The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

February 15, 2010

Collecting Garbage Without Plastic Trash Bags?

Glad Trash Bags - We Don't Use ThemIt’s a new week, and I’m ready to talk trash. One of the most common questions I get about plastic-free living is what I do for garbage bags. And the second most common question is what to line our waste cans with if plastic grocery bags are banned.

Here’s my short answer: We don’t line our trash can with any plastic bags at all.

The longer answer is that since we make almost zero trash, and the trash we do make is dry, we don’t have any need for bags to collect it.

Composting Wet Garbage

Composting takes care of anything wet and icky. We collect all of our food scraps in a metal bucket that we keep near the sink.  We used to line it with BioBags (more info on those below), but these days we opt for sheets of old newspaper that can be composted along with the food scraps. Originally, we didn’t bother with any liner at all, but eventually I found the aluminum bucket too hard to clean without it.

metal compost bucket

Here in the SF Bay Area, many of us have several options for composting. With very little effort, those of us in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and other areas with city-wide composting can simply empty our food scraps (including animal products) and food-soiled paper directly into our green bins, from which it will be picked up by the same company that hauls our garbage and processed at a commercial compost facility. In fact, according to a new San Francisco recycling law, putting food waste in a compost bin is not an option; it’s mandatory.

Oakland CA green compost bin

So what about those of us without city-wide composting?

Compost TumblerMany of us can still compost on our own. In fact, for several years, Michael and I used our own Compost Tumbler to make beautiful compost for our front yard. We chose a tumbler because we didn’t have the yard space for a traditional composter, and a tumbler could be set up right on our back deck.

There are plenty of other options for home composting besides the one we chose. Tumblers, traditional bins, worm bins, bokashi are all methods of converting bio waste into soil. Back in 2007, I explained why we chose our composting method. Here in Oakland, the city offers residents discounted composters and worm bins. Other cities may offer subsidized compost bins too. A quick search shows programs in New York City, Massachusetts, Thurston County WA, and many others.

Recycling paper, glass, & metal

Back porch recycling containerComposting takes care of the wet stuff. Most of what we have left is recyclable. We recycle clean paper, glass jars, metal cans. Michael recycles any plastic containers he ends up with. My plastic, as you know, ends up in my plastic collection for display on this blog. As it turns out, the major portion of our recycling is newspaper. We rarely eat canned foods because of the BPA lining inside metal cans. And we save glass jars for food storage.

Our recycling container, of course, is not lined with plastic. In fact, you should never put plastic bags into your recycle bin because they can jam up the sorting machines. I wrote extensively about recycling back in 2007 after researching the materials that could go into Oakland’s recycling system, and made visits to our local Davis Street Recycling Center and California Waste Solutions. Check out these posts for a deeper understanding of the recycling process.

The Rest of our Bagless Trash

The rest of our trash consists of dryer lint (of which there is very little because we hang most of our laundry to dry), floor sweepings, dental floss, Michael’s few unrecyclable plastic wrappers (he brings most of them to work to contribute to the Terracycle Wrapper Brigade), and bits of unrecognizable stuff here and there. We don’t compost our lint because some of our laundry contains synthetic fibers.  Nevertheless, our small trash can fills up very, very slowly. We empty it about once a month.

kitchen trash can

kitchen trash can

Plastic-Free Pet Waste

We don’t need to use plastic bags for our cats’ waste either because we use SwheatScoop, [2016 update:  Swheatscoop has switched to a plastic bag.  We now use Integrity cat litter instead.] which is biodegradable, flushable litter. You might hear warnings about flushing cat waste because of a parasite many cats carry that is hazardous to marine animals. Our cats, however, have tested negative for toxoplasma gondii, and since they are indoor only cats, there is no chance they will pick it up. So for us, flushing is the best answer.

If we had dogs, we’d have to find another alternative. One possibility would be to pick up poop using compostable dog waste bags and dispose of it in a dog waste composter.  However, using compostable dog waste bags is not recommended if the waste is simply going to the landfill.  You’ll see why further down this post.

What If We Couldn’t Compost?

So, as I’ve said, the main reason we don’t need to use plastic trash bags is because there is nothing wet or icky in our trash. But what if for some reason composting were not an answer and we really did need to use some kind of liner?  Here is a comparison of various options, starting with the least environmentally-friendly:

Conventional plastic trash bags. They’re strong, waterproof, and come in various sizes. Some of them have convenient little tie strings. But the majority of their content is virgin plastic made from fossil fuels (oil or natural gas), which are non-renewable resources. Their production contributes to the worldwide problem of pre-production plastic pollution (aka “nurdles“). They will never biodegrade. Oh, and they cost money!

Recycled plastic trash bags. They contain 55% – 80% recycled plastic, although only 10% – 24% is post-consumer waste. While they require less virgin plastic in their production than conventional bags, they still contain some new plastic which is destined to go straight from the box to the landfill, where it will never biodegrade. Oh, and they too cost money.

