I get the same sinking feeling every year. My family members unwrap their holiday presents and we stuff the paper and packaging into large garbage bags. The only wrapping items saved are the ribbons and bows-- which we don atop the dog's head, though this begrieves him as greatly as the trash does me. This year, I informed John that we will wrap everyone's presents in reusable shopping bags next year. I'm sure this will go over well with my mom, who still refuses to recycle, despite over twenty years of her daughter's pestering.
Entering 2010, I am feeling overwhelmed by waste. Certainly it is not just the wrapping paper and holiday excesses. There's the everyday items like the mail-- the catalogs and coupons and restaurant delivery menus which arrive daily. There's the food waste-- things we never got around to eating which expired. There's the clothes in the closet which look like they belong to a shockingly floral and ruffly teenage version of myself.
With all these things in mind, it is our family's resolution to waste less.
Here are some of the steps we are taking.
1. Eliminate direct mail
I often feel as if the mail is my worst enemy at the home front. My kitchen table piles up with catalogs from companies I have never ordered from, nor am interested in. Despite the fact that I never asked to receive this mail, I then feel guilty throwing it into the recycling bin. It's waste, pure and simple-- and though recycling may be better than trash, unnecessary waste is unnecessary waste.
A year ago, I used a service which would contact the catalogs you no longer wished to receive. This did not work-- the vendors simply would not respond to the service's request. So this year, I am trying a new service which works a little differently. They put your name on different lists requesting no mailings: credit card offers, catalogs, and other mailings. In addition, you can track your mail and keep records of the mailings you receive. Then, you go into a directory which links you to each catalogs mail preferences online. I am finding that I have to contact each catalog directly with my customer number in order to get validation that I have been removed from the list.
Here's how you can minimize your junk mail:
- DMAchoice: This Mail Preference Service offered by the Direct Marketing Association can help you to select which catalogs you would like to receive, or not receive. Or, you can completely opt out of various types of mail, including credit card offers, catalogs, magazine offers, and other types of mail.
- When you receive an unwanted catalog in the mail, visit their website and look for "mailing preferences." Opt out, or email customer service with the subject line: please remove me from your direct mailing list. Provide them with your full name, mailing address, and customer number (usually on the back of the catalog).
2. Eliminate Food Waste: Make Cooking a Family Activity
I teeter-totter between extreme enthusiasm for all things food, and exhaustion from spending so much time living, breathing, and eating food. There are days when I come home from work-- which for me is a day spent cooking-- and I just want to sit down at a restaurant and have someone else feed me.
This can be a dangerous combination because that enthusiasm for food often makes me buy overbuy perishable items at the store and farmers market. Then, when I decide I don't have the energy to cook, we end up spending $20-$30 on a restaurant meal while the food in our fridge expires.
Recently, it occurred to me that I was only one of three adult household members. Instead of fretting each evening over my responsibility to cook dinner, I walked in the house and demanded that John and DJ each put on an apron and get to work helping me. This has been revolutionary. We are using up our food, and we are all taking responsibility for feeding ourselves. Of course, we're saving money too. And though the guys probably wouldn't admit it, they have fun wearing those aprons.
3. Eliminating Food Waste: Composting
Our compost pile, covered by winter-time snow
One thing we planned to do when we bought our new home was to compost. We were fortunate that the previous owners had already made a three-part compost system in our backyard. All we had to do was continue the process.
We don't have a very advanced technique. Basically, we have a big container in our kitchen where we throw all our fruit and vegetable scraps and coffee grinds. Sometimes I throw paper scraps in, too. Then, we transfer this outside to our three-way bin. The left-side bin is the materials which are just beginning to break down. We cover our kitchen scraps with grass clippings in the summer, leaves in the fall, or newspaper scraps if yard clippings are unavailable. This helps the vegetable matter break down better, and also deters animals and rodents from getting into the bin. Every week, we turn the compost. When it looks like it is breaking down, we move it to the center bin where it continues to get turned. Finally, when the center bin is ready, it gets moved to the far right bin. It's a good ongoing cyclical system. Our Executive Compost Turner (John) reports that he could feel the heat coming off of the pile even amidst this frigidly cold weather.
Given the amount of home cooking we do, we fill up our under-the-sink bin at least twice a week. Over the course of a year, that would amount to around 25 bags of trash. Instead, we are putting it to use in our yard-- and our future vegetable garden.
- For more detailed information on composting, check out this helpful website: Composting. You can also become a fan of composting on Facebook.
4. Plan a Home Garden
John and I cannot wait to break ground on our first garden this spring, though we've decided to start small so that we can learn from our mistakes and grow the garden intelligently. It's exciting to think we'll be able to feed ourselves, reduce the amount of miles our food travels, spend more time outside (though I may later curse the weeds), and save money on our grocery bills.
As we begin planning, we'll keep you updated. In the meantime, here is some good inspiration:
5. Recycle Unwanted Items
Getting back to that closet full of clothes fit for a 16 year old, we're working on cleaning out the things we no longer need, but which somebody else may love.
I'm always a bit conflicted on donations, because it can feel demeaning to donate things that are overly worn or have become unfit to wear. I always think back to my experience as a college student working at homeless center. I had to put together some donated items for a woman who had just checked in to the center. The items included personal things-- like underwear. The only ones available in her size had been used, and were stained. I felt terrible and apologetic as I handed them over to her.
With that said, maybe I can come to terms with some things just needing to be trashed.
For your thoughtfully donated items:
- Check out The Charity Guide's page on ways to donate used clothing.
- Consider donating unwanted food pantry items to your local food bank. For those of us in the DC Area, check out The Capital Area Food Bank.
Have other ideas on how we can be less wasteful? Our household would love your input.