At the beginning of the year, I set an intention to adopt more sustainable practices in my home. Early on I asked Twitter for recommendations, which is how I learned that a surprising number of my friends were already using a local compost service to manage food waste. I loved hearing about all of the things different households did to reduce waste or divert it away from landfill; not everything suggested would work for me, and the same will be true for you reading this post, but I think it can be helpful to hear anecdotes.
From January through April, I managed the following:
- Bought rechargeable batteries and a charger. I go through AAs pretty frequently, mostly due to my game console controller (I use my game console for streaming television as well as gaming), but also due to small devices like my bluetooth speaker and battery-operated string lights. My workplace has a battery recycling service, so at least they weren’t going in the trash, but I like the idea of recharging better. I asked my brother for a recommendation, since he has been using rechargeables for years, and I used a gift card to buy the next gen of the one he has: La Crosse BC1000.
- I had a little money left on the gift card, so I ordered some off-brand reusable silicone sandwich bags and freezer bags. My assessment is that it might actually be worth springing for name-brand versions of these, whatever that might be. My mass-produced knockoffs don’t inspire much confidence in their seal, so I might not use them to store or transport foods that could leak, but they do the trick for temporarily refrigerating cheese or freezing the veggie scraps I use to make stock.
- I got a real recycling bin! I had one ten years and two apartments ago, but it was taken (stolen? lost? recycled?). For a while I used a plastic bucket that I painted with my address; that got taken. Then I used kitty litter buckets that I painted with my address, but those got taken. I’ve been using brown paper bags ever since. But in January my workplace had an event where you could pick up a proper city bin, which was very convenient because the usual city bin pickup place is not easy to get to. It’s giant, so I don’t need to put it out every week.
- Now that I have my own bin, I’m more conscientious about washing my recyclables so I don’t have to deal with a sticky or smelly bin. But it turns out that, in Philadelphia at least, you really do have to wash the recyclables to get them recycled. Wherever you are, find out what the best recycling practices are for your city or region–in Philly this information is at the Streets Department–because not every facility can manage the same kinds of recyclables, and many facilities can’t handle items that are contaminated with food waste or other nonrecycable materials (like plastic bags, in our case). Contaminated recycling might get burned, dumped in a landfill, or shipped overseas to countries that are no more equipped to dispose of it than we are. (Hence the big deal about China banning imported recycling in 2018; now much of it goes to Malaysia or Vietnam.)
- I also got a compost service! Composting is something that I assumed was out of reach for me as an apartment-dweller, but it turns out that my city has many independent (and frequently woman-owned) businesses) that will carry away your compostables. (They will return some processed compost to you if you want it for gardening.) My service is cheap–less than $20 a month–and takes cardboard and pet hair as well as food scraps. It’s been a little bit of a process remembering to throw food in the bin rather than the trash or sink, but like any habit it will come with practice.
- I had the goal of getting back into my cooking and food prep routines, since I was sick for a big chunk of January and February and found myself getting takeout more often, and consequently getting uncomfortable with the amount of plastic and cardboard I was throwing away. As it turns out, that goal realized itself when I spent March and April working from home during the stay-at-home order. I did order prepared food and takeout a few times–it is a way to support my community after all, and I do reuse the containers–but it’s been no problem to minimize food waste when I eat in so much of the time. We’ll see how much I can carry this habit over.
Some goals going forward:
- Cut down on single-use paper towels by using cloth napkins and rags instead. I’m trying, but a pandemic is a strange time to start. On one hand, it’s easy to forget rags and reach for a disposable bleach wipe. On the other hand, you don’t want to run out of bleach wipes as they have been hard to find. I try to remember to clean surfaces at home with spray bleach and dishrags (acknowledging the privilege of having laundry in unit). It helps to keep the rags somewhere closer to hand than the drawer I had them in previously. Someone on Twitter mentioned keeping fishbowls on the counter, one for clean folded rags and one for used rags that will need to be washed; I think that sounds easy and convenient.
- Divert more unwanted items away from the landfill. Like many people, I did a deep spring cleaning early on in the isolation period, and turned up a couple of boxes of usable household items, cosmetics, and more that I don’t use. I’m just going to hang onto these for when my Buy Nothing group goes back online–it’s closed now to discourage gathering.
- I do have a few things that are too damaged to use which I will need to send away.
- My Jansport backpack with a broken zipper can be sent to Jansport with warranty claim paperwork; they will either repair it or replace it.
- My running shoes with a hole in the sole could be taken to a Nike store for their Reuse-a-Shoe program. This isn’t ideal–the closest Nike store is a long transit ride away, and they don’t take any other kind of shoe–so I am open to other options.
- I have heard that H&M will take old clothes–any brand, any condition–but I would definitely call my local shop to check first.
- As a renter, I’m not sure whether I can join a collective negotiating for solar power. I’d like to buy energy-saving bulbs for my lights, although this will entail a slightly more involved shopping trip than just dropping by the pharmacy. Most of the bulbs labeled “energy-saving” are too big to fit in my apartment’s old-fashioned fixtures.
- A big thing that I hope to have figured out by the end of the year is pet waste management. Litter is cheap, but heavy–I tend to buy 100+ pounds at a time whenever I can finagle someone with a car into giving me a lift. It is not compostable, and since I use the clumping kind it needs to be scooped into plastic bags. I’ve tried the kind of litter that turns into sawdust–I hate it. If I ever adopt another cat I may try toilet-training them, but I’m not going to try to teach my 15-year-old girls this new trick. I’m not sure what else to do.
How are you reducing waste and reusing or recycling materials? Anything you’ve heard about or been wanting to try?