Reduce. Most of us may first think of weight loss when you hear that word, but in the world of Zero Waste it means something much easier to achieve, at least for me. To reduce means to lessen the amount of items you use that end up needing to be sent to the landfill or incinerator.


My daughter lives in California so, like many of her neighbors, she made great efforts to reduce her water usage during the past few years of extreme drought. Because of efforts like hers, the state’s residents reduced their water usage much more than the expected goal with the mandated restrictions.

One example of conserving water that went well beyond the simple effort to turn off the tap while brushing her teeth was to place several buckets in the tub while the water was warming up for a shower. That cool water was then used to irrigate their garden, producing an abundance of tomatoes and other items without requiring any additional water. Now THAT was a win win!!

Conserving resources is one way to reduce. Others are just small tricks and trade-offs that can really add up.

For example, in the summer I get carrots from local farms at the farmers’ market, but in the off season I am dependent on my local grocery store.  For years I purchased carrots in one or two-pounds bags.  A recent trip to Roth’s provided an interesting and pleasant surprise! img_2014img_2015 So it really makes sense…and cents… buy the loose carrots. Don’t bother putting them into a plastic bag provided in the produce section. You can carry them home in your shopping bag without that extra plastic that can not be recycled and would end up in the landfill.

img_2018When we moved to Oregon I was surprised and very pleased with all the choices I had in the bulk section. One of our weaknesses is the freshly ground peanut butter. It is perfectly acceptable to carry in a previously used and washed container and lid to refill. I use and reuse the same plastic container and lid often.  When we eat the last of the peanut butter, I wash them and place them in one of my shopping totes to bring back into the store. If you prefer to use glass you will need to tare the extra weight, so check with your supermarket on how they prefer you mark the container.

I think McMinnville’s  largest bulk grocery section is in WinCo, but all the supermarkets here have them.  They provide nuts, grains, pastas, candy, sugars, flours, dried fruit, coffee and so much more. Some stores have bulk available for liquids like syrups and honeys. Others have cleaning items. And in other parts of the country there are some local items. I still miss the oranges to make fresh squeezed orange juice I enjoyed one winter years ago when I was in Miami on assignment for three months. Bulk purchasing permits you to obtain the amount you need at prices typically considerably lower than what may be found packaged in excess cardboard and plastic on one of the inside aisles of the supermarket. And that cardboard and plastic needs to be disposed of afterwards….why bother with it at all?img_2019

Once you’ve shopped you need to carry all those yummies from the store to your car and then into your home. The effort to eliminate the use of plastic shopping bags is huge since there is only potential reuse for those, not recycling at this time.  It is better to reduce by opting for reusable cloth bags.

When we moved here we had not started using cloth totes to grocery shop so it had to become a new habit. There were just too many times we forgot to get the bags back to the car until we figured out a simple solution.  As I unpack I push all the totes inside one and then hang that one from the doorknob to grab the next time we head out to the car. Then the only time we really need to remind ourselves to grab them is when we pull into the supermarket parking space.  If anyone has any tricks, please share!img_2021

Here are a few more ideas for reducing how much trash you produce:

img_2025Stop using dryer sheets. I grew up with a mother who did not use any kind of softener, so was happy when dryer softener sheets became available. But about two years ago I stopped using them. Instead I buy liquid softener and use a plastic container (the one I use now had mozzarella in it originally), for dryer top storage. Inside the container is half a kitchen sponge. It soaks up the softener. I squeeze the sponge to reduce how much liquid it holds and then put it in the dryer with each load. The clothes come out with the same softness as the dryer sheets and without all that excess trash.

Never buy bottled water. If you don’t have access to a good well or spring, it is much better to get a reliable water filter and drink from the tap.  Then you can carry a reusable water bottle. This could be as simple as using a mason jar.

img_2024Take a reusable travel mug to the coffee shop or make your coffee at home. Use a French press or coffee maker and avoid those single-serving packages used in Keurig-like machines.  If you prefer those single serving coffees, there are reusable coffee filters that fit in your coffee maker, too!  And of course, standard drip machines have reusable filters.

Take your own reusable containers to takeout restaurants. If you hand over the containers when you order and ask nicely, most restaurants will oblige you. I know that the Saturday breakfast served each week at McMinnville’s Cooperative Ministries provides sit down as well as take-out servings. The expense of the take-out containers is a big factor in the breakfast budget and there has been discussion about asking people to bring their own containers.

Return egg and berry cartons to the vendors at the farmers’ market for reuse. Or use the berry containers when you take advantage of the many pick-your-own opportunities nearby.img_4812

better-than-store-boughtDitch the processed, packaged food altogether. Make your own soup, yogurt, salad dressing, ice-cream and other foods that come in cardboard, aluminum, and plastic packages. Batch cook on weekends with friends to make it easier. You’ll save a ton of money, and eat much, much healthier this way too. Lots of cookbooks on the market including this one can help you see how easy it is!


