Waste Free Living Goals for the New Year
Here we are... a new year into living waste free! It has been an entire year of creating new habits for our family, of realizing how important our small effort to produce less waste can be. I decided to disgust myself the other night on the internet, though I find I do this more often than not! Do you also spend silly amounts of time asking your phone strange questions? I ended up looking up: what happens to all of the garbage in a landfill?
I felt kind of silly typing it in because I felt like I knew the answer already. It gets dumped into a giant hole in the ground and continually filled. Gross. Well, the internet did not disappoint. Our waste does indeed get piled up into giant holes and buried. Doesn't that make you wonder what possibly happens to the soil? I looked that up, too. But first, a statistic: on average Americans individually produce 4.6 pounds of waste every single day. In 2013, Americans created 254 million tons of trash, of which 87 million tons was recycled or composted. According to the EPA, we throw out more food than anything else such as plastic, paper, metal, and glass. Wow! Why are we doing this?! It's fascinating and sad. I think we all are continually looking back at what our ancestors did before us, at least I am. Every time I bring up the topic of organic gardening or living with less, I feel like there's someone out there shouting, "Everyone grew organic 80 years ago!" Well, yes. They did. Why did they stop? Looking at the numbers, I start to wonder if we'll ever get it together, you know? And as a human who is undoubtedly flawed and does not always follow up on my own game, I am also dedicated to movements that I believe in and want to consistently improve myself and share what I learn.
After we've dumped off our waste into the trash bin and watched the truck pull it away, what happens? You can read more about that in depth here, but to make the long story short the waste is moved into a deep hole, lined with a thin layer of plastic that helps drain toxic liquid produced by the waste. This liquid is caught and released (to where? who knows...) and once the landfill is full, it is covered with clay and topsoil and...plants are grown over it? Hmm.... and the water that is still being caught is still toxic. Doesn't that make you feel nice?
When we started our journey into waste free living it looked something like this:
- Recycle materials that we generate within the home such as plastics, paper, metals, and glass.
- Compost food waste, non-colored papers, paper towels, flowers, coffee grounds, and other yard clippings.
- Find better food storage options such as using waste free containers, buying in bulk, and reusable food preservation.
- Changing over from cleaning products with harsh chemicals to more natural options.
- Minimizing our intake of personal belongings such as clothing, electronics, and home decor.
- Cooking at home and eating out less.
Overall, I think we made those goals happen. While we were in the process of moving, which was about a month's worth of time, we definitely did not follow any of our rules. Much of the waste we produced over that time was thrown out, and we knew that we could have done better. So stressful either way! We did go through another big purge during the move as well, something that I've discussed before on how we began our journey into minimalism. We moved to the Farmhouse with 3 mattresses, a work table from our studio, a couch, two armchairs, and our television. We did not have much furniture before that, but what we didn't want, we just let go of. It feels nice to have moved into this beautiful empty home with room to fill if we so choose, which of course will be completely out of necessity.
Looking towards 2018, I have a few things that I still need to figure out when it comes to finding some routine habits for living with less waste. Now that we live in the country, we don't have a trash service unless we sign up for it. We've been working on separating our own trash and taking it into town to leave behind. It's been interesting to see what we produce out here, especially since going into town isn't always fast for us anymore! Right now, when it comes to recycling, we have a system in place where we separate all of our materials including soft plastics, hard plastics, glass, metals, and papers into individual cans. Our food waste is composted along with other compostable materials and that leaves... not much. Diapers! We are close to being done with disposable diapers around here, so we're just leaving it be for now. Here are a few areas where I want to improve:
I have been struggling to get a compost pile going! While I created three new piles at the beginning of December, it has since snowed and we are looking at a week of negative temperatures and temperatures in the single digits. Yikes! That's okay. I am still piling up what we produce in the snow and will probably turn it once the weather thaws a bit. The addition of two extra piles in comparison to what we built at the Little Homestead is nice. I am hoping to generate enough personal compost for the entire acreage! I have no clue how long that will take, but I am willing to try. As for changes to my composting style, I suppose I am hoping to be more frequent with turning it. The more I turn it, the faster it turns into organic matter, and the faster I can use it or sell it to others!
