Our entire garbage for one year, yard waste,
and our well used blue bins and green bin
What we didIn the blog posts I've posted sporadically throughout the year, I have shared some of the things we've done to reduce our waste. The biggest change had to happen at the consumer level. We tried to reduce the amount of packaging and garbage we brought into the house. As most of our purchases are food, it was at the grocery store that we found we needed to change the most. As a general rule, convenience foods were out, as most are packaged in non-recyclable, non-compostable packaging. We gave up granola bars, nacho chips, crackers, and frozen vegetables. These things were either replaced with homemade alternatives (baking ingredients often come in bags that we line our small compost bucket with), or given up completely. We purchased more fresh vegetables to substitute for the frozen, or froze our own in reusable freezer bags during harvest time.
When it came to gift giving time (Christmas, birthdays) there was some thought about the packaging the gifts came in, but there was more thought given to keeping the amount of gifts small, as we're already blessed with an abundance of things. (See my post Holidays and Waste Reduction Fatigue for more on gifts) Reusable gift bags filled with reused tissue paper keeps the waste to a minimum.
What we didn't doI guess I should point that we didn't do anything like hoard garbage, or put it in our neighbour's trash. When there were socks that had holes that could not be mended, they went in the garbage. (I have more than enough cleaning rags, and don't need to keep every sock that is no longer wearable) About a month ago we cleaned out our children's rooms, and got rid of many crafts and other things that were no longer being played with or cared about. We could have waited until the end of our year, but we didn't. We took the time to sort things. Toys that were in good shape that were no longer played with went to a local thrift store. Crafts that had been forgotten about were taken apart. Any pieces that could be recycled went in the blue box, things that could be reused were put back in a craft box, and garbage was put in the garbage.
We also did not throw out things at school or work. We take our lunches in reusable containers, and our children's school has a "boomerang lunch" program, where whatever goes to school in their lunch bag has to come back home. We also got to know which restaurants offered take out in recyclable or compostable packaging, and when we did eat out, that knowledge would play a part in our decision making.
Where do we go from here?One of the biggest questions I've had recently is how our lives might change once our challenge is done. I have to admit that it is very likely we will produce more than 14.5 kg of garbage in the next year, but at the same time, I don't anticipate it increase greatly. Before we began this challenge we already produced very little garbage in our house. We've always taken the effort to recycle and compost, though we've definitely been more vigilant in the past year. We've also been more conscious of the waste that comes into our house, as I've said before. It is likely that we will return to purchasing some of the convenience foods we have given up in the past year, like granola bars for example. However, I don't know if we will go back to the level of consumption of these types of foods, as we now have alternatives in our repertoire.
This year has had a large impact on our shopping habits. We will likely never again purchase meat from a grocery store on styrofoam trays, as we've gotten used to purchasing from our local butcher, who wraps everything in compostable butcher paper. In this particular area we might spend a bit more money than if we had purchased something in a grocery store on sale, but in the end we're not just reducing our waste, we're also supporting our local businesses and local farmers.
We did manage to keep our garbage to one bag, making our challenge a success. However, I think what makes our challenge more of a success is the people we've influenced to make even small changes to their approach to household waste. It makes us laugh when friends say things like "I'm sorry we're using disposable plates" or "We're trying to compost, but...". Ultimately we don't want to make people feel guilty, but do want them to think about their waste, and how they might be able to change. There are people out there who have done a whole lot better on waste reduction challenges that we have, but without changing our lives too drastically, our family has made a pledge to do what we can to reduce our impact on the environment.