Which Bin?

I assume we are not the only household where each person has a regular chore. My husband takes out the trash typically and then also keeps track of the scheduled pick up so hauls the right bin out to the curb early enough on the pick-up day. Last week he was out of town and I noticed as I returned home from an errand that the neighbors’ trash and recycling cans were out so I dragged mine to the curb.  Apparently I was too late and the truck had already come, so we will wait for the next pick-up.

The trash barrel is not a problem. We have one lone plastic bag in there for the past week.   The recycling barrel is pretty full though and it will be interesting to see if we make it to the next pick-up two weeks from now. The glass recycling was not on the schedule for last week so at least I did not blooper with my delay for the glass!

I asked Zach Dotson to come over to help us figure out if we are sorting correctly and we found out we’re doing pretty well but there were some surprises.

We have small trash cans in the bedrooms and bathrooms and two larger cans in the kitchen. In the kitchen we do a regular sort of the trash and the recyclables.  The week before Zach was to visit we saved overflowing recycling for his audit in a plastic sack which we later just set aside for later trash bin use.  img_2004

We dumped and then sorted out the items I had put into my kitchen recycle bin. Zach sorted it all so we could much more easily see the amount of what kinds of things we had.

Not everything we thought was recyclable turned out to be.  Here in McMinnville, plastic sandwich bags and other ziplocks are NOT able to be recycled. (in the future we will be working on an arrangement with the larger transfer station in Hillsboro to bring those and other items not processed in Mac.)

img_2009-2Also not able to be recycled are the plastic tops of plastic tubs like you use at the grocery store to buy salad items or freshly ground peanut butter (our weakness) or even good tops to better storage containers. (I just went through the periodic match the lid to the bottom and sure enough, came up with about three orphaned lids. Time to clear the drawer but unfortunately they now go to the landfill.)

I bake and love using parchment paper. I had been putting this into the recycling but Zach pointed out the box indicates it is compostible, so now it goes into counter top container I have for veggie trimmings and coffee grounds and carry out to our compost pile when that gets full.   img_2005-2

img_2006-2I also learned that when I tossed the small metal caps from bottles into the recycling that causes a problem and then end up in the landfill.  While they are usable by the recycling station, they are small and end up falling into nooks and crannies, sometimes fouling up the conveyor and usually ending up on the floor. Zach suggested putting metal caps inside a metal can and then crimping the can (smash it) to hold the caps inside.

img_1998Finally,  I preserve a lot of food by canning so during the year we have a lot of lids to toss. (You can reuse canning lids if you are using the jars for storage of items that do not need to be sealed, but you should never try to reuse the canning lids if you plan on water bath or pressure canning food. Those are one use only to provide a secure seal to inhibit botulism growth in canned foods.)  So metal lids with a plastic or rubberized gasket or lining into the trash. Also foil bags or wrappers that do not hold their shape (too much plastic in the mix) when squeezed. This was the post sort collection that will go to the trash…not bad for a week.  (We’ll talk about reducing by substitute concepts for those plastic bags in a later blog.)img_1997

We also had Zach check out the small trash can in our downstairs bathroom which also has the washer and dryer. img_1982In that trash there were numerous used facial tissues. I have sinus issues and sometimes nose bleeds, so was happy to hear that “bodily fluids” are all compostible.  I also asked Zach about feminine sanitary items and that answer is probably trash, as many contain plastic. But if a woman opts to use one without plastic it most likely is recyclable. Now don’t get squeamish…you know animal manure is used in composting. All these are things that are full of nutrients that the soil will enjoy.img_1985

Paper items are, as most people know, recyclable.

img_1983Dryer lint is for the most part compostible. There are some people who restrict that only to 100% cotton lint, but our clothing has some cloth that is part polyester, which, of course, is a petroleum base thread and not truly recyclable. Think about what kind of clothes you wear and if what you are drying in your home dryer is less than 50% polyester you can probably feel okay to put it in compost.  An alternative use was suggested by a bird lover friend: leave small clumps of dryer lint in bushes for nest making material.

img_1990Finally, I found some items related to medicine I take has to be separated. The desiccant found in some vitamin bottles and other medicines can be reused in anything that is dry and you want to keep moisture out.  I have some liquid medicine for my sinus problem that comes packaged as 5 plastic vials to one foil wrapper. img_1984The foil held its shape when squeezed so it can be put in recycling. The plastic vials are not the kind that McMinnville’s Recology center can handle, so I must put that into the trash going to the landfill where it will, unfortunately, sit there for 1000 years or more. And THAT kind of sad misplacement of an item is the reason our landfill is so large and we must all get on board with the mission of Zero Waste McMinnville!

And meanwhile, I can get a financial benefit because of this audit. I now know since we have diverted over 60% of our waste from the landfill by composting and recycling, we can exchange our large garbage bin for a smaller one and save money on our fee to Recology! SCORE!