Living for the Long Haul: How can we reduce the amount of waste we produce? Part 3

A reflection on plastic waste


PINE RIVER — In parts 1 and 2 of this series we discussed some of the potential problems associated with the volume of trash we are producing.

We reviewed the volume and type of trash we are producing and found that the average household was producing food waste-23%; paper-22%; plastic-12%; grass clippings-12%; metal-9%; clothing-9%; wood-6%; glass-4%, miscellaneous-3%.

We started analyzing how we could reduce or eliminate paper and cardboard, food waste, metal, clothing, grass clippings and glass from our trash and continue here by looking at plastic, wood and miscellaneous trash.

Plastic waste comes in a plethora of types, sizes and shapes, much of which is in the form of single-use plastic. The majority of plastic items consist of bottles, packaging material, bags and food wrapping.

Once in the landfill, plastic never really degrades; it just breaks down to smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics. These microplastics are present in the leachate from landfills and contaminate surrounding soil and water.


Once in the environment, microplastics work their way up the food chain through plants, fish and mammals, and into our bodies.

How do we reduce the amount of plastic we place in landfills? Some of the plastic bottles can (and should) be recycled if they are labeled No.1 or No. 2 plastic.

Other types of plastic generally cannot be recycled at present. This leaves a large quantity of plastic waste in our trash can, which is a major blow to our goal of reducing our waste.

However, there are numerous ways to decrease the amount of plastic we purchase. As we discussed in a previous column, we can stop using disposable plastic items (water bottles, grocery bags, cutlery, cups, straws, razors) and replace them with reusable items.

Further, we can buy items in bulk and fill smaller containers. The plastic in one large container is much less that the plastic in many small containers.

In many cases, we can substitute items packaged in an alternative material rather than in packaged in plastic.

For example, paper milk jugs and egg cartons work just as well as those packaged in plastic containers. Ground coffee in plastic containers can be easily replaced with metal containers or coffee beans that come in paper bags.

Shampoo and conditioners in the form of bars and packaged in paper are available and are effective for many people. Deodorant and toothpaste are available in glass jars as opposed to plastic containers.


Therefore, paying attention to what and how we purchase items made from plastic or packaged in it are some ways that we can begin to reduce the plastic in our trash.

Some companies provide free recycling of their product containers. A good place to check for free recycling services is TerraCycle ( ).

It is surprising to us to see the average trash includes 6% wood. We burn wood for heat and wood scraps are valued for starting fires. Wood scraps can be used for multiple purposes and it seems wasteful to discard them in landfills. Perhaps consider giving them to a neighbor who burns wood.

So, let’s take a final look at that trash container. By exerting a little extra effort, we can eliminate, on average, 96% of our landfill trash.

We have eliminated the food waste (23%), the paper and cardboard (22%), the grass clippings (12%) metal (9%), clothing (9%), wood (6%), glass (4%) and perhaps about half of the plastic (let's say 6%).

But can we get rid of the rest and truly get to zero trash? Maybe. We certainly have to get rid of No. 3-No. 7 plastics. We can do that by obtaining a Zero Waste container from the company TerraCycle.

In addition to some free recycling services, for a fee, they send out boxes to fill and return, and the company recycles the contents. The service is not inexpensive but it is a way to approach achieving zero waste.

Thanks for taking a look at your trash with us.


(References to all factual information quoted provided on request and comments and questions are encouraged:

Douglas J. Weiss and Barb Mann are caretakers/directors of the nonprofit Balsam Moon Preserve in Pine River, a spiritual place of peace, sustainability and renewal.

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