Zero Waste Baby Steps: Month 3

Month three

Writing a monthly overview of my zero wasting has me a little twitchy because it drives home how quickly time is flying. Absolutely flying, I tell you. 

For my “month three” zero waste summary I present to you, my trash bag for the month of March:

March trash

That’s right my friends. I saved my trash from the entire month so I could dig through it at the end and see exactly what I’m buying that doesn’t come in recyclable packaging. Then I forced myself to soul search and figure out if we can live without any of this stuff and/or how we’ll replace it with zero waste-friendly options in the future.

Before we dumpster dive, I’d like to point out something pretty awesome. By simply composting and recycling consistently, we have gone from sending about four bags of trash per month to the landfill, to one (half-empty) paper shopping bag for the entire month of March. The vast majority of this was not due to lifestyle changes, folks. All it took was me being serious about composting/recycling. That’s it. I feel pretty embarrassed that I used to throw away so many recyclable things.

And so let’s take a look, shall we?

trash 2

For the most part things fell into nice categories. And then I called my local recycling center and asked them about every single one of these…

  • Chip bags. We ate a lot of chips in March, and as far as I can tell, the bags are not recyclable. Are they? The recycle center says NO.
  • Tetra Paks and paper board boxes. A couple of Tetra Paks made it in, and I learned in writing this blog post that they are actually recyclable with our mixed paper! (Think boxed wine, coconut water containers, etc.)
  • “Energy bar” wrappers. The weird foil-esque wrappers of things like Larabars and the fruit strips I sometimes let Bridger get. Technically Larabar wrappers are recyclable through the TerraCycle program, but I need to read more about that to figure out how it works (save wrappers and mail them in?). They are not recyclable at our local facility, however. I actually plan to just make my own at some point.
  • Crunchy plastic, as I call it. Like the plastic sleeve on the six-pack of canned tuna we sometimes buy. Or the plastic seal around an ice cream container. Our local recycling center says: “Use the stretch test to determine if film is recyclable. If you can stretch the plastic and poke a hole through it by pressing your finger, it is recyclable plastic.” And if you can’t stretch it, it’s not recyclable. They also said bags from pre-washed lettuce is often not stretchy and therefore not recyclable.
  • Laminated junk mail. What’s the deal with this? Basically it seems to be coupons made to look like a flimsy credit card so you actually stick it in your wallet and use it, I suppose. Our recycling center said recycle them with the mixed paper.
  • Lids to glass jars and used canning lids. These are not recyclable.
  • Produce stickers. And plastic produce tape they wrap the bananas with. So annoying. And non-recyclable. I plan to order certain produce in bulk (when in season), and hope that eliminates some of my issue.
  • Squeeze packs. I had two coupons for free nut butter packets. I checked out the website and found squeeze packs are not recyclable (ahem, that includes all those baby food and kid snack packets). These are not a normal purchase for me, so they won’t be an issue in the future.

When looking through this list, I was really excited to learn that some things I assumed were destined for the landfill are actually recyclable. I was also saddened to realize some very common purchases for a lot of folks- salad bags, chip bags, squeeze packs- are not recyclable.

The moral of this story is save your trash, call your local recycling center, and then challenge yourself to eliminate the non-recyclables!


Month three

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  1. We try to recycle as much as we can as a family, but unfortunately, our town does not have a recycling facility. The nearest one is an hour and a half drive away. Therefore, we have to do it ourselves. I compost and re-use as much as possible.

  2. i have enjoyed following along on your zero waste baby steps … I am much in the same boat /stage in the process … so thank you!

    I’ve added the “refuse” idea to certain things like produce stickers and other produce packaging (rubber bands etc) .. For example I have been de-stickering all my produce right there at the store, sticking the stickers back on the other like produce … My apologies to the person who picks up a bunch of bananas with a dozens stickers on it! Sometimes the checkers get flustered not having the code/sticker in front of them but oh well

  3. Living in Germany, where recycling is the norm in households and myself being quite well informed on all that recycling and plastics stuff, I might give you some information.
    Concerning laminated paper/foil on envelopes and such, in Germany paper recycling facilities can handle up tp 10% of paper waste consisting of other materials like plastics to succesfully recycle the paper. I switched from envelopes with plastic window to ones withouth, though and also stamps you lick (even though I don’t know how natural that glue is anymore).
    Concerning your question whether burning random stuff would be ok, I personally wouldn’t do it. Firstly, because you and your family might inhale the unfiltered smoke. Secondly, I wouldn’t burn anything I couldn’t identify because of the reason before. Thirdly, plants have filters to filter the fumes which for me would be eco-friendlier. Furthermore, plants often use the energy generated from burning or reclycling ro feed into electricity/energy supply (at least they do here), so burning trash is simply a waste of energy. Concerning the stickers on produce: if you can rip it, it is probably paper. If not, plastic.
    Why do you burn things at all? There shouldn’t be much left to burn if you recycle all your paper (if there is hardly any coming in after cancelling junk mail) and compost the rest (like leaves, kitchen waste and even some paper, though I read somewhere you shouldn’t compost heavily printed paper due to ink components which are possibly toxic).
    In Germany, we recycle ALL paper, ALL glas, all plastics and garbage into four systems, everyewhere (even at public transport stations) (the plastics get sorted at facilities and recycling is at around 45%, compared to around 7-9% in the US), so I ask myself why your recycling facilities make it such a hassle (e.g. not taking the chip bag), no wonder no one bothers 🙁
    Even though I live in a country where recycling is the norm, it is not the answer because still we generate too much trash and recycling relieves people of their responsibility not to generate it in the first place. I try to stick with that saying of “refuse-reduce-reuse-recycle-rot”, which you probably have come across, too and “use it up, make it do,wear it out or do without”.
    Keep up the good work!

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