Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ My New Year’s Challenge to You

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom


I love New year’s resolutions, don’t you? Ok, most people really don’t love them, but I do. Because of them, I have (finally!) learned how to use chopsticks, and I (finally!) had a charity party that I’d been intending to have for 4 or 5 years.

And I have one for you this year: Less trash.

It makes me crazy to drive through my neighborhood and see people’s trash cans literally bursting out the top with trash. The City of Austin provides a choice of 3 cart sizes: 32 gallons, 64 gallons, and 96 gallons; each is more expensive than the size before it, although even the largest can is only $30 a month. Trash pick up is weekly. Most people have the middle size can. This is the one I often see stuffed to the top and more.

(For full disclosure: Everyone also has a 96 gallon recycling bin, which is picked up every two weeks. Any amount of yard waste can be put out weekly as long as it is in large paper sacks or trash cans that can be dumped. Yard waste may not be set out in plastic bags. The city has a fantastic program for recycling solid sewage waste and yard trimmings to produce compost, which is used at city-own buildings and parks and is also sold to the public.)

My family of four people and five animals produces a single bag of trash a week. One. Even when the children were little and wore disposable diapers, we only had two bags of trash a week.

How do we do this when others are brimming over? Frankly, I often ask myself how they could possibly have that much trash. It seems impossible to me, although obviously it’s not.

Here’s how I mange it: a place for everything and everything in its place.

I have a trash can in the kitchen, plus a little one in Dan’s office, each girls’ room, and in all four bathrooms. Except for the kitchen trash, the other ones only need to be emptied once a month or so. I have two recycling bins in the kitchen, one in Dan’s office, and one at the end of the hallway by all our bedrooms. I have a tiny compost bucket in the kitchen. I have a plastic bag recycling area in the pantry; metal recycling tub (small) under the kitchen sink; and a box for Styrofoam in the garage.

Yes, that’s a lot of containers, and yes, I do live in a fairly large house, but I did the same when I lived in smaller places.

All the food cans and bottles go into one of the bins in the kitchen. Paper recycling goes into the bin in the office. The basket at the end of the hall is for miscellaneous recycling generated in the bathrooms and bedrooms. The metal bin under the sink is for aluminum foil or any recyclable but non-can metal. Food scraps are dealt with in a number of ways: the compost bin is that last option. I feed leftovers from our plate to the dogs. The guinea pig gets vegetable and fruit trimmings. Fruit that the guinea pig doesn’t eat goes outside to feed the squirrels. (My 9 year old especially loves squirrels, so ours are well cared for.) In the end, only things like egg shells, banana peels, and tea bags end up in the compost bin. Even the cats’ litter is composted: I buy compressed pine pellets for their box and put the used litter in with the yard waste when it needs to be emptied. Since I know this waste will be mixed with sewage and yard trimmings, I don’t worry that there may be some cat feces remaining. The guinea pig’s pine shavings are dumped directly into the garden as mulch.

In addition, things you’re decluttering need a place to go so that they launch into their new life in the best way possible – a gift to a friend, a trip to the thrift store, sold on Ebay. One of the advantages of thing-a-day decluttering is that you have time to make wise choices. Reader Annabelle just packed up from Germany to come back to the US and said it was a breeze due to decluttering in advance, even though the movers came early. Like her, you don’t want to be in a panic at the last minute. That’s when waste occurs.

And remember, I’ve only talked about ways of diminimishing your trash by recycling. There’s a whole other side to this coin: Bringing less into your home. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

With anything you want to succeed with, you have to 1) have a plan and 2) a way of executing that plan. If you don’t have a convenient place to put your recycling, then it won’t get recycled. If you’ve got some recycling that has to be taken to the recycling center and can’t be put in your curb-side bin, then you need a place to store it. This is my New Year’s challenge to you: Can you cut down on your trash by 1/3? By 1/2? I bet you can. Let’s all take a deep breath and say our 2012 mantra together: Less.

Today’s Declutter Item

This is a classic example of if you keep stretchy things for too long unused they will perish. This piece of elastic tubing was something I had to exercise with when I was having back spasms which in turned caused me neck problems. Fortunately I haven’t suffered from that problem for some time now so it is now only good for the trash.

