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This really is more of a diary diary, my own mundane experience with living the zero waste lifestyle as best I can.  I am late in writing this week; I've been trying hard to find community here in Boston and having fun going out.  My eye-opener this week happened last trash day.  I was in a hurry on Monday morning to get to work, so I took my usual quarter bag of trash out of the can, tied it shut and put it out front on the sidewalk, instead of dragging a whole empty trash can up from the side of the house.  Usually this is not a problem because I live in a duplex and my upstairs neighbors generate lots of trash.  This week, though, they must have been on vacation, because the trash collectors came and went and my lone mostly empty kitchen trash bag stayed there on the sidewalk.  I put it in the trash can at the side of the house and will put it out again, with can, this Monday.

I was surprised by my reaction--a trace feeling of shame at being different.  This, of course, is very silly.  It's not that the trash collectors judged me in any way, they probably just didn't see my trash, being so small.  I rapidly ran through the things I throw out.  At this point it's mostly just food packaging from the store (plastic bags and wrap), dental floss, bits of non-compostable food (with grease and/or meat), and the occasional durable broken item or worn out clothes not suitable for rags.  I was ruffled by how strong the feeling of discomfort with non-conformity hit me.

On the other hand, my rational mind is troubled by just how much recycling trash I am still generating.  I have pared my regular trash down to the minimum, at least for me, but I want to do more with recycling.  Nutritional supplement containers, wine bottles, the occasional cardboard food packaging, jars from tahini, coconut oil, and bought pasta sauce (too hot here to make my own sauce), butter wrappers, really it's hard to get it lower.

The most satisfaction with my trash is from my newbie attempts at composting.  There is something very fulfilling about taking out my vegetable parings, peach pits, banana peels, egg shells and tea leaves and using my pitchfork to mix them up with torn up undyed cardboard.  Yes I am releasing methane, but those things would be releasing methane anyhow, and in the end I will have good dirt to grow more things.  The unexpected benefit that gives me the most contentment is the detente in the war with the anthill at the bottom of my backdoor steps.  There used to be a neverending war with the line of ants trying to make their way into my kitchen.  Now with a line of baby powder and white vinegar to discourage them from my pantry door, they make their way happily to my compost bin and it is a win/win situation.  With composting I feel part of the circle of life.  Although some are taking it even farther, like this chef coming up with recipe for those vegetable parings:


Zero Food Scraps Cuisine from Italy Turns Pea Pods into Delicious Finger Food

Lisa Casali is an environmental risk expert by day, and an eco-food blogger by night. Her passion for cooking got her to think about all the stuff that usually doesn't enter the recipe, such as the outer leaves of artichokes, the stems of asparagus, peels, pods, cores,... A few years ago she asked herself: Is it really necessary to throw away so much? Are all those food scraps that the recipe books tell us to throw away really inedible or just more difficult to prepare? After talking to food experts, chefs and nutritionists, she decided to find ways to turn these edible parts we usually don't want into delicious meals. This is what she calls Ecocucina, cooking with (almost) no environmental impact; try it out for yourself!

My way of dealing with vegetable scraps is to chuck them in my stock pot, problem solved, unless it's a strong-flavored vegetable like broccoli. But too hot to do that now!

I was also surprised at my strong, visceral reaction to styrofoam.  After my concussion I started drinking coffee and decided to taper off gradually.  One morning instead of making coffee at home, I stopped at Dunkin' Donuts.  I was horrified when they handed me a large styrofoam cup of coffee.  It's like my reactions to trash have been turned upside down.  I was going to say, "It was like being handed a cup of poop," but then I thought, well, poop can be composted and used as manure for growing crops and even used to generate energy.  So then I thought, something nastier than poop, and I thought, "cup of maggots" but then I thought about how that maggot video I posted made such quick work of food waste.  Now I am laughing at myself and my strange way of looking at the world.  Styrofoam--a useless, dead, immortal thing that serves only to harmfully fill the bellies of confused animals and birds, or at the very least add to the mountains of landfill trash everywhere.  This weird perspective is very new to me, but I get the feeling it is spreading among other folk.

And speaking of the value of poop, I found this rather interesting:

The History of the Bathroom Part 1: Before the Flush

The value of human wastes was so high that the rights of ownership to its components were assigned to different parties. In Osaka the rights to fecal matter from the occupants of a dwelling belonged to the owner of the building whereas the urine belonged to the tenants. ...Fights broke out over collection rights and prices. In the summer of 1724, two groups of villages from the Yamazaki and Takatsuki areas fought over the rights to collect night soil from various parts of the city.

Of course in the grand scheme of things, rationally I know that trash has very very little impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and I would be much better off expending my energy in finding a job closer to home with a shorter commute (although I am most certainly also looking for that).  I just don't have the visceral sense of guilt getting into my Prius every morning and facing my long drive as I do out of drinking out of a styrofoam cup.  Completely irrational.

I will say that last Saturday I was feeling smug about my urban/suburban living.  My suburb was built back in the post-War building boom and the houses are crammed together on my block, and we had a rocking block party with all the neighbors and about four dozen kids.  We blocked off both ends of the street and had a water slide, a dunk tank, a bouncy house, lots of games, tons of food and a keg for the grownups.  Try doing that in some stuffy wealthy suburb where every house is sitting on two acres of yard.  

My standard disclaimer:  Zero waste is not the most important thing a person can do to reduce their carbon footprint.  Taking public transportation over driving, particularly for a daily commute, weatherproofing one's home and turning down the thermostat, cutting down on air travel, switching to renewable energy sources, avoiding factory-farmed meat and most importantly political action to get the Republican climate deniers out of Congress are all bigger priorities in fighting climate change.  Don't use zero waste as an excuse to rest on your green laurels.

Originally posted to Living Simply on Tue Aug 02, 2011 at 06:49 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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