Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Garbage offsets

This post isn't about tomatoes.  Still, I want to show you how happy my tomatoes are, enjoying their recent field trip outdoors.
Tomatoes in the sunshine.
I've started them in canning jars, per my usual custom, because (a) I don't want to spend money on plastic starter trays, and (b) plastic starter trays are so small that they require up-potting the plants anyway and (c) I already have gobs of canning jars just sitting around, and (d) this hasn't resulted in tomato genocide in past years, so I figure why the heck not stick with what's worked?

In the same way that I'm too cheap to buy plastic starter trays, I'm also too cheap to get grow lights, and even when I borrowed grow lights, I was too cheap to leave them turned on.  (Sometimes it's hard being a Miser Mom; I get a little too wound up about leaving on the lights).   But my high-E windows mean that my tomatoes languish without additional help, making the transfer from jars to the ground problematic, unless I give them a way to get full-spectrum light.  So during April and early May, whenever the weather is warm enough, I take my tomatoes outdoors to play during the day, and then bring them back in at night to protect them from cold and/or rain.
The tomatoes in their new "school bus",
hanging out with the violets.
What's different this year is that these field trips have a new tomato school bus, so to speak. Instead of carrying my tomato-canning-jars around in their cardboard boxes (a dozen to a box), I now have a fantastic wooden basket with handles that just perfectly fits all two dozen jars. This box is a most excellent acquisition, because not only does this box allow me to carry all the jars out (or back in) in one trip, but it also means I don't have to worry that errant rain will destroy my storage boxes by making them soggy. I love my new tomato school bus.

And where, you might ask, did I get this wonderful box?

From my neighbor's trash pile.

My neighbors, they throw away such amazing stuff.  Here I am, agonizing over two tortilla bags that go with feeding 8 people at our family's annual money dinner (internal monologue: "Is there  any way I can buy green tortillas around here without plastic bags?"  fret, fret, fret . .  ).  I obsess over eliminating material that is designed exclusively for the purpose of being disposed of.  And my neighbors, their trash piles contain object after object that remains perfectly useful . . . just not useful to my neighbors.  I've rescued I-don't-know-how-many beautiful wicker baskets, art canvases, flower pots, pieces of furniture, children's toys.   Just the other day, I pulled out a tea kettle.

This gets me steamed.
The kettle is in perfect condition.  But my neighbors are renovating their kitchen, and apparently the kettle no longer fits the decor.  I admit I don't need a kettle either, but I couldn't bear the thought of this thing taking up space in our increasingly overflowing landfill, so I grabbed it off the top of their trash pile and added it to our "donate" box.

To be more specific, I added it to our "donate -- household goods" box.  We have donation boxes for household goods, for clothes, for books, for scrap metal, for rags, and for arts and crafts, all near our garbage can, which is slowly-but-surely filling up for the third time this year.  I saw the level in my own garbage can rising even as I rescued the tea kettle from my neighbor's garbage, and a thought struck me.

If companies (and even individuals) can buy carbon offsets from other sources to make up for their own excesses, maybe I could use garbage offsets to make up for my own landfill contributions.  What would happen if, for every garbage can my family produces, I rescued an equal amount of perfectly good stuff and got it into the hands of people who could use it?  My net effect on the local landfills could be zero, even if I'm not technically zero waste myself.

I want to be clear that I know I sound like a zealot and/or crazy person saying all this. I don't actually root around in other people's garbage cans, and I'm not about to start doing that now, nor in the future.  (I've only rescued the stuff in plain sight, left on the top of the can or on the ground next to it).  I don't actually want to structure my life around being the Don Quixote of Garbage, riding off to tilt at trash cans every garbage day.

And yet, the idea of having a net-zero effect on our landfill appeals to me.  If I can't quite figure out how to avoid the tortilla bags and other soft plastics that seem to make up the bulk of our garbage, maybe I can help see to it that our garbage has a little less companionship as it heads off to its final resting place.

It's something to think about.


  1. We do the same! We've rescued so many items from our neighborhood trash. Pretty much all of the items get donated, but we've put a few things to use in our own home. We recently relocated and gave away all our furniture and were able to replace all the furniture with 2nd hand (and mostly free!) items. It's shocking how wasteful our society is.

    1. Shocking is the right word . . . I really can't fathom this mentality. If you're fleeing for your life, I can see why you'd drop what you have and not worry about. But if you're just tired of that children's toy, or that stool, or . . . If you don't want to be bothered carting it to a thrift shop, it's not that hard to stick a "FREE" sign next to the object when you place it at the curb, to encourage the object to find a new appreciative home.

  2. I think that's a wonderful idea! Given your commitment to things like ensuring your church uses reusable stuff is already a great start (or maybe even gets you most of the way there).

    I have definitely trash picked just to take stuff to the thrift store, and it drives me up a wall that people can't just take items and donate them. Really? How hard is it?

    Another thing that steams me but I haven't had the courage to approach someone about is my local nature center and their annual pancake breakfast. They use paper plates and plastic utensils! When I worked there, we did use metal utensils and compostable plates, but they've since switched. It completely steams me up. There is no dishwasher, but that's what volunteers are for! They do go through a high volume of people, so maybe that's why. I'm getting to know the new person in the role that plans that event, so perhaps soon I can discuss with her and see if I can buy them more forks and suggest volunteer washing (I'd volunteer, but I typically supervise one of the races that day -- when not pregnant/with a newborn). We shall see.

    1. So, buying the reusable plates/flatware/napkins for my church *was* a very large expense, I'll admit. On the other side, I did get to count it (for tax purposes) as a charitable donation.

      Even more, I've been surprised at how grateful everyone is. Like, people come up to me and say, "I'm so glad we have REAL silverware!" or "REAL plates!". One of my running buddies, who goes to my church, just got married and she asked if my wedding gift to her would be doing the dishes, so she could use the church plates instead of going to the expense of buying disposables or renting plates. (I washed the dishes, but I also made her a tool hanger for a wedding gift).

      I think people *think* that other people want convenience, and that pushes the organizers toward disposables. But in my experience, the feedback loop is toward everyone offering to help with dishes and laundering napkins, because they like the durable versions better. I didn't expect that at all.