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Living for the Long Haul: How can we reduce the waste we produce? Part 2

Pine River area columnists share more tips for cleaner living

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PINE RIVER —  In part 1 of this series, we discussed some of the potential problems we are encountering here in rural Minnesota that relate to the burgeoning number and size of landfills.

We enumerated some of the toxins produced by landfills and reviewed some of the potential environmental hazards to air, soil and water as well as to human health.

In response, we began to look at the contents of our trash can to see what we could reduce that we now deposit in landfills.

Our trash consists of: food waste, 23%; paper, 22%; plastic, 12%; grass clippings, 12%; metal, 9%; clothing, 9%; wood, 6%; glass, 4%, miscellaneous, 3%.

We started sharing how we could eliminate paper and cardboard from our trash and continue our quest here.

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Let’s look at food waste. First of all, we Americans throw 43% of the food we purchase into our trash. What a waste of food and money.

The food waste we put in landfills decays anaerobically, producing methane and carbon dioxide, which are major greenhouse gases contributing to warming the planet.

We need to do better, and we can do better.

Buying in smaller quantities, cooking in smaller batches, committing to eating leftovers and using products before they go bad all aid in reducing household waste.

Beyond decreasing production of food waste, we can keep the food waste we do produce out of the trash.

Using a garbage disposal appliance to grind your food waste and dispose of it through in the sewage provides for a more aerobic decay of the waste, thus reducing methane production.

However, the best way of dealing with food waste is composting. There are numerous ways to compost, including a variety of simple, readily available compost containers that can be purchased.

Composting converts food waste into fertile soil that can be used in gardens or lawns. So, let’s eliminate all food waste from our trash can (23% of our trash).

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How about those grass clippings? If they are placed in landfills they will decay anaerobically and produce the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide. Fortunately, there are many alternatives.

If left on the lawn they provide nutrients needed for the grass and reduce the amount of fertilizer needed. Grass can also be used as a mulch in gardens or fed to cattle, sheep or goats.

It’s easy to eliminate all grass clippings and other yard waste from our trash can (12% of our trash).

We see a lot of metal when we look into our trash can. The good news is that we can take it all out. It can be recycled.

Not only can cans (metal and aluminum) be recycled, but any tinfoil (free of food) and can tops go in the recycling. Even empty metal paint cans can be recycled.

Large metal items, like appliances, bicycles, etc., can be recycled through a municipal recycling center or can be taken to a salvage yard and sold by the pound.

So, we can take every bit of metal out of our trash can (9% of our trash).

Clothes make up about 9% of our trash. Americans tend to buy cheap clothes, wear them a few times and throw them away. This creates a burden on the environment both in terms of producing the raw material needed to produce the clothing and then in their disposal.

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How do we begin to reduce the load of textiles in our trash?

We can begin by buying a few high quality clothing items as opposed to the cheap “fast fashion” offered by most big-box stores.

When we are ready to get rid of a clothing item that’s in good condition, we can sell or donate them to thrift/consignment stores or drop them in a Disabled American Veterans bin conveniently located around this area.

It is also possible to compost 100% cotton or wool items in your compost pile. Additionally, we can use clothing as cleaning rags or donate them to companies that produce boxes of rags as a product for sale.

In these ways, we can remove most of the textiles from our trash container (10% of our trash).

Glass items in our trash container consist mostly of glass bottles. The good news is all glass can be recycled and thus can be taken out of our trash (4% of our trash).

We will continue our trash talk in the next column.

(References to all factual information quoted provided on request and comments and questions are encouraged: BalsamMoon3148@gmail.com)

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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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