Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Some stupid problems, thanks to my conservation efforts.

We don't use garbage bags, the big black hefty kind, for our garbage. We keep a wee trashcan in the kitchen and line it with leftover plastic bags from various shopping escapades. The trash stays small and goes out regularly, before it can get too fragrant. I like this system. But I'm not really buying stuff anymore, or at least not the kind of stuff that comes in plastic bags. No trips to big grocery stores where they bag your food in little portions with a double-layer of plastic bags. No random trips to Marshall's for, I don't know, socks or a cheap shirt or household flair or whatever. At Goodwill I just fold my clothes and carry them out by hand.

And about paper bags. We folded them up and collected them under the sink for ages, to be reused at the co-op or to sort and contain the recycling or to corral donations to Value Village. Then I finally got in the habit of carrying at least one of my million tote bags at all times, for those impromptu food stops. The result: we keep running out of paper bags, and the stupid recycling guidelines specifically tell you to put your sorted recyclables in paper bags and set your bags in your blue bins.

I think there has to be a better way for recycling, but I am stumped about the trash. I'm not going to a store specifically to get bags. That would totally defeat the whole reduce-reuse part of the equation. I'm going to have to start pillaging the plastic bag recycling bins at the co-op or fishing the bags out of trees. You know how plastic bags are always caught in trees?

In the meantime, those fucking produce bags are multiplying like rabbits, even though I am constantly washing and reusing them. Washing plastic bags is at the top of my list of unfavorite kitchen activities, but what am I going to do, just chuck them? I don't think so. Too bad they're too weak for garbage. And ultimately I'm going to end up buying or making reusable produce bags anyway.

God, it's so harrrrd being a hippie.

I think we're going to try a little compost pile this summer. There's not a lot of food waste because I'm saving odds and ends of vegetables in the freezer for stock and chucking wilted leafage out for the animal friends and there's a garbage disposal to boot, but I'd be interested to see how much composting reduces our trash heap.

Ideas welcome.


  1. I briefly dated Super Hippie in the early 90s, and he recycled and composted damn near everything. It was a sight to see. He didn't use trash bags, but I'm stumped on what he did with those things that didn't fit into the recycle or compost pile.

  2. We do the same with our garbage/recycling and have encountered the exact same problem. My solution? My mother. She saves plastic bags and I take them. I have about 40 from the last visit. Maybe someone you know has a collection as well? I haven't had to buy bags for the 2 years the Jew and I have lived here. Awesome! As for the produce bags - I know it can be gross and wet, but I just don't use them. I just pack things VERY carefully in my canvas bags/produce bag.

    And now my cat is yelling at me so I must go :)

  3. I have the same issue. I seriously think they should sell recycling-sized paper bags, in the same aisle as the trash bags. I'd pay money for them.

    I am also trying to find biodegradable plastic trash bags. The ones I've found online have received bad reviews - does anyone have a recommendation?

  4. huh. well, we use plain old garbage bags for the garbage. you might try using some kind of permanent liner that you'd have to hose out. that'd get stinky quick though.

    our trash at this point is pretty small in volume, and mostly plastic waste and packaging. Composting is great for that-- it keeps all the stinky stuff out of the trash can and in the compost heap (where, mysteriously, it doesn't get as stinky, and gradually becomes not stinky at all).

    We use composting primarily as waste management. It will reduce a year of kitchen waste into a pile of worm poop the size of a five-gallon bucket. And then you just bury it or spread it around your favorite tree or garden patch.

    When we moved here we'd tossed out all our plastic produce bags, and rather than accumulate them anew, Holly made up some cloth sacks that work great for everything except for wet stuff. She's working on a waxed cotton bag type for those. Meanwhile, yeah, we wash a lot of plastic bags.

  5. Here's a link to some biodegradable - and compostable - trash bags by BioBag:

    I buy their doggie poop bags on the reg, but I use the trash bags sparingly as I try to just wash out the trash bin and not use any bag at all. Sprinkling borax or baking soda at the bottom of the naked trash bin helps with odors, usually.

    You'll be amazed how much your trash goes down once you start composting. It's crazy. You even have less recycling because you throw in shredded paper (bills, junk mail, newspaper,etc) to help mix that shit up. And what Patrick said about the gardening bonus.

  6. i never use produce bags, but i have encountered the same problem you have. now i just will sometimes just not bring my gigantic grocery tote bag and get a couple store bags. it's not ideal...i want a better solution too!

  7. I just purchased my first reusable produce bags from EcoBags and I'm really happy with them so far. I got two sets of the half-size but I do with I had gotten one set of half- and one set of full-size.

    They're not organic but they are unbleached and produced ethically in India.

    I just stumbled upon your blog today; I look forward to reading more!

  8. Here's what the Brit just emailed me:

    So I have a solution for the bin bag issue. Every day the janitor comes by and changes the bin bag by my desk, which rarely has more than a banana skin in it. They have to change it, otherwise less enlightened people might moan, I suppose. However, being greener by the minute, I'm just gonna put it in my lunch bag and bring it home. Huzzah!

    Right now my office trash can has, like, a popcorn kernel in it. And yes, the bags do get changed every day. So I'm going to do the same thing. Huzzah, indeed.

  9. I bought this at the Green Festival they had in Chicago a few weeks ago. Not sure if you have a dish washer.

  10. Yea for the Brit! I am totally going to start stealing my garbage bags from work. I have left notes telling them not to take my trash out, yet they still take out nearly empty bags. At least we'll use them! Great idea!

  11. I understand that washing bags keeps them out of the landfill, but doesn't the water it takes to wash them require energy and create waste too?

    I have given up on produce bags and just toss them in the trash. We have one of the country's best incinerators in my town so at least it's not landfilled.

    Reusable grocery bags not only make me feel good, but they're way nicer to use. The plastic ones I don't use to transport cat poop from my basement to the curb shall be hung with care from the tree out front. Stop by and pick 'em up whenever.