Week 5 – The Rubbish Diet

We are already starting week 5 of The Rubbish Diet and I have some success to report:  we did not put any trash out for pick-up during week 4!

That doesn’t mean we didn’t generate any waste, but it was significantly reduced.  Instead of putting out a bag or two weekly, at this rate we could go every other week.

How did we do it?  Cutting out paper towels and paper napkins reduced a lot of the volume.  Finding out that more than just plastic grocery bags are recyclable helped us divert plastic film and plastic baggies from the trash. Planning meals a little better for the week better has reduced the amount of food waste going into the trash bin (and has saved us some money).

I’m still struggling with the coffee situation.  I continue to justify the daily use of individual pre-packed coffee servings by convincing myself they don’t take up THAT much room in my rubbish bin, and the current reusable alternative is way too messy and time consuming to deal with right now.  And I can’t seem to locate my french press, but I’m still looking for it through our de-cluttering efforts.

I have come to terms with my irrational fear of compost and gardening.  Assuming I can connect with my local botanical garden to acquire a discounted backyard compost container, I’ll have a place for my food waste in time for week 6.  In the mean time, I’m going to see about getting some seedlings started so I’ll have somewhere to put all that compost when it’s ready.

So we’ve seen progress in the past 4 weeks.  While I’m still a little nervous of the prospect of getting to zero waste by week 8, I think it is more within reach now that when we started in week 1.

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Cleaning Up and Cleaning Out Stuff

The Rubbish Diet Challenge this past week is cleaning up around the house.  I got to thinking about what we already do and what more we can do in our quest to maintain cleanliness.  Then I started thinking about all the chores I’m behind on and how I will likely spend some time this weekend on said chores (yay).

I also want to spend some time on cleaning OUT.   Steve’s grandparents bought the house we live in almost 50 years ago. We were fortunate enough to take it over a few years back and have made some improvements since (energy efficient windows, new siding, etc.)

Part of the updating process has included wading through many years worth of accumulated stuff stored in the attic, closets and the basement.  We make four piles: keep, donate, recycle, trash. The ‘keep’ pile is further sorted into categories: ‘family stuff’, ‘possibly worth something’, and ‘this is cool and usable but if we don’t use it in the next year we’ll donate it’.  The ‘donate’ pile (usable stuff that we don’t need) has been the biggest and we have lugged many a car load of bagged and boxed materials to a local charity shop.  The ‘recycle’ pile is a no brainer and gets sorted and put out for collection.  Unfortunately, the ‘trash’ pile has been almost has big as the ‘donate’ pile and we’ve sent lots of bags of trash and unusable stuff to the landfill.

Since we have been doing a lot of work to get stuff out, we also do a lot to prevent stuff from coming in.  I turn down freebies and give-aways.  For any kind of impulse purchase I ask, will this get used a lot or will it sit on a shelf or in a drawer collecting dust?

In my household growing up we were ingrained with the Girl Scout mantra of ‘be prepared’.  It is a good motto to live by as it gets you thinking and you plan to be ready for any scenario.  As I got older and did a bit of traveling that mantra shifted to ‘what can I do without’.  I would pack only the necessities leaving out that extraneous just-in-case stuff.  I quickly realized you can easily get by with a minimal amount of ‘stuff’ and don’t miss the items left behind.

Of course I should be grateful to have the luxury of too much stuff, and it brings up greater societal issues of over-consumption and the haves and the have-nots and the list can go on.  But we’ll keep the focus on reducing my individual household impact and my  goal of zero-waste by week 8 of The Rubbish Diet.

Now, back to finishing up those clean-up chores and seeing if I can keep the waste from that process to a minimum.

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My backyard compost options

NYC has a great resource in the Lower Eastside Ecology Center.  They have lots and lots of information, they coordinate with community gardens for resident food waste drop-off and they even sell worms for vermiculture.   We also have botanical gardens in each of the five boroughs, all of which offer some level of compost education including the Queens Botanical Garden nearest me.