Certified compostable trash bags made from bio-based plastics. Bags like BioBag are made from a combination of plant starches and fossil-based plastics that are certified to biodegrade in a well-run industrial compost facility. However, since they are synthetic, they are prohibited from certified organic compost, so not all facilities will accept them. And in the anaerobic conditions of a landfill, they will give off methane gas like any other bio-based materials. Methane is actually a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Plus, BioBags cost money!

Other Biodegradable Bags. Some of these are tricky. There are oxodegradable bags which are made from virgin plastic and contain a heavy metal to help them break down. And there are also bags which are a mixture of virgin plastic and various starches. The jury is out as to whether these bags actually decompose all the way or whether they simply break down into tiny pieces of plastic that last in the environment.  One of the issues with these types of bags is that for proprietary reasons, manufacturers will not reveal the ingredients that are in them.  If we don’t know what a plastic is made from, how do we know it’s safe?

Paper bags. From a practical standpoint, paper won’t solve the problem of wet garbage. Ecologically speaking, they have their own environmental impacts. Paper bags require materials (trees) and energy to produce. And once again, they will not compost properly in landfill conditions.

Re-used plastic bags such as grocery, bread, and chips bags. Since these bags’ original purpose was to hold something other than garbage, as trashbags they can be considered to contain 100% post-consumer content. And in most places, they’re free.  Here’s a funny video listing all the different kinds of packaging you can use for trash if plastic shopping bags are banned. It’s tongue in cheek, so please take it with the humor that’s intended:

Still, reused plastic packaging and bags are made from a non-renewable resource and bring with them all the problems of the first two types of plastic bags. And since the whole point of this blog is reducing plastic consumption, I’m not recommending bringing home new plastic grocery bags or packaging simply to line trash cans.

While we ourselves might not have a supply on hand from our own groceries, Freecycle and Craigslist could be good sources. Rather than accepting new plastic grocery bags to send to the landfill with our trash, why not use someone else’s — someone else who has not yet kicked their plastic habit. It’s not a perfect solution, but better than buying or acquiring new plastic to throw away.  And a further suggestion would be to use the plastic bags only for wet garbage.  Put the dry stuff in a separate can without any liner. That way, you’ll at least reduce the amount of plastic you need to use.

The fact is, there is no magically perfect way to dispose of garbage since the whole concept of garbage itself is not eco-friendly. The best option is to try and reduce the amount of waste we generate in the first place.

Note: This post was updated on 12/02/2012.

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Mary S.
1 year ago

Very cute video. But a correction: it’s “hippie,” not “hippy…”. And yeah, I was one. And, contrary to Millenials who seem to blame my entire generation for their their woes, I’ve been vegetarian since 1972, and have composted since then, too. No methane from cows or animal manure supported by me, because I’m vegetarian.. I’ve never bought plastic trash bags, and I buy food and household items in bulk, as well. I don’t use harmful chemicals to houseclean. I make my own breads. And I’ve been a wildlife rehabilitator for 35 years, So I do my part both in green behavior, and by teaching others how to be green and compassionate, too. When folks leave my home, they become green ambassadors… if they aren’t already,

And I don’t shop at Whole Foods. I prefer to pay elsewhere for inexpensive nutritional value, not halogen lights and snooty employees. They’re also not happy (and I don’t blame them) if you get on line first to weigh your empty jars and containers, and then get on line a second time to make the poor cashier take the time to do a tare weight on food. No matter where I shop, though, many foods come in packaging. And WF has been caught shorting shoppers by not putting in the entire weight they claim in prepackaged foods (and grossly overcharging on animal proteins, but I don’t eat that stuff). And certainly, I prefer my loose produce to be protected (in a bag) from touching the conveyor belt at checkout, because it’s been found to grow out coliform bacteria, pseudomonas, E. coli, staph, etc. I’m not some Hipster who can afford a 25 dollar silicone reusable bag theth doesn’t fit celery or a head of romaine.

Plastics didn’t start with Boomers. It started with the PARENTS of Boomers… the WW II generation. They also trusted pesticides and herbicides. Read “Silent Spring” by Carson. Another small correction: the sack potatoes and apples come in, has holes or are mesh, unsuitable to wet garbage. The rigid containers that leafy green, etc. come in, also has leaky holes. And you won’t find empty bags for chips and cold cereals, etc. in my house, I don’t eat non-nutritive crap like that. So you still have a ways to go, regarding your Millenial eating habits and the bags and boxes you generate. And for those of us who live on a fixed income, frugality and being green isn’t even a matter of choice. The expense of superfluous plastic garbage bags is a nonstarter. So even though the video was funny, nothing you said was new: we and our mothers were already doing all that stuff.

