Can you imagine a country that uses household garbage to make electricity? According to a very interesting article I read this morning on Treehugger, this is what Sweden does. The country has an advanced waste-to-energy incineration program that provides electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes, but their current garbage supplies have run so low that they now have to import from Norway. Talk about one man’s trash being another man’s treasure!
While incineration is probably not a particularly clean type of energy, there must be benefits to reducing the sheer volume of garbage in landfill sites. We could definitely take some lessons from the Swedes, who apparently are among the planet’s least-wasteful people. They recycle around 96% of the garbage they produce, which is admirable.
I often feel depressed by the amount of waste we generate at home, despite my efforts to shop consciously and reduce garbage whenever possible. It’s hard, though, with the excessive packaging and plastic bags that encapsulate most products in the grocery store. Try as I may, when I get home from the store and unpack, there are inevitably a handful of plastic packaging that goes directly into the garbage can because it can’t get recycled.
As a result, I’ve started making purchasing decisions based on a number of factors: (1) where it’s from, preferably as local as possible, (2) preference given to organic and non-GMO, (3) the least amount of packaging or most biodegradable options like paper, (4) price. These are in no particular order because it depends on the product, but these are factors to consider with everything I put into the cart.
I’ve committed to not using those thin plastic bags in the produce section – the kind for collecting apples and lemons; instead, I put them into my cart loose. The cashier always has a bit of a battle rounding them up to weigh, but none has complained about it. Once they’re put into my reusable grocery bags, they go straight into the fruit bowl or fridge at home and I don’t have to throw away any bags. I also try not to buy waxed cardboard, i.e. juice cartons, because those can’t be recycled in our town. When someone puts my items in a plastic bag without asking, I usually take them out and give back the bag, loading up my purse or diaper bag instead. Most times I can always find a reusable alternative to a bag, though it’s almost always less convenient. Even around the house, I use glass jars, tea towels, newspaper, and ceramic dishes whenever possible.
My dad told me that when he was growing up in the sixties, they just put garbage directly into the can with no plastic bag liner. I was surprised because I’d never thought about what garbage pick-up was like prior to widespread plastic bag use. I wish we could go back to that, though I don’t know what the town garbage collectors would have to say about a bin of wet, gooey garbage getting dumped onto all the other bags. Maybe I’ll give it a try when I’m feeling especially daring. In the meantime, I’ll continue trying to reduce waste and to recycle whenever possible because it’s a responsibility that all of us have, especially in consumption-driven societies like ours.
Please share any tips you have on reducing household garbage. I’m always up for new challenges!
Related post: Ten ways to become “green for life”