Elastic tubing for physiotherapy

Something I Am Grateful For Today

The pest man has been, the car is serviced, dinner dates are sorted, towels are washed. Things are coming together nicely around here. Hopefully that means that by Sunday all I will have to do is cook, eat, drink and be merry.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. One thing we have done in the past 6 months is to greatly reduce our trash. I used to put as much as I could shove into our trash can each week. Now we have 1 bag or less. I can’t believe how wasteful I was, and am grateful that I have learned to care more about how what I do affects others and the environment. Next year, we plan on starting to compost. I wish I could share a trash can with our neighbors. It would save us all money instead of paying for a half empty can.

  2. How did you achieve this, SpendwiseMom? Buying less? Recycling more? Buying things with less packaging? Tell us your secrets.

  3. My friend Jack sent me this email: “I thought your best advice was to get the smallest trash can from the city. Worked for us.” He’s saying that switching to a smaller can automatically made them more aware of what they had, could recycle, were throwing away, etc. because they had less trash can to hide it in.

  4. absolutely. Only after I read Lilienfeld’s “Use Less Stuff” book did I realize just how little of what we put out for recycling actually gets recycled! It’s amazing what you can reuse. when you can’t use less stuff.

    • Use Less Stuff sounds like a great book. Ironically, it’s missing from our public library, which only had one copy. Recently, I’ve been wrapping gifts in maps that were more than 10 years old – previously decluttered items. I think they look really fun and festive. We call it Map Wrap. Once I wrapped a birthday gift for my daughter’s friend in Sunday comics because I was in a hurry. I was worried her friends might roll their eyes at it, but several girls told me how *fun* and *cute* they thought the wrapping was.

  5. One bag a week is impressive. Although our house has two adults and three cats, we have much more trash than that. I’m not sure how we manage this since we compost food scraps and yard waste and I recycle everything our local program accepts, including many, many cat food cans. There are a lot of things not accepted here though, like any plastic that isn’t bottle shaped. Kitty litter is another big one; there isn’t a local program that would allow for composting any kitty waste, so that’s out. I need to keep a closer eye on what is actually being tossed so we can reduced our waste! I appreciate any tips others have.

    • Our city recycling accepts all plastics, glass, paper, and aluminum and metal cans. The grocery stores have to take back plastic bags. We have a place called Ecology Action that recycles nearly everything else, and there’s a for-profit commercial Styrofoam recycling business that accept Styrfoam from the public as a community service. That’s the plus side. The negative side is that it’s not available to apartment/condo dwellers unless there are at least 100 units in the complex, and businesses aren’t required to recycle either. Sometimes I do wonder why I’m breaking down my one little shoe box when I drive by a business with an overflowing dumpster full of boxes. Nonetheless, everyone’s choices add up.

      Not sure what I would do about the cat litter if I didn’t have the yard waste option. Anyone else?

  6. Cindy,
    You might look into crushing your egg shells and adding them to your dogs’ food. From what I have read, egg shells are a good source of calcium so pets should get some benefit from them. I have used a rolling pin to crush ours as well as a mortar and pestle. Mixed in with other foods, especially something like leftover soup or gravy, our dogs never notice them.

  7. We recycle everything we can and I try to choose packaging that we can recycle.. For example I buy yogurt in a big cardboard cart instead of the small plastic tubs. One thing I have started to do is wash my hair with shampoo bars (like a soap) because I hate to throw away the empty bottles because where I live there is no recycling bin for plastics. Soda bottles are taken back to the store. The shampoo bar thing is new, I’ve tried it before but it didn’t work so well because my hair was colored then. I stopped coloring it and find there is many benefits in having natural hair -no pouring chemicals down the drain every couple of months, healthier hair that can be washed with soap and doesn’t even necessarily need conditioner… 🙂

    • I’ve never seen yogurt in a carton in the US, only in Scandinavia. I don’t know why we don’t have it here, it makes much more sense!

  8. We have several bags of trash to put at the curb for our 2-week pickup. I wish there was another way, but am at a loss on how to reduce further.
    We are not permitted to put animal feces of any kind into our composting carts (we have three completely indoor cats). We are also not permitted to put tissues into the compost (I have sinus problems). These rules are different for different areas. For instance, about 100 miles from us in a different city, both these items are allowed.

