Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Enviro-Girl Talks Trash

When I was little we lived on a city block with an alley running behind our house. Behind our house was a single-car garage and next to that garage we kept two 10-gallon metal trash cans. I remember my father putting trash bags into those trash cans and the clang when he replaced the cover. Each week the trash collectors pulled through our alley, dumping out the cans beside each single-car garage into the enormous steel mouth of their garbage truck. Our family of four never needed more than those 2 trash cans, and as I recall that was about the same number of trash cans the rest of our neighbors required.

Today I live in a much larger house and my family has 5 people. We recycle 2 brown paper bags of paper and about 15 gallons of assorted glass, plastic and metal each week. We fill one 20-gallon trash can each week with our refuse. How is it that my family generates so much more waste today than a family did 30 years ago? Each week I compare piles of trash as I drive through town. My neighbors (2 people) almost always have twice as much garbage at the end of the driveway. Most families have at least two barrels of trash in addition to their recycling containers.

The average garbage can back in 1975 was metal and held 10 gallons. Today you can buy a trash receptacle from Rubbermaid that holds 95 gallons. We've Supersized our garbage cans to accomodate more what? Waste? Disposal? Consumption?

Even when I compost, reuse, recycle, my family generates 20 gallons of garbage each week. Even when I try to purchase items with the least amount of packaging and reduce our consumption of goods, my family makes a weekly deposit of 20 gallons to our local landfill. And this is Enviro-Girl's family! We're below average!

I considered the following while clearing my sinuses in my morning shower:

1) When I was little we used Ivory soap. The bars were wrapped in a layer of waxy paper. We used Ivory soap in every sink and tub in our house. Today I have soap dispensers with liquid soap that comes in big plastic bottles by 4 sinks and bath gels and body washes (although less than last week...) and bubble bath in addition to a few bars of Ivory soap in 2 showers/tubs.

2) When I was little toys came in a box. Now toys come in two boxes with twist-ties and plastic dividers and all sorts of extra packaging for protection during shipment from China.

3) When I was little we didn't decorate as much. At Christmas time we hung a wreath on our front door and put one tree in our living room. We never decorated for any other holiday. Today you're a Scrooge if you don't hang strings of lights outside your house and it seems people decorate for every single holiday of the year--except Arbor Day. People buy holiday-themed towels and soap dispensers, ornaments and rugs. Folks have yard displays for Halloween and Fourth of July. Heck, Christmas Decorations has become its own department--as big as Ladies' Apparel or Shoes in most stores.

4) When I was little we didn't have as many toys. This probably had a lot to do with how much money we had, but I don't recall feeling deprived. We got new toys for our birthdays and at Christmas. Period. Now my children expect a toy whenever we eat a meal out, whenever we make it through the check out lane at the grocery store, whenever we go to an event. It used to be enough to get a box of cookies at McDonald's. Now every Happy Meal comes with a toy, and every kid's meal at every other restaurant has followed suit. My local grocery store offers the children tokens to use in gumball machines each time I pay the bill. I
look like a meanie each time I say NO! but a toy just because we came to buy groceries??? It used to be enough to go to the Ice Capades or the circus. Now each child demands a $15.00 lighted toy or glow stick as part of the package. The grandparents bring trinkets each time they visit and send them along for each holiday. My children have acquired in a combined sixteen years more plastic made in China and Taiwan than I've owned in my entire life.

I think we all know our consumption has gotten out of hand. The question is, how can we reduce our waste to more manageable levels?

Enviro-Girl welcomes your suggestions. Meanwhile, she'll keep denying her children tokens and Happy Meal toys and glow sticks. She'll only decorate for Christmas and use natural foliage the rest of the year. Enviro-Girl will replace the soap dispensers with bars of Ivory soap when they're empty and continue to buy items that use less packaging.

Compost, people. Reuse, reduce and recycle. This is Enviro-Girl signing off.


  1. I know my family is generating too much trash and leaving much too large of a footprint. My main goal for the new year is to research ways we can use less...in all areas of are lives. Any resources you might know of, I would greatly appreciate. Have a great day.

  2. I highly recommend the book "Garbage Land" by Elizabeth Royte, as well as the blog No Impact Man (noimpactman.typepad.com), which is one man's crusade to have zero environmental impact -- in NYC.

    As for us, here in Jenworld we've been working on this one for years. Some things we've done: We recycle as much as we can. Before that, we try just as hard to reduce our consumption. I bring cloth bags to the store, and not just the grocery store. We don't eat fast food very often -- maybe only a few times a year. We try very hard not to buy plastic crapola, such as toys for the girls. As it happens, they still have plenty of plastic crapola, but we're working on getting the sheer volume down.

    We'll never have zero impact on the environment, but we are doing the best we can and are constantly seeking new things we can do.

  3. Just stopping by at the suggestion of Jen on the edge. Great post. I agree, it's insane the amount of stuff people feel they need to buy, and the amount of stuff that is now disposable. Or stuff that isn't meant to be disposable but is of such bad quality that it ends up in the trash.
    Possessions are a burden, but hardly anyone understands that.

  4. I arrived here via Busy Dads blog.I see some familar names and would like to add mine to the mix. Like mrs. g. our next years resolution is to stop the excess.Hopefully more people will see what's happening and cut back too.


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