A country without enough garbage – imagine that!

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.

photo: thealbertaaltruist.com

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”

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10 thoughts on “A country without enough garbage – imagine that!

  1. This is not my tip but its one I took to heart. Its amazing how many ‘energy saving’ devices are packaged in plastic. You have to wonder if its really a benefit to use that energy saving device and have all that hard plastic end up in the garbage, not to mention the energy consumed to make the packaging.
    For me, I apply this especially to compact fluorescent lightbulbs. I will only purchase large packages that are entirely made of corrugated cardboard. Yes, it is an initial cost output, but the packaging is entirely recyclable – and that means a lot to me.
    I completely agree with you about those plastic produce bags – but I do have concerns about putting foods that I won’t peel before eating directly into the less-than-clean shopping carts so I use them (especially items like broccoli), and constantly scold myself, for not finding reusable/washable ones instead.
    I also wish the bulk barn would create a line of reusable bags that we could wash at home and use when we shop. Currently they won’t allow you to shop with your own reusable bags.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Deb. It’s so true about all that hard plastic, and it’s totally unnecessary, too. I also try to opt for cardboard as much as possible. While it can be recycled more easily, hopefully it also sends a message to manufacturers about what people want. As for Bulk Barn, they absolutely could use reusable bags. I’ve thought about taking my own containers in and having them pre-weighed, but haven’t tried it yet because I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t work! Let’s both suggest it to our local store. The more people who want it, the more likely a change will happen.

      1. I saw them at YIG in town at one time but I don’t think it’s something they have all the time. I’m with you and typically put the produce directly in my cart/bin.

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