Cleaning + Personal Care Products
We tried lots of solutions for natural cleaning products last year that we absolutely loved! While we had a great time with our powdered laundry detergent, we're wanting to move back into using liquid. We've purchased a few different types of natural detergents, but I really want to look into just producing my own. I'll have to start experimenting with that one! I still use our wool dryer balls, and I even drop a few drops of essential oils either on the dryer balls or onto my clothes before washing. I learned the trick of dropping some lemon EO onto clothes that were washed but were left in the washer all day forgotten. Oops! Just run them through a rinse cycle and they smell fresh again! An area that we did not look into last year was personal care. Oi! I am still not good about this. I have tried natural shampoo after natural shampoo, no-poo, dry shampoo, whatever. I hate it all. I like my salon shampoo. I still have no idea how to get into this. I am a cheapskate and also cannot stand how most natural shampoos make my hair feel: greasy and weighted down. Not to mention all of that stuff gets washed down the drain and the containers they come in are awful. Has anyone found the magic solution?!
Something else I want to look into is waste free feminine care products like tampons and pads. Has anyone tried the Diva Cup? I think I might want to! There are also a few companies out there now producing organic tampons and pads, too! That's awesome.
Finding waste free options for our cats was not something I thought I would ever care about! Even within the past few months, I thought it was a bit over the top. Like, I am not going to try to make my cat use the toilet or anything. And what else should I use other than treated cat litter? Apparently, there are lots of options for creating a more environmentally friendly home for your pets, I was just being too lazy to try it for myself. I think the biggest issue for anyone here is figuring out what to do about your pet's waste. If you are a dog or a cat owner, then you'll know that their diets mainly consist of meat and cannot be composted in the pile used for your garden. If only it were that easy! Having chickens was nice because you can totally compost their waste and the chicken bedding - score! However, cat waste can essentially be composted, there are just a few steps you have to follow first such as using a biodegradable litter (sand, newspaper, sawdust, mulch, or another plant based material) and creating a separate pile or container to rotate their waste. Once it has broken down and become humus (which may require more green materials since the litter will be heavy in carbon) you can add their composted manure to ornamental plants. Probably not a great idea for your edible garden!
As for more waste free ideas, I am going to look into either bulk food options so I don't have to purchase a container or making them food myself here at home. While that sounds fun, I have a feeling it might be costly!
I tried not to put too much pressure on myself this past summer when it came to preserving the yields from our garden. I canned as many tomatoes as I could in our tiny home that was completely air conditioned with a window unit. It got hot in there quickly! We froze most of our produce and dried mainly herbs. This year, I want to go all out! We are going to can, freeze, dry, dehydrate, and all of that jazz. It's going to be awesome. I am starting to notice the benefits of having the produce that I took the time to freeze. I have been reaching into the storage freezer like crazy for bags of cubed squash, shredded kale, and blueberries. It's been wonderful! I am also seeing that canned goods, especially tomatoes, need to be taken seriously. We used up most of our stock before December, which was surprising and a bit disappointing. We could have had triple that amount if I had kept it up! In this upcoming year, I am starting early and planning ahead. Saved food is soooo good, so much healthier and better for you, and will keep you from over buying at the grocery store. We've already saved so much this winter in comparison to years past!
Actually Using My Reusable Items
Okay - this one is so difficult!!! I do this all of the time. I give myself a goal to remember by reusable shopping bags or refillable water bottle and then it just slowly goes down hill from there. How does this happen?! This is probably my biggest goal for the year - just being better about remembering items like this when I am out and about. I think I get into the mindset that I want to carry the least amount of items on me as possible, even as a mother. We really don't bring a diaper bag along to places, and I never have. I just bring a few diapers, a snack, and maybe a toy if we're going somewhere that Tad needs to be quiet. A few solutions I can think of are finding a water bottle that does not take up much space in my bag or get gross too quickly and creating a designated area in my car for reusable bags.
I think a lot about how I can personally improve in this area, and then I wonder if doing any of this will really make a difference. I always start to think of the documentary Cowspiracy, where the director Kip Andersen spends a good chunk of his life trying to create less waste, use less water, bike everyday to work and realizes that even though he's making somewhat of a difference, it's not enough to change the environmental impacts we're currently making on the world. I mean, that entire study looks specifically into how conventional agriculture is impacting the planet, which is related but an entirely different topic. Still, it makes me wonder how my own actions can help, and I can only hope that by sharing some information maybe someone else will want to try recycling more or get into composting. It's simply that, I think, that keeps me going. So thankful that I get to share these thoughts in this space with you, and that you have showed up here to read them. Will you be making some personal lifestyle changes this year when it comes to waste? What will they be?