The guilt that comes with modern households' daily garbage is equal to taking responsibility for a lifetime of natural disasters. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, each American is responsible for 4.4 pounds of solid waste per day (in 2017). As you can imagine, further computations about the impact of each person’s garbage multiplied by the number of individuals in the United States is enough to make any globally aware person cringe. While you cannot be completely free from the cycle of waste — after all, we are human and we produce waste — you can greatly reduce your participation the landfill system.
When we moved out to our farm, we made a break from as many amenities as we could manage. As we are not wealthy, this was a challenge and continues to be. A certain amount of money will get you off the grid rapidly — the rest of us have to figure it out on our own. While we could not afford solar panels when we first started to move off-grid, we could decide how to dispose of our garbage. For most trying to avert the commercial garbage system, it is about cost; for us, it was a matter of pride.
Refuse to reduce. Of course, the first step to a globally conscience method of waste disposal is refuse. If you are personally handling each piece of trash that needs disposed of, it changes your perspective on the new “refusal” step in recycling. Even if you purchase most of your goods, there are vendors that will sell you their wares without packaging. For example we purchase our coffee beans from a local coffee shop and they accommodate my no waste needs by filling my mason jars with coffee rather than giving me paper bags. There are all sorts of ways you can get stores to work around your need for less waste; all you must to do is ask.
Recycling does not have to be an expensive venture. First, find out if there is a recycling facility that you can take your recyclables to without being charged. We keep our metal and sell it to the scrap yard so we actually make some money recycling. There are always ways to get rid of your recyclables before you take them to the recycling facilities. Ask around your local schools if there are any garbage items that they use for craft projects such as plastic milk jugs, egg cartons, and plastic bags. You can use some of your cardboard for no till gardens. If you can squeeze a little more life out of your trash that is a beautiful thing. Ultimately we separate our recyclables into plastic tubs with lids making them much easier to haul to the recycling center. We take out the recyclables every few weeks when we are making a trip into town for other things so the fuel is not wasted.
Food items should never go in the trash. You can compost any food item that does not have sugar, meat or meat fat, and yeast in it. Composting can be as complicated or as simple as you want. For urban dwellers I would suggest a compost bucket because of the smell. If you live out of town, surface or pit composting is less cost and a more natural process involving lots of good bugs and worms. All of your meat and bread waste should be a fancy meal for the outdoor animals, wild and domestic alike. Just make sure you are dumping any food waste far from your house to avoid pest issues.
Burning. And finally, the trash that has no real place in the world but we cannot seem to get free from it yet; some plastics, sensitive paper documents, and styrofoam. This useless trash and biohazard waste are collected in a metal bucket so it can be washed out rather than using a garbage bag and adding to the waste. We then burn all but the plastic and other petroleum-based waste in a metal burn barrel. Our burn barrel is drilled with holes for adding maximum oxygen to the fire so everything burns as efficiently as possible. The petroleum-based waste is the only waste from our whole farm that is taken to the landfill; there is some garbage that is simply too dangerous to keep in proximity to our crops and waterways. The volume is roughly two garbage bags per year for a family of five with occasional guests.
Holly Chiantaretto is an organic farmer and goat breeder in Kentucky where she also raises cattle, pigs, and chickens and preserves the harvests from her garden. Connect with Holly at Hallow Springs Farm and on Facebook. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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