In L.A., everyone burned their trash in Smoky Joes in their back yards, as a matter of good citizenship, until the day city visibility went down to zero. That’s when municipal garbage collection started, and plastic bag manufacturers saw their opportunity to make a killing. Plastic wrap was invented for the military in my parents’ generation, but it was greenish and stank. They had to figure out how to make it clear and odorless, then sold it to consumers. I’d recycled since my city started recycling but couldn’t before then. I get my clean newspapers for my kitchen and bathroom cans from the yellow recycling bins placed throughout the city: I got permission from that department, they said as long as I don’t take aluminum because that’s their real moneymaker. It can take me more than five years to use up enough aluminum foil to fill even one produce bag, I hardly ever use aluminum.

And I’ve never been to a Starbucks, unlike Millenials, so there’s no waste there, either. And I don’t eat fast food or “convenience foods,” as they were called. So no cans or boxes from that, either. You have a ways to go.

Your video presented the quandaries in a very cute way. But, this hippie has been green since before you were a twinkle in your momma’s eye.

Jean
2 years ago

I wonder if all locations require bags at the curb or municipal sites? Could you just put a metal or plastic can at the curb unlined?

I’ve been trying to figure out how we used to manage before plastic. I remembered that in the 70s and 80s, our apartment building in NYC had metal garbage cans that were put out on garbage day. After they were emptied, they were rinsed out. The cans were kept in the Garbage Room. People put their garbage in them in paper bags, wrapped in newspaper, or dumped directly from the apartment trash can.

Jeanne
2 years ago

I don’t consider myself to be that old … but I do remember when we didn’t use anything to line the waste basket. We didn’t compost either but we just didn’t seem to generate much trash either. Life existed just fine before the plastic bag

Susie
2 years ago

We can’t compost oily food and most animal products and due a rodent problem in our neighbourhood, grains products are discouraged – we collect these in a container in the freezer and then wrap them in newspaper and throw them in the garbage bin on garbage day. Our community doesn’t currently have any community composting options.

Bree Lutzow
2 years ago

I’ve always heard that you can’t compost dairy, meat, or bones. What do you do about this?

pssst3
2 years ago

It’s not necessary to completely avoid using plastic. Use it responsibly, don’t “waste” it.

One sturdy plastic storage containers can last for years, and is more easily, and likely to be recycled than the thousands of flimsy bags it replaces. The properties that make plastic hard to degrade in a landfill give it integrity.

Use temporary containers made of plastic that can be later recycled if and when they lose their integrity. Many people have kitchen garbage containers which are too large and aren’t emptied frequently enough. A diaper pail is an ideal temporary kitchen container. Empty it at least once a day into an outdoor container.

All food except milk is shipped to stores in corrugated cardboard boxes which they have to pay to have taken away. If you have a curbside container garbage collection program, line just the bottom of that container with cardboard, and forego using other liners. The bottom liner will absorb the organic fluids from the waste, fall out into the collection truck and will degrade faster no matter how it is processed.

To clean temporary waste storage containers use soap, and water with a spray bottle, not detergent. You do not need to fill or scrub out the container. Grey water can be used. Let it air dry. ( A mall piece of scented soap bar left in the container will mask all but the strongest odors, like from onions. ) Soap is made from food byproducts, is easily biodegraded, and is a good for lawns.

Joanna
2 years ago

Hi! This was really informative. However, I have a question. I read that you cannot compost meat, cooked food and oily stuff… Most of these are wet… How would you go about disposing of these without plastic bags? Thanks!

Kathryn
2 years ago

Great information, thanks for posting all of this. Trying to get my work site set up to recycle and was hoping to find a plastic bag alternative, looks like the Zero use of them is best. No wet garbage to speak of here so we should be able to just use the small recycle cans.

Pssst3
2 years ago
Reply to  Kathryn

Use sturdy plastic containers instead of flimsy bags. All but food grade storage containers contain a percentage of recycled material of the same type. The problem with plastic isn’t that it is plastic, but that it is intentionally wasted.

Delanie
2 years ago

I live in a very rural area that doesn’t have trash pick up. We have to load up our trash in the truck to take it off. That makes bags almost a necessity for transport purposes alone.

proplasticreusereduce
2 years ago

Reduce plastic but understand that most things are made of plastic and it’s reduced poverty and added to sanitation and water quality and safety. Use plastic carefully and recycle your plastic items. Bring your own mug to coffee shops, bring your own fork and spoon, don’t waste plastic bags, use a thinner compostable bag where available, use reusable shopping bags. but don’t be dramatic. Plastic is tech, water, communications, furniture, toys is washable, reusable, and recyclable and leave plastic processing and recycling to the experts. Anti plastic is anti sanitation, anti water accessibility, anti transportation, anti communications and is very dangerous, don’t go there.

Nancy Wells
2 years ago

I have been wrapping dry garbage with newspaper and rubber bands to keep it together. I live in an apartment that re cycles papers and metal containers. I simply cannot use indestructible plastic bags any more.

Pssst3
2 years ago
Reply to  Nancy Wells

Use a diaper pail and avoid making presents of your garbage. Use normal pails to hold your recycleables until it can be put into the pickup container.

