Knowing that my family is attempting to reduce the amount of waste we generate, especially the type that ends up in the landfill, a friend who has a similar goal made the following two suggestions:
* Make our trash cans smaller and our recycling cans larger; and
* Put recycling containers in every room in our house.
She said these simple solution helped her family reduce its waste, so I started thinking about how they could do the same for my family. I also started thinking about other simple solutions we could implement that would lead to fewer items being tossed in the trash. Here are a few of the ideas I came up with.
* Make it hard to throw something away: This happened in our house at the beginning of last summer, when we brought home a 12-week-old Labradoodle puppy. We soon learned that one of our new dog Forest’s favorite activities was to knock over our trash can and spread its contents all over the house. To avoid this outcome, the trash can was moved to the top of the refrigerator.
Not only was it harder for him to get to the trash up there, it was harder for his owners as well. This extra effort, and a step stool — which we now needed to throw something away — meant that things were no longer mindlessly being tossed into the garbage can.
Getting the stool in place gave us time to consider if the object headed for the trash could instead be placed in the more conveniently located recycling bin.
I also found that just thinking about the extra effort required to put something in the garbage — for starters, trying to find the step stool that people kept moving and not putting back — made me more reluctant to generate it.
While making the trash less convenient to access started out as away to avoid coming home to find garbage scattered all over my house, it ended up being a very effective waste reduction strategy, and thus I find myself having to ask the question “where is the step stool?” far less often these days.
* Make using disposable materials less convenient: When I started paying more attention to what my family was throwing in the garbage, I realized we were using a lot of paper towels, often in mindless, wasteful and unnecessary ways.
So I applied the same strategy I did with the trash can: I put the roll of paper towels in a high, hard-to-reach spot. Again, this forced us to become mindful of what we were using the paper towels for, how many we were using and whether it was necessary to use one at all.
I also filled an easy-to-reach drawer with cloth napkins and kitchen towels.
* Recycle in the bathroom: After the kitchen, the room in my house in most need of a recycle bin is the bathroom, where recycling opportunities are numerous.
Here is partial inventory of things I found in my bathroom that can be recycled: shampoo and conditioner bottles, my kids’ fluoride mouth rinse container, empty pill bottles (see note below), saline and contact lens disinfectant containers, lotion containers and old plastic bath toys.
As far as plastics go, basically any rigid plastic container is accepted for recycling in Davis, and if your bathroom is anything like mine, it’s full of these types of containers.
(Note: I double-checked with Davis Waste Removal on pill bottles and learned that while they do accept empty plastic pill bottles for recycling, prescription and over-the-counter medication should never be flushed down a toilet or thrown in the trash. Medications can be brought to the household hazardous waste drop-off days at the Yolo County Landfill on County Road 28H northeast of Davis.)
Putting a plastic recycling bin in the bathroom makes it easier, and thus more likely, that these items will make it into our curbside recycling bin, instead of the garbage.
A paper recycling bin is useful for newspapers and magazines that find their way into the bathroom as well as empty toilet paper rolls and cardboard boxes packaging things like my saline solution, over-the-counter medications and feminine products.
Over the past few months, while looking for ways to reduce our waste, I have confirmed what I already knew about myself and my family: When something is easy, it’s more likely we will do it.
With that in mind, I will continue to look for ways like these to make reducing, reusing and recycling as simple and convenient for us as possible. If you have ideas, suggestions or comments on how to do so, I’d love to hear them.
— Michelle Millet is a Davis resident with a degree in wildlife and fisheries conservation biology from UC Davis. She’s the mom of two kids, ages 7 and 9. Follow her blog at http://zerowasteindavis.org or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org