Monday, September 6, 2010

Not Quite Zero Trash

I've thought for some time that it might be worthwhile to share with you our concept of trash out here JOTOLR. After all, we are stewards of the land, and one's philosophy about trash usually centers around NIMBY (not in my back yard).  On the other hand, did you know that we are building the 8th continent (all out of trash) in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?  Well, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but read on...
We don't have much trash out here JOTOLR.  But, we have some.

I'm sure you're not unaware of the incredible volume of both trash and what eventually becomes trash, the detritus of everyday living we have here in the U. S.  Packaging has more to do with the packaging industry than it does any safety concerns of the consumer; "hangability" in the stores of the carton or package; the food industry's obscession with triple-wrapped turkey know what I mean!  And still we have the egg recalls (I wonder how the chickens feel--literally--about that.  How does one "do" an egg recall?) and the beef recalls (that's lots harder than the egg recalls), and the green onion fiasco recall, and the what-type-of-produce will be next fiasco....!

And all those plastic toys, and plastic bottles, and plastic.  Yes.  I stopped.  PLASTIC.  Lots and lots of plastic.  Along the road is all the evidence we need; however, add to that the broken-open trash bags that supposedly are awaiting the arrival of the "garbage collector" but which a whole cadre of inquistive, hungry animals beat to the we have a landscape littered with good intentions (of getting trash to the dump).

So, now comes the continent building...I'm sure you've heard of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  Apparently some while back Oprah featured it.  It's the world's largest the "middle" of the Pacific Ocean.  From "How Stuff Works:"

In t­he broad expanse of the northern Pacific Ocean, there exists the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a slowly moving, clockwise spiral of currents created by a high-pressure system of air currents. The area is an oceanic desert, filled with tiny phytoplankton but few big fish or mammals. Due to its lack of large fish and gentle breezes, fishermen and­ s­ailors rarely travel through the gyre. But the area is filled with something besides plankton: trash, millions of pounds of it, most of it plastic. It's the largest landfill in the world, and it floats in the middle of the ocean.

The gyre has actually given birth to two large masses of ever-accumulating trash, known as the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches, sometimes collectively called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Eastern Garbage Patch floats between Hawaii and California; scientists estimate its size as two times bigger than Texas [source: LA Times]. The Western Garbage Patch forms east of Japan and west of Hawaii. Each swirling mass of refuse is massive and collects trash from all over the world. The patches are connected by a thin 6,000-mile long current called the Subtropical Convergence Zone. Research flights showed that significant amounts of trash also accumulate in the Convergence Zone.

The garbage patches present numerous hazards to marine life, fishing and tourism. But before we discuss those, it's important to look at the role of plastic. Plastic constitutes 90 percent of all trash floating in the world's oceans [source: LA Times]. The United Nations Environment Program estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic [source: UN Environment Program]. In some areas, the amount of plastic outweighs the amount of plankton by a ratio of six to one. Of the more than 200 billion pounds of plastic the world produces each year, about 10 percent ends up in the ocean [source: Greenpeace]. Seventy percent of that eventually sinks, damaging life on the ocean floor [source: Greenpeace]. The rest floats; much of it ends up in gyres and the massive garbage patches that form there, with some plastic eventually washing up on a distant shore.

Doesn't that make you sick?  I didn't upload any pictures for this, thinking to let your imagination fill in the blanks...picturing miles and miles of.....plastic!

OK.  Back to JOTOLR.  Our biggest disposal problem here on the farm is plastics.  It is our largest single trash item and it's a killer to figure out what to do with it.  Paper, we can use as fuel for our woodstove.  Metal and glass can be recycled, (and who knows what piece of artwork could be created from such discards?) but it is the dratted plastics that foul the process of what I call, "living net." 
Broken Tractor Muffler and Corn Planter part

What is "living net?"  It means using it up, wearing it out, making it do, or doing without.  It's THINKING about how you live.  For example, when I was selling Pampered Chef and making various recipes for the business, I always had a mountain of TRASH every week.  The trash was created as a result of fake foods like Cool Whip containers, Jello Pudding boxes, plastic containers of one kind or another, refrigerated cresent rolls, French bread--all in tubes with metal ends and (at least) paper sides, metal cans of stuff...figure three shows per trash was horrendous.    

I didn't realize HOW horrendous this burden was until I stopped selling PC.  When I stopped, my trash load went to practically zero.  Explanation:  the "great American, Living-Right diet has lots of trash imbedded--more ways than one!