Mindy
3 years ago

I love your article. I am trying to figure out the best, most environmentally friendly way to get rid of trash.
We recycle (in a small town its limited the numbers….) we compost and use on our garden. We eat pretty clean so we dont have greasy pork chops to pitch, so we can use all scraps in our compost.
If it were up to me, there would be no paper waste, no paper plates (I will only buy uncoated) and no paper towels. I prefer 12×12 in clothes for “paper towels”.
So here is the trouble, those paper plates after they are soggy with food, the non recyclable plastic film things, there just seems to be a lot of garbage we collect. More than I care to. I loathe plastic! I will use mesh produce bags and just pay for the extra weight, because our kroger doesn’t deduct the tare weight, because i loathe plastic.
Every time I see a trash bag go out, I cringe! Our trash man wont collect unless its bagged.
I just want the best choice, I would love a trash bag that is zero plastic, the will degrade at a land fill….
Any direction would be great. Glad isnt for me, but we need something!

Steven Benner
3 years ago
Reply to  Mindy

Sorry, why don’t you switch to solid plates?

Pssst3
2 years ago
Reply to  Mindy

Paper plates only make sense when the resources needed to clean regular plates are greater, environmentally unfriendly, or not available. They are better than foamed plastic if a disposable plate is necessary.

lolo
3 years ago

Dryer lint is compostable! Great post!!

Katie
3 years ago

We have found that the paper “lawn and leaf” bags will fit in our kitchen trash can if the top is folded down. This lasts a good long while, as we dump the trash directly into the outdoor trash can without the bag. We compost and don’t have a ton of trash, but we do have some yuck, such as snotty tissues from our two little kids, that we don’t want getting stuck on the inside of the can. No trash and no bag would be ideal, but I feel MUCH better about using a paper bag than the plastic ones we used to use.

Linda
3 years ago

I don’t get many (any?) plastic bags while shopping. I live in a city and often find plastic bags blowing around. I’ll grab these and either drop them off at recycle places (grocery stores drop off) or save a few around the house for when I need them.

I also use them for picking up litter as I’m walking around.

Amy
3 years ago

I am new to your blog and to plastic-free living…I read your book last week (I devoured it in two days!), and before I opened it, my very first question was, What to do about plastic kitchen garbage bags? When I read your book and saw what you’d written, my first reaction was disappointment; I thought, She doesn’t really give us alternatives! And then it dawned on me: the alternative to plastic garbage bags is LESS GARBAGE so we don’t need them! (it says a lot about how we are conditioned to think about consumption and waste in this country that this never even occurred to me on my own). Anyway, I wanted to say thank you for all you do. In less than a month, my family of four has gone from two full street cans of trash each week to a half-can a week, and we already have a four-foot tall compost pile. I never anticipated how much fun it would be, and how rewarding, to do this, and I am so happy to share it with my kids. Thank you, Ms. Terry, for all your hard work!! You are changing people’s lives with your words and your example.

Katelyn
3 years ago

Hi there!
I’m currently living at my parent’s place, where we compost and use bagless bins for our garbage. I’m going to be moving away to school in Sept and I’ve been looking online about my new town’s recycling rules. It’s going to be mandatory to have all garbage in a clear garbage bag. They explained that this means less recyclables getting into landfills. (They can see inside the bags and won’t take them if they have recyclables inside).

My question is: is there anything that i can use that’s clear, but not a huge plastic bag?

Thanks in advance!

Yvette
2 years ago
Reply to  Beth Terry

if you live where I live ants make a steady trail to food stuff placed in trash receptacles wo plastic. In addition this is a mobile home park where spaces do not have any use for composting..no grass lawns,etc so most of these suggestions are useless. Unfortunately I use those bags of thin plastic produce and grocery bags in my home small trash can which then goes into the 95 gallon receptacle outside my house. This system for trash doesn’t work here. To add we have no bulk collections so furniture,etc is discarded parallel to a state freeway which has become a dumping ground. There’s no public dumping over some thirty to forty miles near here in San Diego (rural area).

Abdul Rahman Khan
3 years ago

Can leftovers from cooked foods be composted?

Linda
3 years ago

If you are doing backyard composting, I would avoid anything with meat or high in fat. Othewise, probably ok.

Supplify
4 years ago

Excellent article! Great info & tips ! I was using plastic bags for my waste but I’ll start practicing some of the the tips given by you. I usually maintain two dustbins for wet trash & dry trash.

Annette
4 years ago

Thought provoking, but not helpful for people who live in apartments and can’t compost.

CJ Nicosia
4 years ago

what about public trash cans in towns and side walks. they are often made of something similar to concrete so that they are hard to move. without a bag how can the garbage even be removed from the containers. my intention is not to challenge i am sincerely looking for an answer because i want to get a plastic bag ban on my campus. The problem really does seem to be with public garbage bins being emptied only by hand and the problems faced withou the use of the plastic garbage bags

Shaina Horne
2 years ago
Reply to  CJ Nicosia

They could put a whole bin liner in that is made probably of plastic but it could be reused just remove dump rinse and replace.