  9. Reducing trash is such a good resolution. I am not too bad on trash but there still is room for improvement. However my resolution will (have to) be turbo-decluttering to make my place livable for two people (grown ups that is) instead of one till april (and incorporate one more person’s stuff, too). The news just hit me, I am overwhelmed, scared as hell … and really really happy. I think now I really have to get moving on a couple of subjects I avoided so far.
    However, I can#t say how happy I am to being around here for a while. I have managed so much change of things (and even more change of mind) within the last year, that I am reasonably relaxed (and overwhelmed and scared … but still!).

  10. We put out 2 Wal-Mart plastic sacks a week one on Tues and one on Fri. Then we have recycling bins that I take to the recycle dumpsters once or twice a month. We try to buy as much fresh and un-bagged/boxed as possible. I wish I could figure out how to do more but at this point there are still enough things that are in containers that we are sort of stuck. When we move to Sun City (if we do) they recycle all plastics so we will be glad of that. We break up any boxes and tear them into smaller pieces so that they will go in our recycle bins easier and that way we can get more in before we have to go dump them.

  11. I plan NOT to buy a ‘trash’ can – one for plastics and non recyclables. I feel like by not having one, I’ll HAVE to think long and hard how to dispose of stuff (tote it to work or my parents – which isn’t fun, so I’m sure I’ll be looking at alternatives!!) I am getting a bokashi, which is a compost system, and I will recycle, and continue to freecycle/thrift/ebay away other items.

    I can’t believe you pay for your bin service – i suppose ours are just absorbed in our rates (+strata if you live in apartments, and someone puts them out to the kerb on your behalf)

    When I was in NYC in June, I couldn’t not BELIEVE the piles of bags of business trash – I mean, EVERY night (same walk home to the place we were staying). I’m sure it happens here in Sydney, but not a nightly put out for sure… Perhaps it’s all hidden in our feral loading docks!

    Lisa, I wouldn’t worry too much about crushing those shells for a medium to large dogs – ours steals the freshly laid eggs with half a chance, and eats ALL of it – eggs on dog food will trick the dog into eating food she might perhaps turn her nose up to usually (my dog is a food snob!)

  12. We’re forever forgetting to set our trash at the curb on pick up day, so it’s a good thing we don’t produce too much. I just wish we could pay a reduced rate on our trash service and have pick up every other week, but there is no option for that here. Like you our recycling is picked up every other week. I feel good that we’ve all gotten good at recycling, but now I would like to cut back on the amount of recycling we produce. We’re slowly getting better at that…I’m buying much less prepackaged food and that helps a lot. We just keep making small changes that eventually become habit and in time it really adds up. When I look back a month I don’t see much difference, but when I look back 6 or 8 months, I can really see it.

  13. Funny that, I had similar thoughts just a couple weeks ago. I realized that – since I already do recycle and compost as much as possible, my trash bin was always not even half filled when it was time for pick up (compared to the ones of all my neighbours – their cans are also usually stuffed almost beyond capacity…)

    Anyway, I have a 6oLiter can (that is13 gallons, if the converter is correct) and was actually hoping to go down to a 40Liter (size XS so to say, 10,55 gallon) one – so I checked with the community , but was told that in our area, 60Liter is already the smallest size available. A shame actually, because the XS size does exist and is indeed being used in other parts of the country!

    They did tell me however, that I could reduce from two to only one pick up a month (Yeah!) and save some of the fees that way. And instead of waiting for the beginning of 2012 to change the schedule, they even offered me to change it immediately… (Yes Please!!)

    With the trash can subject being settled, I will now also concentrate on reducing the amount of recyclables that still find its way into my house. Right now I end up with one filled yellow bag every two weeks – and my first goal is to cut down to one yellow bag per month over the first 6 months of the next year 🙂 …

    • Hi Toffee,
      a very warm welcome to 365lessthings to you. It is great to have you on board. Thank you for being so good with how little waste you generate around your home. And good luck reducing the recyclable containers coming into your home. It can be a real challenge to do that without missing out on the things you enjoy. Sometimes it causes you extra work as well by making you own stuff instead of buying over-packaged items so thank you again for trying.