The only thing is it is February.  Not a hoppin’ time for compost workshops or info sessions. But that’s ok because thanks to Google I learned the following from a number of sources today that all pretty much all said the same thing:

  • Create a 50%/50% mix of carbon rich materials and nitrogen rich materials
  • Turn the pile regularly and make sure it is not too moist and not too dry
  • Don’t ever add any meat, dairy, grease.  Don’t add weeds or diseased plants or animal feces.
  • Pests shouldn’t be a problem if you do all of the above.

I think I can handle that.  Now I have to figure out how to contain my pile in the backyard.  I found a multitude of compost bin options.  I don’t have an abundance of space, but I do have some room to maneuver.  The two compost bins that are on the top of my list right now are:

  1. The make-your-own with 2×4’s and hardware cloth that is referred to as a portable wood and wire composting bin.
  2. Ready to purchase plastic compost bins such as the “Garden Gourmet”

Mid-winter may not be the best time to get started, but hey, I’m the last person who needs yet another excuse to put off backyard composting.

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The Rubbish Diet – Week 4

Whew! Busy week last week which not only meant I neglected my blogging duties, but also meant I wasn’t home at all to generate any trash! I’m proud to say that last week we generated only two bags of trash, and one of those bags was ‘just’ a big block o’ styrofoam packaging.

So far for week 4 our kitchen trash bag is not filling up very fast. Still have those pesky yogurt cups, blister packs for pills, a chip bag (or crisp bag for my UK readers), and yes, still a few of those blasted K-cups.

I didn’t have much of a chance to research compost last week due to aforementioned busy-ness, hoping to do a bit of that this week AND tackle this week’s Rubbish Diet Challenge: cleaning products.  By the way, thanks to all who gave me compost and gardening tips. Very helpful and encouraging!

Now that we’ve eliminated paper towels, I have less waste when cleaning up.  Switching to cloth rags is a great way to reduce waste.  I use several Method brand cleaning products (mainly because I like the refill option for the soap).  I’m sure there are more ways we can reduce our waste when cleaning up.  Like getting rid of those cleaning-wipe things, and dryer sheets.  Wonder what else we can reduce…

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Week 3 trash pick up

I got home last night to see that my hubby dutifully put out the recycling and the trash (Thursday is our second trash pick-up for the week).

I was a little confused though. I couldn’t think of what trash there could possibly be. We just put out the trash on Monday, and all we had racked up so far this week were a few k-cups (not completely eliminated yet), and other odds and ends (banana peel, yogurt cups, blister packs for sinus meds). The bag barely had anything in it.

After thanking Steve for wrangling the recyclables and putting everything out on the curb on a snowy night, I had to ask, “what’s in the trash?”

Styrofoam packaging. We purchased a humidifier a couple of months ago, and we had kept the box in case we needed to return it. Since it was recycle day the box needed to go out. He was left with the styrofoam block packaging.

So we’ll add a little less than a pound of trash to my rubbish diet total for week 3.

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Why I’m afraid to compost

I don’t know why I’m afraid of composting.  It’s not necessarily the act of composting itself, I think it is more of the thought of composting and what that entails.

Separating my food waste from my other trash is a no brainer.  I know there are so many benefits to composting, so I don’t need to be sold on the idea.  I have space.  A whole backyard, in fact.  So that’s not an issue.  I really have no excuse NOT to.  It is more that the thought of compost leads me to the thought of gardening and growing things, which is really the underlying cause of my fear.

I guess you could say I have a bit of a ‘brown thumb’. I have about a 50-50 houseplant success rate – half of the plants, including cacti, that I have brought into my house have lived (only one at the demise of the cats, I have myself to thank for killing off the rest.)  I tried growing some herbs and tomatoes one summer in pots outside.  That didn’t work.

But hey, why should I let that stop me?  As the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  I just need to get over my silly fear of gardening failure and get to learning about backyard composting. With anything else, practice makes perfect, right?  I better get to it.