Conja
4 years ago

How do you depose of dust & hair when you clean the floors ? Am thinking of getting the reusable swifter cloth. So just shake it out in a paper bag
And the in the recycle cans ?

Shahidah
5 years ago

I live in a housing complex where we have a Trash Disposal Room on each floor. Non-recyclable garbage goes down a garbage chute. I have to bag that to put down the chute. Beside a plastic recycle bag for washed plastics and metals, we have an area to stack newspapers and other clean paper items. I still have to collect plastics and metals in a bag to deposit in the appropriate bag and, while I can tie newspapers and magazines together with brown string, I still have to collect the small pieces of paper in a trash bin to leave in that area. So, for me, the best I have been able to come up with is to reuse plastic packaging containers to collect these forms of trash and use reusable shopping bags as much as possible. This allows me to have to use less plastic bags from stores. But I still accept a few to make sure I have them for garbage disposal as needed. I don’t see how we can be totally plastic free but I feel good knowing I’m participating in doing what I can anyway.

Autumn
5 years ago

I saw your 2016 update about Sweat Scoop changing their paper bag to a plastic bag. I wanted to note that they did this to avoid pet store contamination of food moths from bird seed, etc. We’ve been buying Sweat Scoop for years and brought home a ton of food moths one day when they used to use the paper bags.

Victoria Perrone
5 years ago

I don’t know if this is already said, BUT how about drying our Wet Stuff food before putting it in the garbage. I live in an Apt complex, I DO HAVE A Trash can inside with no Liner for recyclables & then dump in the big bins outside but HOW ABOUT FOR THE WET FOOD ETC. WE COULD PUT THEM IN on a flat surface metal sheet to dry up, LEAVE OUT THE NIGHTS USING OF WET food etc. and then it can be dumped into the unlined compost can to dump in the unrecyclable outside trash Bins? IDK, JUST THINKING

Angela
5 years ago

I have too reduced my trash by composting, recycling the glass jars and plastic containers I do have and do not reuse, shopping mostly at the farmer market, and bulk food bins, that I have very little trash, actually most of it is junk mail, and container wrappers for a few foods which I will research to find products with better packaging. I was about to buy biobags again and read this article. I now think I am going to use paper bags from the grocery store for my dry trash, it won’t be many and they use only recycled paper bags. I have this website favorited and am so happy to see so many people interested. It gives me hope. :)

ric
5 years ago

so we need a trash dehydrator then

Peter Piercy
4 years ago
Reply to  ric

Hi Ric,
I would like to send you an article I have written re food dehydrator and you are right this is the correct direction.
Peter

Peggy
6 years ago

I shred a lot of paper and want to put the paper into recycle, but if it is loose, it is blown about when it is being dumped. Any ideas???

Katia
5 years ago
Reply to  Peggy

Shredded paper can NOT be recycled it get stuck in gears and things. If you put it in the recycle bin it will be brought to the dump.

Anne-Lise
5 years ago
Reply to  Peggy

Recology asks us to put shred in a paper bag taped shut and labeled SHREDDED PAPER.

Tammy Travis
6 years ago

Here i am stumped again. What about the packaging from food products such as cracker boxes, cereal boxes, milk containers?

Xima
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth Terry

Maybe she means how could you have a plastic-free life if plastic is in all of these products?

jordyn
6 years ago

Use the cloth diaper pail liners!! They cost around $7-20 and you can just empty them easily then toss them into the washer!

Lady Alexia Smith
6 years ago

In our house we generate *no* garbage at all. Not a scrap of anything is allowed to leave the house as thrash. So we have no problem at all.

Xima
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth Terry

Hmm same thoughts. She probably does a lot of DIY stuff and compost. I can see how this is possible by using your trash as treasure, but my! The time effort!

Sam
6 years ago

Dear Beth, this is an excellent article. You’ve last updated the article in 2012, wanted to check if any better substitutes have been available in the market since then. If yes, can you post details of the options available now.