      It does seem a little senseless paying for more garbage pick up than you need. We recently went to smaller bins in our City and I love it. You can choose to have a bigger one but you pay more. I am glad to say I don’t need a bigger one. I will have to check what size ours is to see if it is bigger or smaller than the smallest one offered to you. It is interesting how different these things are from one country to another or even one city to another.

  14. Well done, all of us with our efforts to reduce “rubbish”, i.e. landfill. When our city decided we could no longer use our trashcans, but must buy specific labelled black polythene bags for the weekly trash collection, I “went on strike”. I thought I could manage fortnightly (family of three), found that I put out (into our old trash bucket in our garage) one supermarket carry bag a week, which we took to our holiday cottage where collections were “normal”. Then, in the winter, my husband would take them to the landfill himself, when getting rid of garden refuse and recycling. I was still trying to reduce our landfill, when the local council came on board with roadside recycling (first version) which cleared the newspapers and milk plastic bottles; then came versin two: brilliant – a large wheelie bin fortnightly alternating with a basin for glass bottles and jars. My landfill throwaways now fill a supermarket carry bag, one a month, and try as hard as I can, I can’t get it past five weeks to fill. As nothing is “dirty” or rottable, these just sit in the garage until my husband takes garden refuse to the recycle centre, adjoining the landfill. Only cellophane, bandaids, medicine blister packs and such in them. I can’t see any way to reduce further.
    Now, if we can just persuade the majority that it isn’t too much effort to bother with!

  15. Here too, I eliminated most trash cans. I just try to not buy anything that comes in a package, and never buy single use disposable items. I am down to one small bag of trash every 2-3 weeks. Even the recycling bin is mostly empty. Not seeing trash cans in each room is actually freeing – one less object, less clutter- and that motivates me to continue this way.

    • One of the zero-waste folks suggests using the tiny compost bin for trash, and making the big trash can for recycling. You’re doing so well that it’s something to consider.

  16. Hey Cindy, Thanks for the shout-out! 🙂

    “LESS”. Yes, we’re on board! I’ll have to monitor what is coming in, why it’s coming in, where it needs to go, how can we refuse, reuse, etc. Currently we recycle, but as I look at what is in the pile, I wonder why it even came into our house to begin with! As with decluttering, this will take one day at a time so that we truly put this into a better habit (LESS trash).

  17. oh what a topic. I have been carefully watching how much I use, and I have to say the biggest part of my trash is the plastic/metal part. In germany its called “yellow bag” and after it gets collected, it will be recycled. I have one bag full every second to third week, I guess. THere is room for me to cut down and use less plastic.

    I have a small bin full of compost once a week, because I drink a lot of coffe, and I eat almost daily vegetables. My plan here is to get a permanent coffee filter so that I dont have to use a paper one every other day. havent found one yet that fits the size, but I will research that one more. The compost gets collected in our “eco-can”, emptied once a week.

    Due to my lovely neighbours who are giving me each day their newspaper when they are finished, I have a HUGE amount of paper clutter. But I consider it alright as this newspaper is read by three people and occasionally used for wrapping, spacing, dirt, etc… I really cant say how much it is otherwise, I am using every piece of blank paper to scribble down notes or something. you wont find a blank page in my paper clutter.

    the “normal” trash is minimal. Since I moved in, I have been using the same bag, and its not even a third full yet, (if I would start separating the trash from the bathroom, I guess that would make a difference there too) THAT gives me a good feeling, knowing I can make 6 months with just one bag of normal trash.

    I collect electronic and chemincal trash in a little box, I will figure out what to do with it, as soon as that box gets full…

    Is glass bottles arent in the deposit system, I bring them to the container at the corner of the street. I started to use more glass bottles and jars in order to cut down on the yellow bag, I will make it more. and for example buy milk and joghurt in glass bottles instead of carton.

