J500 Media and the Environment

Living with the Triple-R Mantra by jenh
February 25, 2008, 6:51 am
Filed under: Waste + Recycling | Tags: , ,

My typical trash
I used to live in rural Douglas County where there wasn’t any municipal trash service. We would hold onto our trash for a week and whenever the smell began to overpower the back porch, we’d haul it to town and toss it into an unsuspecting apartment Dumpster. We didn’t recycle. Nothing like living under the same roof with your trash will make you appreciate how much garbage you produce.

So over a period of several years, and after adjusting to the conveniences of city life again, we learned how to reduce our trash. We now recycle everything we can, re-use plastic Ziploc bags, compost our veggie and fruit scraps, and we try to reduce the amount of packaging in our purchases. Not that it’s automatic, though. Sometimes I am incredibly reluctant to do this. More times than I can count I haven’t wanted to shuffle across the yard with the compost or grumbled in the morning when I realized that I hadn’t emptied the reusuable coffee filter from the day before.

But living with the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mantra has paid off. We now go through about one small (13-gallon size) trash bag every 7-10 days. When I weighed out and photographed my trash, I wasn’t surprised that most of what I photographed wasn’t destined for the brown bin at the curb.

I’d made enchiladas for dinner, had leftovers for lunch before that and began the day with an egg and an orange. Round that out with a bottle of wine, the newspaper and the coffee grounds for the day, the junkmail and the dryer lint (ew), and it doesn’t amount to much. In fact, my total trash weighed in at 4.5 pounds, but the amount I threw away – the cheese bag, the tea bag wrapper, the aforementioned dog waste – amounted to what I’d estimate was about 8 oz (I wasn’t about to weigh my canine’s …um…trash contribution, but I’m confident in the estimate).

But this little experiment took place in winter, not anywhere near a celebration or holiday. At the visit to the landfill on Friday, I learned that the amount of trash spikes in the summer and after seasonal holidays (think of plastic easter grass, heart boxes at valentines day, gift wrapping paper and packaging, etc.). And in a college town like Lawrence, it also increases dramatically in August and May, the typical move-out/move-in seasons. How many of us have hastily left chemicals, furniture, clothes, junk mail and even our recyclables at the curb on move-out day, all because we just wanted to be done with the process?

–Jen Humphrey

Movin’ Out in Lawrence


5 Comments so far
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[…] Living with the Triple-R Mantra At the visit to the landfill on Friday, I learned that the amount of trash spikes in the summer and after seasonal holidays (think of plastic easter grass, heart b…But this little experiment took place in winter, not anywhere near a celebration or holiday…. […]

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I’ll be the first to say- that is amazing. One small (13-gallon size) trash bag every 7-10 days for how many people?

I’ve got a question for ya- and you’re very possibly not a junkfoodie so maybe these questions are obsolete for you- can you recycle empty bags of chips that are super crumby and greasy? (All organic sunflower grease, of course… does that save face or should I bother?) And do you recycle Hershey Kiss wrappers? This isn’t third degree I-don’t-believe-you, this is third degree I-want-to-be-you, to clarify.

Comment by Sonya

Hmmmm. I read your comment as the trash truck rumbled up to my house this morning. And that’s when it dawned on me that I wasn’t counting waste I might have everywhere else. My office, for example, though the heart of recycle city, has a paper coffee cup in it a couple times a week (sometimes I suffer from reusable cup amnesia) and to-go containers. There’s whatever trash I generate eating at a restaurant if they use paper products (and believe it or not, I’m thinking of taking my own to-go container with me…though I haven’t done it yet). I didn’t include restroom trash, either, though there isn’t much from one week to another. Our two-person household has yard waste, too, though that gets recycled. So, all in all, it’s probably more trash than I think it is, but we do indeed just have one bag going to the curb every week or week and a half. But our recycling and compost take up 6 or 7 times the space.

As for the chip bags and such, I don’t think they can be recycled, but I’m thinking of asking my recycler if they can. I don’t eat a lot of processed foods (chocolate excepted!) so I hadn’t thought much about those. Since we were told at the landfill that an engineer can “find a banana peel from the year you were born,” I’m sure that if a chip bag goes to the landfill, it becomes a permanent part of the substrate. –Jen

Comment by jenh

[…] Comments jenh on Living with the Triple-R Mantr…Sonya on Living with the Triple-R Mantr…denah on My trash output: Shockingly lo…j500 on Compost, […]

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The spikes are astonishing. Thanks Jen for really showing us the continuum.

Comment by j500

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