Monday, August 24, 2009

Recycling & Composting - Three Lessons Learned

This week's challenge is about reducing the size of our trash bins by composting and recycling. We've been doing both activities for awhile so ... I thought I'd share some "lessons learned".

Lesson One: It IS possible to compost and recycle while living in an apartment.

Truthfully, when I began this blog, I didn't think either activity would work in a small space. We'd need an indoor spot to put recycle bins and an outdoor spot to put a compost. As with most things in life, however, the largest hurdle was simply getting my head wrapped around the idea. Once I did, the rest was easy.

We rearranged our laundry room a bit and stacked about four grocery boxes in the corner. These became our recycle bins ... one each for plastic, aluminum, glass and metal. We put another box in our office for paper. They fill up fast ... and we don't have curbside recycling or even a convenient center in our complex ... so, every time we leave the house, we take a box with us and place it in the trunk. If we happen to be driving by the recycle center (which is basically on our way to anywhere), we stop in and unload.

The compost bin seemed to be a little more challenging ... I thought it would be messy and smelly. It can be if a little care isn't taken. In my kitchen, I have an empty coffee container with a lid ... this is where I toss veggie scraps, coffee grounds and other compostables. When the container is full, I take it out to my patio where we've dedicated a large planter as our composter. We tossed some dirt in the bottom, added our organic material, covered it with a little more dirt and then ... and this is key ... we covered the container (we used an Eco-bag). This keeps the smell down.

Before we knew it, we had a routine for both recycling and composting.

Lesson Two: Almost everything can be either recycled or composted.

When one really starts considering what is tossed out, almost everything can either be recycled or composted. It does require that we break the habit of just tossing things into the trash and entails looking at things like recycle codes. And it sometimes requires separating components like removing paper labels from cans. But ... once in the habit of doing so, almost everything we touch has a place other than the trash.

Lesson Three: "Real" trash smells.

One of the things that bothered me about this process is that the trash bin started to smell way before it was even slightly full. This is because the only things getting trashed were cooked food items (I don't put anything cooked into the compost bin and we don't use the disposal ... it uses too much water). Not a lot of food goes to waste in our house ... we try to only cook what we can eat in a reasonable amount of time but ... occasionally cooked items get tossed. So does canned pet food that doesn't get eaten in a day. These items very quickly smell. I didn't feel right, however, about wasting a trash bag (even the Eco variety) before it was reasonably full. So ... we came up with a trick. We put any tossed out, potentially smelly stuff, into a small Eco-bag and then freeze it. We keep adding to the bag until it's full and then we take it to the dumpster. No more smelly trash bin.

It turns out that recycling and composting are easy activities ... activities that help us walk a little easier on the earth. On Wednesday, I hope you'll stop in and check out the Honor Society ... I've been reading everyone's efforts and there are some great recycling/composting tips and ideas.

As always ... I would love to hear from you.