Best,
Sam

againstthegrain
6 years ago

Great suggestions on limiting plastic use. Just not sure why we are trying to limit it in the first place? You mistakenly label oil and gas as “fossil fuels” and “non renewable”. Neither oil nor gas comes from fossils as theorized in the 1800’s. It comes from phytoplankton shells and renewal is aided by the CO2 emitted when it burns. It is a renewable resource with an efficiency that surpasses any “green” alternatives and you’ll find that many reserves that were expected to be depleted are now producing more than they did 30 years ago.
Let’s look at some alternatives too. I am not sure why plastic is less desirable than metal or wood or glass. We use oil and gas for the production of plastics. A material that can be recycled and renewed almost indefinitely. Sounds pretty “green” to me.
That metal can you use can also be recycled but with greater limitations. And if carbon output for some reason concerns you than metal would certainly be another material you should avoid. In fact if the mining of metals is factored in to the “footprint” of automobile production an electric car “pollutes” far more than a combustion engine. Has no one stopped to consider the “footprint” their bicycle leaves on the world. Those metals are mined from around the world.
I would highly recommend studying the emissions outputs from the production of photovoltaic cells as well. Solar isn’t exactly “green”. The emissions from a 100 watt cell are greater than the manufacturing of a new car.
Glass produces 25 to 30 percent more toxic compounds in its manufacturing than plastic. It is less recyclable is heavier increasing transportation impacts and doesn’t last as long.
And arguing for total use of post consumer recycled products (not that you were) is of course short sighted and ignorant. If virgin materials aren’t used at a significantly faster rate than recycled products are manufactured production would bottle neck and there would be no recyclables either.
In the end every living thing impacts and alters it’s environment and everything it comes in contact with directly and indirectly. Many of these changes are permanent. But this is a contained system we live within. Everything comes from the earth and everything returns to it. Everything is recyclable everything is renewable everything is organic. Some things may be detrimental in large quantities or small quantities to some living things or most but any who claim to know what is best for the environment are the most ignorant of all. You don’t fear for a damaged environment you fear an altered environment less suitable for human habitation but maybe the environment controls us with our own production of volatile products the elimination of which would increase our numbers and cause even worse problems. A life driven by fear can only be helped with education. Complete preservation is not a reality so let’s take a deep breath and enjoy life because none of us have any understanding of what is right or wrong healthy or not what will come of our actions or lack of. What is best for the individual is not what is best for the whole and which should take priority we do not know nor does it really matter.
I work as a hand faller logging controlling the spread of mountain pine beetle and removing hazardous trees and doing fuel management. I also work as a wild land firefighter. I have also worked in the oil and gas sector on seismic operations and used to be in glass manufacturing. I ranch and farm “organically” have converted vehicles to veggie oil and live “off grid”. I produce most of my own food and very little garbage. None of which I do because it’s better for the environment or myself. It call comes down to economics.

Science Rocks
6 years ago

There are so many incorrect statements in this post.

David
6 years ago

All you have to understand is that it is harmful to the life on planet earth.ALL LIFE!! You say you do all those great things good for you.Now why are you hating on someone who is trying to educate people to be better.?

Linda
4 years ago

just saw video from cnn. They cut open a Dead Sea bird on the beach and it had so much plastic in its stomach it literally made me sick! The statistics are staggering on how many sea birds and fish injest plastics. We must come together and change the way we do things. We human beings are killing the very things we depend on to sustain our lives.

Inspired
6 years ago

I’m very inspired by this info and it will help guide me better into a plastic free life as well. One thing that I can’t stand is the SaveNow coupons newspaper ads that we get almost every two weeks or so. I’ve written to them several times asking them to stop mailing to us but they won’t take us off their lists. What can you do?

ekimmom
6 years ago

Beth Terry
The only problem I have with composting with newspaper is that it is full of printer ink. Do we really want to eat from a veggie garden fed by newspaper ink??

ekimmom
6 years ago

nanr42
People don’t like the idea of a sloppy messy trash can they have to wash after emptying out the trash. It’s hard to make a change back to an old fashioned way when you’ve tasted convenience. Plus we’ve become lazy.

LisaCausey
6 years ago

@Claretta Freeman Yes, one step at a time. Each step is a help to our Earth, and to yourself. If you try to do it all at once, indeed it will be overwhelming.

nanr42
7 years ago

Why do we line our undersink trash cans at all? What did people do before plastic bags? What if we just didn’t? I’ve been struggling with this idea, and find it hard to implement. Any thoughts on this?

FranBC
8 years ago

I have a good method for handling the garbage we don’t recycle or compost. I use a small stainless steel garbage can lined with half a sheet of newspaper. When that’s full, I dump into an aluminum garbage can with lid for pickup. Works great!

MotherLodeBeth
8 years ago

As a side note for glass, plastic, aluminum for the recycling center that we collect when out for daily walks we use king size pillow cases which are then washed and line dried when we get home from the recyling center. As for the wet items in the inside compost bucket that we take outside when half full to dump in the composter, we find using shredded cardboard in the bucket absorbs the liquids for fruits, vegetables so we don’t end up with any slime in the bucket.

cdhozac
9 years ago

Another option for a lot of wet garbage is a food disposal system. My city uses organic materials in the sewage system to create biogas to run our buses. Not everything can go down the drain, but most of it can. Some cities also harvest the methane and other gases from landfills to be repurposed into something productive. Like running the BMW plant in NC. You can always look into suggesting these improvements for the next upgrade to the waste systems if your city doesn’t already energy harvest from the waste.

patsposies
9 years ago

Compost bucket tip: No need to even use (and buy) the bio bags you mentioned that you use in your kitchen compost bucket. Just use 2 layers of (recycled) newspaper (no shiny colored paper) pushed down in the bucket and let it go up the sides. Then when full w/ compostable food scraps just dump the whole thing into your compost bin or pile. The newspaper breaks down w/ the food and also helps prevent odors in the bucket. It also absorbs moisture from the food!! Try it – it will change your life! Pat

Beth Terry
8 years ago
Reply to  patsposies

We switched to newspaper a year or so ago and haven’t bought BioBags since. Thanks. I’ve updated the post.

