Hallowell, where I live, does not have municipal trash removal—each household has to contract with a trash hauler on its own to get curbside pick-up. Riverside Disposal of Chelsea, my hauler, is offering a pilot project in which they will cut the customer’s weekly fee if you can get down to a single, 10 lb. bag of trash per week. They will recycle the rest, which they’ve broken down into two categories: containers and paper. They pick up one category per week, alternating from one to the other.
They are also providing food composting buckets to customers. We already compost, but the 5-gallon plastic bucket (for short-term storage inside the house) has been a great improvement for us.
My household is enthusiastically taking part, with 20 or 30 other customers. After we signed up for the pilot project, they monitored our trash for a couple of weeks and told us that we had 36 lbs per week! If that is truly average, that equals over 1,800 lbs a year—almost a ton for our three-person, two-cat operation. So just knowing that was an eye-opener. We have two cats and a toddler, so diapers and kitty litter will probably make it very difficult to get down to 10 lbs., at least for a while. We change the kitty litter once a week (in theory); I reckon that is 10 lbs. right there. We may switch back to a scoopable litter; Riverside suggests one called Swheat Scoop. Any other ideas out there?
It’s interesting that Riverside is doing this by weight, not by volume. Some towns do pay-per-bag municipal trash pick-up (the residents must pay for bags) that are based on volume, at least nominally—though once the trucks get to the landfill the issue is weight. We are recycling a lot more plastic now, but it doesn’t weigh that much. Kitty litter, food and diapers seem to account for most of the weight.
But even recycling more stuff is kind of a “tailpipe” strategy. As I pondered our trash last weekend, I thought, “Reduce, re-use, recycle.” There’s a reason the words are in that order. Start by reducing what you buy or bring in to your house. Think about the packaging of the products you buy, especially food, and favor items whose packaging is easier to re-use or recycle. Lastly, think about what you can re-use before tossing it into a bin.
There are more subtle strategies you can use. We will move our recycling bins closer to the kitchen, the center of a lot of activity, and move the trash barrel further away. (We also moved the paper towel roll far away from the sink, where they were always close at hand when I “needed” one. I know we shouldn’t be using paper towels at all, blah blah blah…So sue me.)
I don’t think it’s much of a direct savings for the customer: Riverside already picks up recycling at no additional cost, as mandated by the city of Hallowell, and the price break is not big. But it’s a great program anyway.
As I mentioned, we’re already recycling our food waste in a composter in our vegetable garden—a good way to cut down on garbage volume. The Maine Resource Recovery Association is offering low-cost composters to communities that sign up. You have to contact your town to see if it is taking part.
And of course, the Natural Resources Council of Maine has been working for years, with great results, to keep toxic items out of the waste stream: mercury-containing products and electronics, most notably. Governor Baldacci signed a landmark bill in March that makes “extended producer responsibility” part of Maine law.
How is your city dealing with your garbage? Send us your trash tales!