When you throw something in the trash, it's easy to think that it stops being your problem -- your friendly neighborhood sanitation workers take it away, and that's that. Well, until the Garbage Apocalypse of 2062, when GarbageNet becomes self-aware and decides to eliminate all humans. Wait, that's a whole other blog post....
GarbageNet jokes aside, we thought you'd appreciate some tips to get closer to your garbage so you can embrace it, learn about it, and reduce it!
1. Carry Your Garbage With You
Some staff members at frog design have taken up a trash challenge: participants must keep all the trash they produce within five feet of them at all times. Exceptions: participants may recycle, compost, donate, incinerate, and flush. The experiment mercifully lasts only two weeks, and staffers taking the challenge write about it on the Trash Talk blog, explaining their personal struggles with non-recyclable, non-compostable trash. It's interesting to read how limited life becomes when these folks have to think about every little piece of trash -- because it's literally weighing them down! Eating out, shopping, and other daily activities become serious challenges with real consequences. Read this introduction to learn more.
2. Install a Composting Toilet
You can avoid flushing human waste into the sewer (or your septic system) by installing a composting toilet. These toilets take the, uh, "waste products" and break them down over time into compost and soil. Modern units can be odor-free, and many store the waste in a remote tank that rarely needs attention or maintenance -- think of it like an ultramodern outhouse. But beware, Wikipedia lists an entire section on "Possible health risks and aesthetic issues!"
Possible "aesthetic issues" aside, composting toilets are one way you can dramatically reduce sewage waste and cut down on water use, while producing useful compost and soil. You can learn more by watching this interminable infomercial or reading the Wikipedia entry. See also: humanure.
3. Freecycle Your Stuff
Instead of throwing out perfectly decent stuff, why not give it away via the internet? Freecycle communities exist around the world for just this purpose -- using Yahoo! Groups, members post offers of free stuff. If you want the stuff, contact the member privately and make arrangements to and pick it up. Stuff ranges from household items to clothes, toys, computers, even literal garbage that might be recyclable by the right person. The Freecycle approach differs from the Craigslist "free stuff by the curb" section because there's a real community involved, and because of the direct member interaction you're never going to drive across town (wasting gas) only to discover that someone else beat you to the free stuff. Here's a sample posting from my hometown group:
I have a santa doll that stands about 12" high. Wearing golds, creams and tapestry cream, red, and green jacket. Still have the $20 price tag on it. I don't know how I ended up with it, but I'm not much into Santa.
Six hours after the post went up, Santa found a new home.
4. Take a Superfun Visit to a Superfund Site
The Superfund pays for cleanup of some of the most polluted sites in the United States -- these are places where no other party could be found to pay for the work. Superfund sites are pretty much everywhere, and some are surprisingly scenic (though beware: many are extremely toxic). There's a particularly lovely Superfund site in North Portland, Oregon, by the Willamette River. Blogger Mary Wheeler walks her dog there and shares her experiences in My Dog Walk on the Wild Side. See also: Lyza Danger Gardner's photography of the same site.
5. Visit the Garbage Museum
This one's for the kids. Specifically, the kids who live near Stratford, Connecticut -- home of The Garbage Museum. Here's what the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority has to say about the educational (and kinda fun-sounding) exhibits at The Garbage Museum:
The Garbage Museum ... offers visitors an opportunity to meet Trash-o-saurus, a dinosaur made from a ton of trash, which is how much trash an average person throws away in a year! Guests may walk through a giant compost pile, meet resident compost worms and discover how much energy savings is derived from recycling. Watch what happens to recyclables in a "sky-box" view of the tipping and sorting process. From the mezzanine walkway, visitors can follow glass and plastic containers, cans and newspapers through the sorting process and on to the end of the line where items are crushed and baled for shipping to processors, who turn them into products.