Anabda
1 year ago
Reply to  patsposies

All of these insights and this advice is super helpful and educating thanks so much to you all. And my name’s Amanda I couldn’t fix that up above. So sorry for that.

avp
9 years ago

I’ve read in the past that it’s not a good idea to flush cat litter, not because of the plumbing, but because it puts more stress on an already overloaded public septic system. Do you have any feedback or suggestions on that front?

Beth Terry
9 years ago
Reply to  avp

I think everyone needs to make choices and there are impacts from cat litter no matter what choice you make. In a landfill, organic material (like wheat litter) will create methane gas (a strong greenhouse gas) as it breaks down. I figure that if we had kids, there would be a lot more material going down the toilet on a daily basis. Our cats are our kids. I’m not saying it’s the right decision for everyone, but it works for us.

Claretta Freeman
9 years ago

I feel sad and overwhelmed as I read this article. When the average person feels like they want to make changes and tries to look for ways to do this, It seems almost impossible. The only things that seem possible for me to do are things I already do like reuse bags and recycle plastic. The average person does not have the time or money to do the things you suggest. I love your suggestions but they would require a book just to know how to live differently so that I could try to do SOME of the things. I have to fight with my husband just to get him to recycle milk bottles! Time like thses I feel like Oh well the earth is going to **** in a handbasket! I know there are many people who think this way. When you work all the time and you are trying your hardest to put healthy food on the table and take care of your kids…These things seem impossible to figure out or to add into your already crazy routine. Why can’t being green be more convenient. I think I need a Green support group. That might make it easier. I wish I had a compost tumbler. I just learned what that is today. How can the average person know these things if they do not seek it out. I live in the midwest. Most people only slightly care about the environment. Everyone is waiting for the “government” to do something. I want to do something too but I ashamedly admit I don’t want to go crazy doing it. It is way more countercultural than I realized.

Meechity
9 years ago

@Claretta Freeman Adopt little tiny habits over time. Don’t try to do everything, or feel bad that you can’t be a hero. :) Feel *great* that you have the genuine heart to try! (^_^)

Beth Terry
9 years ago

Step by step. That is what I encourage in my book. Do the easy things first. Tackle the harder things after you have mastered the low hanging fruit. In fact, I have a whole chapter in my book in how to deal with feeling overwhelmed. Cheers!

CynthiaWatanabe
8 years ago

@Claretta Freeman Find one thing to start with. That’s what I did years ago. For example, I live in an apt so recycling is more difficult. I started with using my grocery bags for throwing away my garbage. That way, I didn’t buy new plastic bags. Depending upon where I live I now have more options for recycling and have increased my efforts along the way. Each small effort we do multiplies in time. One person can make a difference. You can make a difference.

Nora L
8 years ago

@Claretta Freeman I totally empathize with this comment! It can be quite overwhelming. I am a very busy, working, single mom of three year old twins. My take home message is just going to be doing a few things at a time to decrease my plastic waste. For instance, I have been really lazy about getting plastic bags at the farmers market. I am going to start taking bags with me from now on!

Julie
10 years ago

Wow, who knew it had to be so complicated? I don’t have city composting, so I don’t know what rules apply. But I have a large backyard, so I compost all sorts of crazy things. I read the Humanure Handbook a couple years back, and while I don’t follow his recommendations, I realized how silly it was to be afraid of composting pet waste. So the dog poop and cat litter (I use a corn product, because I’m allergic to wheat) go right in the bin, along with floor sweepings (mostly crumbs, cat hair, and outdoor dirt anyway) and dryer lint. Sure, the polyester isn’t actually going to break down at a molecular level, but is it better to put it in a landfill? I can’t identify it once the compost is finished, and it doesn’t seem to be causing my garden any harm.

I’ll throw nearly anything in the compost at least once. I usually find a few bits of trash in the compost — usually plastic envelope windows, but one time it was an entire zipper, about three feet long. No sign of whatever it was attached to, and I couldn’t remember!

Purvi
10 years ago

Hello Beth,

Your blog has become my resource for exploring ways to minimize trash/plastic consumption. Thank you once again for becoming an inspiration, I hope to become a tiny part of that for my friends :)

My husband was against composting because he thinks compost waste would stink up our garage/kitchen in one week. We live in a townhome so cannot self-compost. But we do have city taking care of compost in our yard waste bin and I plan to leverage that. Now I have finally kinda/sorta convinced him to give this a try. My question however is 2 fold –

1. What is the best way to dispose liquids (either food gone stale sadly although I dont let it happen very often) or genuine wastage (I have a toddler at home)? Especially considering that I have to store this in some form for a week before the yard waste is picked up. It will be great if you can share any ideas here.

