Tuesday, January 21, 2014

zero waste home adventures: waste disposal in rural montana

a few years ago, when i first heard of bea johnson's zero waste home in a sunset article, i was thoroughly impressed and inspired. i started making some changes in my life to reduce waste. i started composting everything i could, thanks to fosth's composting system in the backyard and the county of san mateo's industrial composting program. then, recycled everything else, and finally, threw away what i couldn't compost or recycle. it was pretty amazing. i would throw out my 8 gallon bag of trash every 4-6 weeks, instead of every week or so. in addition to getting my waste down, i made some other decisions to minimize waste: no more paper towels, paper napkins, plastic wrap, ziplock bags, etc. i wasn't extremely strict about this new lifestyle but i did try to live out this intention.

but after a while, i noticed how quickly i turned back to the way of convenience. it was easier for me live in tune with the north american majority culture way of consumption and waste. i didn't like inconveniencing others and the upfront cost of trying to make a full conversion to zero waste.

anyway, fast forward to now: i got married, reduced our lives down to a carload, and moved out to very rural montana with my husband. the operative words being: very rural. 

to prove it, we have become trash collectors. we have to take our trash to a disposal site about 10 miles away, where there is no fancy industrial composting program. in fact, they only take cans, paper/cardboard, recyclable plastics 1 and 2 (of 7) and NO glass! and burying our compost in the (frozen, snow covered) ground isn't really an option, since it'll also entice unwanted critters.

so how do we implement bea's 5 R's (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot) in a place lacking the mindset and resources of the bay area? i'm not sure. but this is what we've resolved for now:
  • be okay with using up what we have. the house had a lot of supplies in here already, and we brought a number of things i didn't want to just throw out for the sake of starting fresh. it seemed like a ... well, waste. i wanted to finish using our stuff before moving onto making the transition to "all things bulk" and making our own cleaning solutions. again, not ideal, but i'm coming to terms with it. 
  • buy only what we absolutely need. and when we buy it, try returning the packaging before leaving the store. and if we need to order something from amazon, we try to have it all shipped in one box. 
  • refuse plastic bags and receipts. we bring our own bags for everything or just carry it in our hands. montana isn't like california where BYOBag is ubiquitous. 
  • reuse glass jars. we've collected some jars, brought some with us, and have bought some glass snapware we take to any store we can. our meat guy is currently closed to not using a piece of plastic to weigh and wrap the meat. (i'm gonna try to work some charm on this situation...)
  • recycle the rest in gallatin county. since ennis doesn't take recyclables 3-7, we're collecting the rest of our recyclables to do a run in bozeman in a few months. in fact, the state of montana doesn't recycle glass, so we need to take it to a private recycling company.
  • buy in bulk. so the ennis grocery store is kinda pricey, not super fresh, and sells almost everything in a package. if we are in a bind, we'll go there. but if we can help it, we will make a trip out to bozeman (60 miles away) and go to town & country foods and the community food co-op to pick up what we'll need for the week. tip 1: community food co-op on 908 w main gives $0.10 off for every jar and bag you use! tip 2: use a sharpie to write on your glass jar if you don't have a crayon like me. it comes off and it saves you from using a sticker or twisty tie.
  • reuse the plastic bag that the local tortillas come in. btw: i need a solution for tortilla packaging! 
  • return the egg carton to deemo's where we buy meat occasionally and local eggs often.
  • be aware. because i'm sorting recycling, collecting compost, and throwing away what we must, i can see how much waste piles up. it helps to just notice...
  • rot's not hot. actually, to prevent rotting (and therefore, wildlife scavenging our trash), we freeze all of our compostables until the freezer drawer is full. then we treat it like regular trash. this is not ideal, but it's saved us from having to make a dumpster run for almost two weeks.

even though i'm not confident we can become a zero waste household at this time (season and location), i'm proud of what we've been able to figure out thus far with our limited resources. i just need to remember to not feel defeated when i notice the trash bin getting more and more full and that becoming a zero waste household is slow process of transforming a deeply engrained lifestyle. for now, i'm just trying to remember to take my bags and clunky jars to the store. 

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