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Can I reduce food waste?

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The clear answer is yes, I can reduce food waste. What is not so clear is how.

Meal planning and buying only what we need will help. I’ve been doing better at that. We have recently bought in on a ‘winter share’ from a local farm. We get a bounty of seasonal, locally grown produce once a month. While I’m still not too sure what to do with all the daikon radishes we keep getting, I’ve been using up just about everything else. Experimenting with new dishes and failing has led to a little bit more food waste, but it is prepping me for when the every other week summer share starts in May (I’m anticipating canning/jarring to be in my future…)

I also have an irregular schedule, so being able to plan to cook on weekends, create individual portions, and make good use of the freezer helps. I have yet to master this and end up creating some food waste as a result.

That’s all about reduction, the first step. Maximizing leftovers I count in the reduction category even though you could argue that is reuse. Reuse could also include making stocks from veg trimmings and meat bones.

Then what to do with the rest? We have a garbage disposal, which eliminates use of the bin for some stuff. And the next alternative would be compost. For some reason this relatively easy thing seems daunting to me. I’ll definitely need to get over my compost issues if I want to continue to slim my bin.

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The Rubbish Diet Weigh In – Week 3

Here we are, week 3 of The Rubbish Diet. Today I put out one bag of trash weighing about 8 lbs. Are my bins any slimmer than when I started? Kind of.

By weight I’m not putting out any less, although I’ve targeted specific contents to keep out of the trash. Last week I stopped using paper towels, and reduced my k-cup usage. I’ve tried to bring in less packaging via purchases, and discovered I can recycle nearly all of my plastic bags in my area.

It still isn’t enough. The focus of Week 3 of The Rubbish Diet is food waste. I definitely need help here. I’ll be looking at ways to reduce food waste and start learning more about how I can compost the rest. Wish me luck – I’m going to need it!

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Ongoing coffee trials

Oh goodness. Epic fail as I tried out the Keurig make-your-own filter instead of the k-cups.  I may have the wrong grind or was doing something wrong, but there was water spewing everywhere.  A quick internet search indicates this is a common problem and that a little plastic washer can fix the problem.  There’s also another type of 1-cup filter that uses little paper filters, which looks like easier clean-up and could potentially be composted.  Might be a better option.

Ah the balance between convenience and less waste.  Until we get that figured out I think I’ll use a coffee press. 

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Typical NYC trash

This is what urban residential trash and recycling looks like in NYC.  It’s piled high on the sidewalk in front of the building (this happens to be a large high-rise apartment building in mid-town Manhattan).

Typically residents are responsible for taking their trash and recyclables to a central trash room on each floor.  Building personnel collects the stuff from the trash rooms, bags it and takes it to a central storage area in the building (or sometimes there are trash chutes).  On garbage day they take it all outside and put it on the curb.

In NYC, residential trash and recyclables are picked up by Department of Sanitation (DSNY) trucks on a route. Trash is picked up by one truck and a split truck picks up recyclables (paper/cardboard on one side and glass/metal/plastic on the other side).  Citations can be issued if materials aren’t properly sorted.

Part of the reason there is no charge for trash pick-up is due to multi-unit residences.  No one has figured out yet how to install a pay as you throw program (or there’s been so much push back over the years that no one has bothered to go there – “fughettaboutit” as they say.)  There’s also the issue of pests. I’m sure you’ve heard stories of cockroaches and rats (most of which are probably true.)  More frequent pick-ups make for fewer unwanted visitors.  I used to live in NYC apartments and you find out pretty quick that it is best not to let trash sit around longer than it needs to.

I now live in an area of NYC that is mostly single family homes.  So we take out our own trash and get twice a week service, and it’s still free.  The only incentive I have for doing the right thing is, well, my conscience.

This week I already put out two bags of trash.  I’m happy to report that today is the second pick-up day of the week and we are NOT putting anything out (yay us!)

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