    Having lived in denmark for a year, I am happy to be here again. There I was separating paper and glass from the rest of the trash. horrible. danes are not really open to suggestions, and made fun of “ze germans” recycling every little piece of trash. I was almost going mad when I first saw the canteen of the university: plastic plates, cups, cuttlery. everyday for thousands of students. It still gives me the shivers and I feel guilty that I havent started a campaign against that. the department of sustainability was just next door…

  18. The first thing is to become aware of what you are doing. A few years ago, in a hotel, my kids were watching Dirtiest Jobs and it was about the San Francisco Dump or Pit. That made me aware of the fact that I was contributing to the huge mess out there. We are really good about recycling now. We don’t drink bottled water any more, but take our own water bottles with us. I haven’t bought plastic bags, plastic wrap or foil since July. I have switched to using containers instead for lunches, leftovers, etc. When I take the recycling, I look at what is in there and try to think of ways to eliminate some of the things: making yogurt instead of buying it is one thing I will try next year, I use more fresh instead of canned items, if I do buy things with packaging at the store, I try to find recyclable containers. I think the most important of all the steps is not to let it in your home. If we are careful with that step, it makes much less work for us and is better for the environment. I don’t use toxic cleaners any more, but substituted with vinegar, baking soda and castille soap. Before anything goes in the trash, I ask myself if I can reuse it or if I can buy something else in the future to avoid having to throw it in the trash. I buy some things in the bulk food section (bins) of one of our stores and only buy what I need. It may be more money per pound, but I don’t have extra waste in the house and extra packaging. We try to buy just what we need with clothes, food and everything we buy, and not shop for leisure or pleasure. I do save money by not buying Ziploc bags, etc. We are far from perfect, but it makes me feel good as I see our progress in wasting less. I think the best system would be to charge people for the amount of trash they use. I think they would be much more careful if that were the case. I also think they should charge us for plastic bags at the grocery store. It will make us think twice about bringing those cloth bags instead of just more plastic bags that end up in the trash a lot of the time. If I had to kill a chicken every time I wanted to eat chicken, it would help me be more aware of the cost of my decision. But, by buying boneless chicken breasts from the store, I don’t really think about where it came from and who had to kill and clean it and what type of life the animal had to provide food for me. I think it is the same with trash. We are far removed from what impact we really have, that we just throw things away without thinking about it.

  19. Spendwisemom you are so right. My mother is one who I can’t get to convert but she is beginning to think about things some. One thing we are still stuck with is the many plastic bags. When you buy the majority of your groceries once a month you have so many groceries it is hard to use reusable bags. So we always end up with a bunch of bags. Of course, I take them back to the recycle bin in the store but it still bugs me to use them at all. I’m thinking I need to just buy some material and make my own. Maybe I can make enough that way cheaply but that will hold up. the ones you buy at the store don’t seem to hold up very long.

    • Deb J, Maybe you could use boxes instead of bags at the store? Originally the job we now call “sacker” was “box boy.”

      • They don’t have boxes either. No paper bags. Only plastic. I’m going to start sewing after the first of the year. I think I will make them out of that coated canvas so that they will hold up. If I do that we can use them for years.

  20. I’m going to answer everyone at once. CONGRATULATIONS! Everyone is so aware of their trash and recycling and doing such a great job in cutting down. I am so proud of all of us! Let’s all say it together: LESS.

  21. Hi Deb J,
    have you thought about just asking around your frieds, neighbours or on freecycle for resuable bags? I think one gets so many for free (I remember Colleen bringing up this very topic once) that almost everyone has some to spare. I just read somewhere that a cotton tote needs to be used for more than 51 times to actually be carbon footprint efficient in comparison to plastic. I still think it is worth it in the end because all the plastic won’t biodegrade EVER. But putting someone elses bag to use could save you and the planet a ton of energy. Asking doesn’t cost anything (as we’d say in Germany …)

    • I will have to check into that. I have never found any free but we have had to pay $1 or more per bag. Maybe some people have bought them and then don’t use them or something. Thanks for the idea.

    • Hey, Ideealistin,
      Totally agree with all you say ( 🙂 ),but at the end of cotton bag use (51+ preferably, but even if not), the cotton bag will rot back into the soil/compost/worm farm and leave NOTHING behind.

      • Hi Ann,
        I think what Idealistin is trying to say here that if the plastic reusable bags are already out there being unused by someone else it is better to acquire them and use them to their fullest rather than make something else even if the something else is more eco-friendly.
        If my reusable plastic bags wear out I will be going for cotton also. I will buy used sheets from the thrift store to make them with so win win.