Trash Days by Romy McGahan

My family began our journey towards zero waste about 4 years ago while we were still a family of 5. I was inspired after reading a book my mom gifted me called, “Zero Waste Home” by Bea Johnson. We dipped our toes in gradually at first, eliminating food waste completely from our trash container and composting with more dedication. This allowed our trash to stay in the house longer without emitting offensive odors from decomposing food that necessitated frequent “trash days.”

In order to reduce the amount of trash going into the bin, we focused on recycling everything we possibly could - any lids with a symbol on them, cardboard, junk mail, milk jugs, cans, and cardboard price tags. We began wetting things like paper napkins, tissue gift wrap or toilet paper cardboard rolls so we could compost them. We stopped buying paper towels and introduced old cloth diapers into the kitchen for mop-ups. Eventually, cloth napkins replaced paper napkins completely.

What little shopping we did at Costco, we slowed down even more and replaced staples such as organic sugar, peanut butter, laundry detergent, and maple syrup with the bulk versions from the Good Food Store. Now we reuse spaghetti sauce jars, yogurt and sour cream tubs, and coconut oil containers by filling them with bulk flour, dry beans, pastas and cereal. We bring our own bags or do without when we visit the produce aisle and we purchase a local farm share during the summer months for zero waste produce.

We had another baby a couple years ago, and all 4 of our children have used a technique called Infant Potty Training to reduce the need for diapers. We used mostly cloth when diapers were needed. Washable cloth wipes also cut down on potty time waste. We got a puppy too and added a composting doggy septic system in our backyard which cuts down on the need for dog poop bags.

Many of our clothes and kids’ clothes are bought secondhand from local thrift stores or yard sales as well as an online second hand stores. We bring our own bags when shopping for clothes and other necessities and gifts. We encourage our kids to clear out and rid clothes that are too small to pass down to younger siblings and make space for “new” items.We’re trying to move towards fewer gifts of “things” and more of experiences: ice cream gift cards, movie theater tickets, massage gift certificates, carousel tokens, or other gift cards.

When we eat out, we bring our own containers for leftovers and say no thanks to straws or plastic kid cups. When go on outings, we carry a backpack with a pouch full of reused plastic cutlery and straws for “to-go” food and snacks. When visiting hotels, we sometimes bring our own food and dishes and are able to reduce waste and spending along the way. We have even brought home our food scraps from travel to add to the compost pile.

Our trash’s lifespan has fluctuated in how often it needs to be taken out on “trash days.” We slowly worked our way up from weekly or biweekly to monthly, and then bimonthly! It now has settled into the range of 64 days to (our record of) 108 days, before it needs taking out.

One of the most striking realizations that hit during this journey was how potentially simple and easy reducing waste can be, but also how much privilege is involved.  We need plenty of storage for our recyclables, as well as bags and bins of empty containers waiting to be refilled with bulk items. Considerable time is required during a shopping trip to fill dozens of empty containers and organic groceries do not come cheap. Buying bulk dry goods necessitates the appropriate kitchen appliances in which to prepare them. A compost pile requires space in the yard, as well as some upkeep - or else funds are needed to pay for a compost pick-up service as well as curbside recycling services.My husband works an often-stressful job where travel away from home is involved, a job that creates an opportunity for the arrangement where I am in the home as a full time parent. That means I am able, and choose to, make time for keeping the babies out of diapers, do long grocery shopping expeditions, and cook meals from scratch.

Time and money are very helpful in the process of waste reduction, which must be acknowledged as part of the process. It can also be really fun and liberating to make a game out of the choices some of us have each day. We get to ask ourselves which choices create a strain on our earth versus the ones where we can step softly and lighten our impact.

— Romy McGahan

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