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Garbage-less: An urbanMamas green thing


It wasn't hard to reduce the volume of our trash; many of the lifestyle changes I've made over the past few years, like getting chickens (who eat many of our food scraps), composting (the rest of 'em), and changing the way we eat (buying in bulk, cooking from scratch, avoiding plastic, and reusing containers religiously) meant we were already generating far less trash than before. Other things, like our recent tight budget that had me seriously considering every purchase (and thus, its waste-generating packaging) and going out to eat less (no more takeout containers or Burgerville bags) helped, too.

I'm barely even recycling much; I've been reading more about how little of what we recycle actually makes it back into the product stream (newspaper has the best chance, FYI) and how much energy and byproducts are used and spewed to recycle. A glass jar at People's Co-op noted that it takes 90% more energy to recycle a glass jar than to return it for re-use under a deposit return program -- this is probably even a bigger differential for the jars I bring to fill with maple syrup or olive oil. Because of this, I try to stick to packaging that can be either reused or composted.

I still have a long way to go, of course! But today marked the first month I'd managed to generate only one can of trash for the whole month. I'd cut off my weekly service at the beginning of February, and here I was, March 1, wheeling out one 32-gallon can. A major cleaning project had meant it was well-filled, but still! No bags lolling off the side, splitting because they'd been so tightly packed. (And this is even with disposable diapers still in use for Monroe; I have never made the leap to cloth diapers, much as I know it would be a good thing for the landfills and my own sense of responsibility for the planet.)

Here's the thing, though, that bothers me about all this: I'm barely saving any money at all. Weekly pickup for a 32-gallon can is $25.30 (it's a little bit more on the west side). Monthly pickup for a 32-gallon can? $16.45. I reduce my trash by roughly 77%: and I save 35%. There's no every-other-week option and the smaller can, a 20-gallon minican, only saves $3.10 per month of the regular rates. I've looked at rates for other cities that I could find on Google; barely any localities offer the monthly pickup (yay for Portland on that), but in most Washington towns I found, the rates were more sensible, paying per gallon (roughly) for your trash generation.

Of my bills, this is one of the littlest, so it's hardly breaking me to pay the (as I perceive it) $11 more than what's fair. But it seems a little cockeyed to build a pricing structure in a way that seems to give an incentive to produce more trash -- or, put another way, subtly encourages us to produce an average amount of trash. Average is an American who throws away 4.39 pounds of trash every day. Seems as if Portland could strive for better than average.

I know some of you have reduced your trash, too; I heard the story from one woman who, with her husband, only generate a can every six months -- I think they call the garbage company for special pickup on "trash day." Another woman is so focused on trash reduction, her garbage fits in a coffee can. I've mulled over the idea of asking a neighbor to switch off weeks with me; I'd save more that way, even if I had more trash! Crazy. Have any of you found other solutions? Does this (admittedly small) financial incentive misalignment bug you, too?


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We've been doing monthly pick up since May and I agree that a greater financial incentive for reducing garbage pick-ups would be in alignment with the city's sustainability goals. Then again, they're still picking up recycling every week and green waste pick up however often that is (not that we ever use that--we compost yard waste and use our green can for storage), so they aren't truly giving only 1/4 of the service with monthly garbage pick up. By my calculations, assuming garbage and recycling are equal, the "fair" rate for monthly pick up would be $15.81.

My neighbors and I "share" trash service, and have been for about 2 years. It's picked up from my house weekly, but the two families (total of 3 adults, 1 tween, 1 teen and 4 litter-box using cats) split the bill. We generally don't fill a 32 gallon trash container each week, but right now can't make it a full two weeks (both families need some work in that regard). We also put out a recycling bin every week--we could probably make it 2 weeks if we packed the bin more tightly. It's worked great for us. If we were as diligent as Sarah is about reducing waste and packaging, it would be even better.

We're talking about composting together. We each need to make sure we're committed enough to it so we don't end up with a stinky pile of food and yard waste (I look at it as taking on the care and feeding of another living thing, which I don't know that I'm up for). In case the composting doesn't work for us, I'm excited at the prospect of Portland accepting kitchen scraps as part of yard waste.

