Throwing Out My Garbage Cans

Back in October, thinking I was very clever and frugal, I took my restaurant leftovers onto a flight. I read and waited patiently for the flight attendants and their little trash bag to come by and retrieve the Styrofoam to-go container and other throwaway odds and ends. When at last they reached my row, I held my garbage up for them to take…but they got distracted by someone in the opposite aisle and turned away from me. It was late and I was tired, so for a fraction of a second, I thought they were refusing to take my trash, and I became furious. Thankfully, before I said or did anything, I saw what was actually happening, and a moment later they took my garbage and put it in their little plastic waste bag…But I was troubled, imagining what I would have done and how I would have felt if they had not taken my trash. If I’d known, in this imaginary scenario, that they wouldn’t be accepting my garbage, I wouldn’t have brought it on board in the first place. I would not want to deal with it on my own, with no place in a cramped middle seat to put it.

A few weeks after this non-incident, I was watching a program on city planning and learned the term “induced demand”—where if we have a space, we will fill it, and making more space actually worsens the problem of not having enough space. Making more lanes for traffic increases traffic. Making more rooms for storage increases the amount of unused stuff we accumulate. And making more places to dump garbage handily gives us room to throw more away. All of a sudden, I started thinking about induced demand in terms of just my garbage cans, specifically the ones in my kitchen, my bedroom, and my bathroom. What if I didn’t have those spaces to put garbage in the first place?

So a few weeks ago, I removed the waste baskets from my house, and for every object I would normally have thrown away, I am now responsible (this includes recyclables). I have been using social media as a giant virtual Greek forum, consulting friends and followers about specific bits of trash—how to reduce, repurpose, or refuse the garbage, and options on what, as an all-powerful and market-driving consumer, to buy instead that won’t generate anything that ends up in a dump. Since it’s trendy for stuff like this to become a “project” with a name and branding and the like, I’m calling it “Bin the Bin 2019.” I’ve been using the following hashtags: #induceddemand #binthebin2019 #savethehumans

Let’s face it: the conversation about the environment can be a big bummer. I get overwhelmed taking in just a few PSAs about the effects of glacial melts, emissions, good old-fashioned consumer waste. Apathy appears to be rampant. Our space programs don’t seem to be any closer to finding us a habitable “backup” planet. Thinking and talking about these matters makes me wanna lie down and never get up. This column will be for those of us who need bite-sized insights, ideas, and encouragements that start in the home, with our basic day-to-day products, and how to get ourselves closer to net-zero consumption on an individual basis.

Really, the fact of the matter is that I live here, too. And just by myself I make a sizable amount of garbage, and it’s not fair to my living space—my house OR my planet. I think I can do better. And I’ll try publicly, so you can ask me questions, give me advice, or just quietly learn from my embarrassing mistakes.

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