process of writing and having published my book is the watching of real-life events unfold.

This winter was hard, for whatever reason, and in a lot of ways, it seemed harder than in years' past. I don't know why, either. There wasn't, really, a great deal more snow this year, but it just seemed more inconveniencing than usual, and it wasn't even colder than usual. It also started later, and I'm pretty sure that I was still harvesting things like kale from my garden in late November/early December. It just seems like it was longer, which is ridiculous, because here we are in March, we're tapping the maples (as it should be - because this time, last year, the tapping was already done), and the snow is receding, and everything seems to be on a normal schedule. Still, the winter seemed very harsh, and very long, and very cold, and very snowy. Perhaps it was just me.

But the winter wasn't tough for just me. There were other people in other parts of the country who had problems this winter. In particular, the people in New York City, when they got hammered with a couple of back-to-back snowstorms and the piles of snow got in the way of the piles of garbage, neither of which could be moved.

Garbage disposal, heck, waste disposal, in general, is a real problem in this country. Everyone is in a quandry of what to do with it (see my last post about some particularly nasty waste we don't know how to dispose of - and I reckon it's a good thing God Blessed Texas, because they're going to need all the blessings they can get).

Most of us don't think about what happens to our garbage once the garbage trucks take it away, but we should. In fact, we should be thinking about it before it ends up in the garbage bags, because what we're doing right now is not sustainable. In many places, we're running out of room for trash. In fact, there have even been land disputes between states on the issue of garbage disposal, when one state that has too much tries to send it to another state for storage, and other countries are getting into the act now, too with European countries sending their trash abroad and Canada sending their refuse south.

Obviously, what we're doing, as a country (and a world), with regard to waste disposal, isn't working. I was looking up some information for this piece on waste disposal in Maine, and I found that Maine has some pretty incredible programs. In particular, I liked the moving toward zero waste workshop they offered, because I believe that zero waste is the best option.

And the first step is to begin to make conscious choices when it comes to waste disposal - like this guy, who wanted to see how much garbage one person generated in a years' time by keeping all of it. His was a fascinating experiment, and while I won't tell anyone that they should model it, I would encourage everyone to spend some reading about his project, and then, take it that one step further at the grocery store, or at any store for that matter, and ask the question, "When I'm finished with the yogurt, what happens to the single serve cup?"

The next step would be to imagine if the garbage trucks didn't come for a week, two ... sixteen? What would happen to the increasing pile of (more likely than not) stinking heap of garbage on the curb? *Some of my readers may be like some of my neighbors who don't have curbside trash pick-up, and for those, I would ask, what if the transfer station stayed closed? What would happen to the bags piling up in the garage?

The first of the three R's is "reduce", then "reuse", and then, "recycle." If we start to look at those three R's as a guide when we're making choices at the grocery store, then it becomes easy to see the wisdom in the order, and the question of what to do with the garbage becomes easier to answer ... because there's less of it.

So, if I had to give advice on how to deal with garbage it would be:

  • Limit the amount of trash that comes into the house.

  • If it can be reused instead of tossed, then reuse it.

  • If there are no reusable choices in the packaging, pick the one that can be recycled.

  • If it can be composted, it should be - no exceptions.

With that in mind, I have a great book to offer today. Sewage Solutions addresses ways to handle sewage other than the typical "treat and release" method we currently use. As usual, if you would like your name entered into a random drawing for the book, please leave a comment.


The winner of one of Deus Ex Machina's homemade olive oil lamp/candles is Mrs. D. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and the address to which you would like your lamp mailed. Comments are moderated, and I will not publish your personal information.


  1. I think it is England where they have a little meter on your garbage can and you pay by the pound for pickup. Also, Trader Joes told me that each paper bag we use cost them 12 cents....I think we would remember our re-usble bags if they started charging us...though most stores in Arizona give you 5 cent credit for each bag you re-use. Trash pick up is a great luxury which I am always grateful for since we did without it for so long since we lived outside the town limits. I would like to try for the book...

  2. Just wanted to leave a comment, don't enter me in the drawing please...

    When I was a young girl - I think 9 years old - we lived in Texas, and that summer the garbage men went on strike. I remember my stepfather saying we would have to keep the garbage in the garage because the city would fine anyone who left the garbage by the curb (something about unsightliness - which it certainly would have been).

    The garbage men were on strike for almost a full the high heat of a Texas summer. The garbage bags piled up as high as my head. Gasses inside the bags caused them to swell and then split open. Maggots were all over - to this day I can't stand the sight of maggots, it brings it all back - the smells, the sight, the nausea...

    And of course, since I was old enough for chores, guess who's job it was to re-bag everything once the garbage men were back on the job?

  3. I'm interested in your book on sewage.

    We've had sewage issues here in Darwin. See the link below. We've had poo shooting into the sea for years. 1st they said it was backpackers using the beach like a loo. Then they said it was due to the bats. Then they said it was due to disposable nappies. But locals think it's the poo dumping sewage plant. Anyway ALL our city beaches which are rich in sealife (dugongs, rays, dolphins, crocs, birds, crabs etc) were contaminated.

  4. Our waste removal provider requires garbage be put in plastic bags. Reason is 'liquid garbage' would soak thru paper and garbage would not be contained. As they use that truck with the mechanical arm I don't see the problem and we don't have anything wet in our garbage.

    Anyway - weekly we put out 1 plastic t-shirt bag of garbage mainly plastic overwrap. We also put out 2 rather full recylce bins. We have made a significant dent in the amount of packaging we bring into the house but it is getting harder. Seems like most people want everything sealed up tight against the world. Wish we could recycle plastic wrap.

    PS - not entering book drawing and husband says coffee tastes better with the Britta filter :)

  5. We are reading the book Humanure in our home and hope to build an outhouse this summer. We only use one garbage bag a week for a family of four but still think we could get it down. Any plastic that does come to our home as packaging usually finds a second or third life. This year we are using deli containers as seed pots. We reuse plastic bags that bulk items from the healthfood store come in. We take old clothing, that is too ratty looking for the thrift, and use them as rags. I save rubber bands and fasteners. Okay, I admit it I really do think about everything that comes into the house.

  6. I love hearing ideas of reusing as well. Fleecenik, we too, are using old containers to start seeds in. Old hummus containers, yogurt containers that we got from friends, you name it.

    We've managed to do one garbage bag every other week for your family of 3. It's amazing what you DON'T have to throw in the trash. It does get into a insane game you play with yourself....

    Our biggest problem is that most of what we do put in the trash is large bones, etc from our 1/4 cow, 1/2 pig, and bones from chickens (after we've made broth with them of course!). And since that makes the garbage more "concentrated", and the fact that our city has really thin garbag bags that we have to purchase, it's often a target for gulls and crows.

    Since you can't really compost them, what do other folks do with such items?

  7. That book sounds really interesting!

    It amazes me how unconcerned most people seem to be with the problem of waste disposal. We have been gradually cutting down our garbage for years, but a big part of the reason we've been trying to learn to do things for ourselves is that I think it's about the only feasible way to cut down on the garbage one produces, after a certain point. Buying yogurt in larger tubs is better than in single-serve containers, but even those tubs add up after a while. There's basically no way to purchase some of this stuff anymore without creating huge amounts of trash. I'm horrified by the amount of non-recyclable waste that comes out of my freezer...bags and wrappers and boxes the city won't recycle. Even at the farmer's market I have a hard time getting some of the vendors to not just hand me plastic bags full of stuff.

  8. Uh, who says you can't compost large bones? I do compost the bones and meat waste from my kitchen. I just make sure to cover them Very Well. Large bones might take longer, but they will eventually go.