I've often thought before that Portland should create a bigger financial incentive for generating less trash. We're unfortunately not ready for once-a-month pick-up, but weekly is too much... I really wish there were a twice-a-month option. They could charge more for weekly pick-up if they needed to offset the cost and be able to provide lower rates for less-frequent service.

Love the topic! I feel like my family generates too much garbage. I'd love to hear how you all are managing to generate so little trash. Seems like a great post topic!

Portland will likely be switching to every-other-week garbage pick-up when curbside food scrap composting launches (yes, it's coming!). For ideas on how to reduce, reuse and recycle your household waste, check out the EnviroMom One Can a Month Challenge: http://www.enviromom.com/join-enviromoms-one-can-a.html or watch the Nightline feature: http://www.enviromom.com/2008/11/heather-renee-on-nightline.html

My family of four has been putting out 1 can a month for 2-plus years now -- it's totally do-able!

Congrats on your trash reduction. Like many commitments to the environment, it's hard to see a large monetary reward. Although a savings would be nice, you are helping "the environment" in that vague, nonshowable way that keeps most of America from reducing their impact at all. Saving "the environment" cannot always be quantified or monetized on a family level, but important nonetheless.

I also think there is a disconnect between the pricing for monthly vs. weekly pickup. I have considered it before, but - the inconvenience plus winning the other family members over - isn't worth the savings for us.

We have minimal waste. We probably fill up a bathroom-size bag of garbage a week, and it's so sad to roll our garbage can out so empty (usually no more than 1/2 full. probably only 1/4 full on average). I do notice, though, when we have house guests, our waste production is exponentially higher. Also, the can comes in useful if we purchase something big (like furniture) that comes with *TONS* non-recyclable packaging. ick.

There are certain things that we purchase that produces waste - namely granola/snack bars and chips and cereal. Most everything else we buy (foodwise) are unpackaged or in recyclable/reuseable containers.

Even recyclable containers we are trying to reduce. I went to the market the other day to buy jarred tomato sauce and my daughter asked why I am suddenly buying so much in containters (cans and bottles). We ran out of last summer's supply in the freezer. What can I do with the leftover jars? Do they go straight into recycling or can they have another use? Some of them aren't prime for freezing tomato sauce because of the lids.

I think a considerable savings could incent more people to try reducing waste, so I would love to see it happen.

I re-use smaller commercial glass jars to store bulk foods I buy in small quantities like teas, pine nuts, dried fruit, coconut, cacao, etc (beans, lentils, oats and such go in bigger jars.) I built some shallow little shelves with railings on an empty spot on my kitchen wall where they can all be lined up in rows and it's so much nicer to have everything accessible and easy to find, rather than jumbled up in little bags in my cupboard!

In San Francisco, we got recycling credit, which we were never reimbursed for, but was applied to our garbage bill. My ex and I recycled enough, that we paid between $2 and $12 per year.
Something along those lines would be nice.

For anyone on the fence about it, cloth diapers really are quite simple and easy to use, wash, care for, etc. The amount of water you use to clean them averages $5 to $10 per month...far less than buying disposables... My blog has a "cloth diapering" label on the left side...click for more info. (I don't sell cloth dipes, am just a devoted and obsessed mama who writes about it. A lot!) It saves money, is far healthier for your kid, and eliminates gobs and gobs of everlasting trash. http://secretmommy.blogspot.com :)

Congrats on reducing your garbage! You've made a lot of progress using just one garbage can...I think if we all become more aware of how we are disposing our trash, it would probably improve our environment a lot as well as our wallets.

Secret Mommy-I've heard about cloth diapers and am seriously considering switching to those because not only are they eco-friendly but they're considerably cheaper, too, I've heard.

We've having garbage pick-up once a month for over two years (with two small kids). I wrote about on my new blog:
I'd love some comments!

In San Francisco, we got recycling credit, which we were never reimbursed for, but was applied to our garbage bill.

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