2. If I chose to not line my kitchen pail with biobags (sort of use your idea) , how do I clean/protect the yard waste bin? Since we have a townhome, we dont actually have any yard waste (the community takes care of it) to line it with. Do we make the big can “Dirty” by dumping everything in there? how do people clean it – just wash it out?

I know these are smaller doubts in mind, but they seem to be delaying my switch to using the compost bin. I know partly if I just make the move, I will figure these out, but woudl still like to learn from this awesome blog/community if I can.

Thank you,
Purvi

Dawn
11 years ago

Thanks for bringing to mind another aspect of my pet plastic issue (I have a post coming out tomorrow on my “alternative” pets and their plastic). I have a snake and 2 birds. The snake cage needs cleaned about twice a year unless it gets really bad provided I clean up the tiny bit of poo each month but the birds use old newspaper and/or paper towels and are poop brigades. I suppose I could scoop out the snake poo and just wash the container that I use for that purpose only. And when the cage does need cleaned she generally uses either sawdust type material (a bit larger like what you would put in a horse stall) or bark or newspaper so it should be easy to dispose of without plastic. If I can’t find old newspaper I’m sure I could just make a habit out of spraying off the plastic pull out tray for the birds weekly in order to cut down on the plant use as well (no paper towels that way). Hmm…more thinking!

Also just have to tote your recycling! We are a pretty bad household when it comes to plastic and waste in general (I have no control over the roommate and the husband doesn’t yet understand but at least I can get him to recycle) and once we started recycling it was amazing. We went from not being able to close the lid of our trashcan weekly to having tons of excess space! And all we did was add 3 bins to our system (CRV, containers, paper)! :) So yay for this blog and yay for you! Can’t wait til the city we live next to (we’re in a suburb that isn’t technically considered a part of the city ordinance) impliments their compost law! I can then use my parents compost bin they are required to use like we do for most of our recycling and our waste will go down another huge notch! :)

claire
11 years ago

what if you separated your synthetic clothes from your natural ones when washing? which might work out well because most synthetic fibers are supposed to be hang dried and cotton dries very stiff on the line. there’s the problem of cotton/polyester blends, but I was reading about composting lint and some people said that you could compost even synthetic lint because it’s in small pieces and would break down, I’m not really sure about that though.

someone mentioned dog waste, I’ve been having this same dilemma. as far as plastic-free solutions, there is composting, burying (may contaminate water supply), flushing (may clog pipes, but is apparently the EPA recommended disposal option, plus there are flushable dog bags), or using paper bags (not water-proof, except for maybe wax bags? and not easily sealable without tape or glue). but since these are not always possible or practical solutions, there are ways of reducing the amount of plastic used (considering dog walking usually means a bag, or more, per day). I read a good blog post about this (here: http://itssoeasybeinggreen.blogspot.com/2007/03/what-to-do-with-fidos-poop-week.html) that suggested using things like bread bags that you’d be throwing out anyway, which made me discover that bread bags have a recycling emblem on them. so I’ve started using previously used ziploc bags (I won’t use them but my family does), it also mentions using found bags. there’s always the pooper scooper option so you can bring it home and add a lot more to one bigger bag, but carrying it with more than one dog can be difficult. the article also talks about using things like newspaper to scoop up the poop with, so you could theoretically carry a reusable, washable bag (some are made specifically for carrying poo bags) and place the poo-filled paper into it to bring home to a garbage bag. if you use butcher paper, that could be a good use for it.

Andrea
11 years ago

I want to reiterate what has been said about not flushing cat litter. I don’t use SwheatScoop, but I do use a supposedly-flushable product called the World’s Best Cat Litter, made from corn cobs. This is an ecologically sound and relatively dust-free product, and I flushed it for a couple of years without any problem–until the day that the pipe outside my house leading to the sewer backed up. I had a couple of inches of raw sewerage in my bathroom, which required a team of professionals to clean. The washer and drier needed to be moved. The drywall had to be removed, replaced, and repainted. Items on the floor were ruined. The entire area needed to be disinfected and treated to prevent mold buildup. I don’t even want to think about the chemicals that were used in this process. Don’t make the same mistake. Now I scoop litter into a paper bag that’s placed in the plastic bag the litter came in. I re-use the litter bag many times and put the paper bag into the garbage. I’m going to try making the newspaper cone someone else recommended here instead of the paper bag.

Muse
11 years ago

Just a question: why do you throw your dryer lint in the garbage?

Monica
9 years ago
Reply to  Beth Terry

you could use some of the lint to put out for nesting animals (birds/squirrels). when i had a dryer, i put it in a suet feeder. the birds would come & help themselves.