As of now, MM and I visit the landfill twice a year on free days to dispose of those items we can't otherwise get rid of.  I have some guilt about this.  But society doesn't offer me an option.  I am trapped into dumping even that small portion, on somebody else--that somebody else is poor Mother Nature.  It'll be down there, somewhere.  It's something I cannot control

I do the best I can, though.  I don't even buy trash BAGS!  For what little trash we produce out here, I use the dogfood bags.  They're paper.  Already used.  Easy to stuff into a garbage receptacle. And, they hold a lot..of paper.  Sometimes, though, we're forced to purchase the now-plastic woven dogfood sacks.  Here again...we're put in the position of (1) using plastic (2) having a disposal problem (3) feeling guilty (4) dumping on Mother Nature.
Dogfood Sack is the Perfect Trash Bag--no plastic

OTOH, we have zero food "garbage" out here JOTOLR.  EVERYTHING we don't eat--including bones (which get pressure-cooked for broth, then cycled to the dogs; all food refuse goes to the pigs or the cows--windfalls are bruised apples and they are especially welcomed by Marigold and Honeysuckle; corn cobs, squash skins, extra whey from making cheese, soured milk, even extra veggies from the garden...all of passed on to whatever will eat it with no guilt.  We have no food trash.  There's a way to use it all.
Past Their Prime Cucumbers = Piggy Paradise!
We accumulate enough trash of otherwise indisposables to fill two of these twice a year.

What does this mean?  Leading a life of self-sufficiency requires that we think about what we accumulate and what we must dispose of.  After all, we don't want to live in a trash dump, either!  So we have to plan ahead and be conscious of refuse and its place in our lives.

As for the country and the world?  It seems to me that we need a serious investigation of just how we are dealing with trash, and packaging and food "waste."  And, isn't it about time we started regulating packaging and other merchandise to limit trash?  For example, you know these little storage containers you buy for so cheap for leftovers?  The PLASTIC LIDS on them are NOT interchangeable.  That's ridiculous!  Every time I buy four, I have a whole 'nother bunch that don't mix and match!  This is really stupid!

How many jobs could be created in the waste management industry if we were to deal with this out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality and tackle our trash. 

Let me know what you think!



  1. Elora -- Well at one time, as a young mother, I was unconscious when it came to trash. I thought nothing of the huge amounts of packaging that contributed to our landfills. Eventually I became aware, and like you have, I now have very little trash that goes to the landfill. But, I realize that most folks are still in a fog as I was as a young mother. I see their trash cans overloaded at roadside every week.

    Now I have a great system. All fresh veggies go to the field for compost and to supplement the wild land turtles that roam my fields. I am sure some mice do also but there is a neighbor's cat that roams through my fields that takes care of that population. I practice reusing, wearing out, recycling and second-hand. It sure helps to reduce the trash load.

    My son for years has always said to me --if people could not put their trash out for trash removal and had to live with it they would certainly refrain from consumerism.

    I once read a thesis paper titled, The White Garden." It was about country folks that kept all their plumbing fixtures and appliances that had died out in their yard. Their yards looked like used plumbing fixtures and appliance stores combined. Thus the title of the paper, The White Garden.This was their choice. To me it was a sorry reminder of the "stuff" we have to have. For the folks in the thesis paper -- they could live with it but how many Americans could. They want it out of site and block their minds as to where it will end up. This idea of trash removal sets the consumer up for more consumerism -- a vicious cycle.

    Whew -- you touched on a subject near and dear to my heart -- barbara

  2. We were thrilled when our county instituted a recycling program that includes some plastic -- though not all. It's good to be aware of the fact that our trash has to go somewhere. It was a visit to the landfill years ago and the sight of all the plastic bags waving from every nearby tree and shrub that switched me to canvas shopping bags. Your post will have me looking for what other changes I can make.

  3. There is a big move in the UK to reduce the amount of plastic packaging/ shopping bags. One town locally is a plastic bag-free zone with only re-useable or paper bags and other places are heading that way too. In Ireland they have virtually eliminated plastic bags which had been a terrible eyesore blowing around the countryside. They did this by forcing shops to charge for plastic bags and hey ho everybody found they had real shopping bags at home which saved them money. I generally use re-usable shopping bags, even a few I've made myself but I do bring home some carrier bags which I use as bin liners (they are bio-degradable plastic now). It is noticable in the shops that for nearly all purchases the shop assistant will ask if you want a bag rather than giving you one automatically. I've always liked the idea of off loading all the excess packaging at the till in a supermarket and leaving it for them to deal with but have not had the nerve to do it. If we all did it and it became the supermarkets' problem I think the amount of packaging might well be reduced. In their favour our supermarkets sell a lot of loose fruit and veg and it is your choice if you want to bag them up or put them loose in your basket and I quite often do that. Perhaps we can get supermarkets to move back to paper bags which I beleive are made from recycled paper and quite a lot of other shops now use paper bags.

  4. We are fortunate that our county recycles some plastics, as well as glass, metal, and cardboard. But we still have more trash than we'd like.

    I feel lucky to have a carpenter husband who rescues scrap wood from the dumpster at work and brings it home to make something good out of it. That's recycling at its best! And our lawn mowers came from Tom waiting in line at the landfill and seeing people about to throw the lawn mowers away. A little bit of tinkering and cleaning and sparkplugs and oil later and we had a lawn mower!