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WASTE TO WEALTH
GARBAGE TO GOLD | C Srinivasan
How to Manage Your Home Waste
Having trouble keeping up with your family's garbage output? Putting a bit more thought into the way you manage your household waste can help you get more organized. With careful planning, you'll be able to save money and have less of an impact on the environment. See Step 1 to find out how to deal with garbage, food scraps, and recyclables.
Reducing Your Garbage
Use cloth bags instead of plastic. This small measure will greatly reduce the amount of waste you bring into your house. No matter where you're shopping, you can bring your own reusable cloth bags instead of accepting plastic bags from the store. Plan ahead by purchasing several reusable bags and storing them where you won't forget to bring them along next time you go shopping, like in your kitchen or in the trunk of your car.
- If you forget to bring your cloth bags to the store, you can still reduce waste! Ask the person bagging your groceries not to use double bags. Most stores now sell cloth bags, so you could spring for those instead of accepting plastic or paper - you can never have enough around the house.
- Using cloth bags isn't limited to grocery shopping. Take one along when you go shopping for clothes, tools, or any other items you may need.
Buy food that has less packaging. If you tend to buy food that comes in boxes wrapped in plastic with individually-wrapped serving sizes inside, you're probably producing more waste than you want to. Look for ways to buy food with minimal packaging, especially plastic packaging, and you'll see your daily mound of garbage turn into a tiny hill. Here are a few tricks to try:
- Use the bulk food section. You can buy rice, beans, cereals, teas, spices, and other dry foods in the bulk food section of your grocery store. Store the foods in airtight glass or plastic containers when you get home.
Do vermicomposting. You can make your own worm composting system.
- Make dinner instead of heating it up. Take-out food and microwaveable dinners require a lot of packaging, and it all just goes in the trash. It definitely takes more time, but consider replacing some of your instant meals with homemade creations. Your waistline will thank you, too.
- Buy dairy items in containers you can return. An increasing amount of dairy companies offer a return system in which you buy a glass jug of milk, cream or buttermilk and return the jug for a deposit. This is a great way to cut down on using plastic.
- Buy from farmer's markets. They offer mounds of fresh produce that have never touched plastic. Bring along cloth bags to carry your purchases home.
Don't use bottled drinks unless you have to. Bottled water - and other bottled drinks - are a major source of waste in many places. In some places bottled water is safer to drink than tap water, but if that's not the case in your area, consider using tap water instead. You can always filter the water if you don't like the way it tastes. This is more economical and much better for the environment.
- If you really want to go the distance, you can nix other bottled and canned drinks, too. For example, instead of buying a case of ginger ale, why not make your own? Homemade lemonade and limeade are also great choices.
- If you do choose to buy drinks by the bottle, choose large containers, rather than small ones. Get a 5 gallon (18.9 L) container of water with a dispenser instead of buying an 18-pack of small bottles.
Reduce your paper usage. If you like using computers, there are very few reasons you still need to have a lot of paper waste in your house. Taking measures to reduce the amount of paper you buy, as well as the amount of paper that gets sent to you in the mail, can save you the headache of having to sort through piles of papers.
- Go paperless when it comes to bills; choose to pay them online instead.
- Consider reading your news online instead of having a newspaper delivered to your house.
- Take measures to stop junk mail from overflowing your mailbox.
Consider making your own household cleaners and detergents. Many of the containers used for cleaners and detergents aren't recyclable, so they end up going in the garbage. If you have the time and inclination, making your own formulas and storing them in glass containers will end up saving tons of money and significantly reduce your garbage output. You'll also end up creating a chemical-free environment for your family. Here are a few great recipes to try:
- Make your own laundry detergent
- Make your own glass cleaner
- Make your own bathroom cleaner
- Make your own kitchen cleaner
- Make your own hand soap
- Make your own shampoo and conditioner
Reusing and Recycling
Donate items when possible. If you have old clothing, electronics, or other items you don't want but are still in decent shape, donate them instead of throwing them out in the trash. Better they end up in a classroom or someone's closet than the landfill.
- Old clothes and fabric scraps can be donated to a fabric recycling facility.
- Schools often accept donations of old computers and other electronics.
- Contact a local homeless shelter or donation center to see about donating furniture, electronics, cars, and any other items you're finished using.
Reuse containers. Durable containers can be reused a number of times before they need to go out with the garbage or recycling. Bottles, boxes and bags can all serve a second purpose if you know how to use them.
- Use paper bags to hold recyclables, if you don't have a bin. You can also use them to fashion book protectors - a flashback to grade school days.
- Reuse paper by printing on both sides, or letting your children draw on the back of used paper.
- Use food-grade glass containers (that didn't previously contain anything toxic) to store dry goods and leftovers.
- Plastic containers are fine to use for storage, but be careful about reusing them too many times to store food. Plastic, even if it's food-grade plastic, can eventually break down and start leaching chemicals into the food.
Follow your city's recycling policies. In some places you need to sort plastic, glass, and paper recyclables and and turn them in separately, while other cities allow you to place all recyclables in the same bin and be done with it. Some cities provide recycling pickup, while other places have a recycling center where you can drop everything off. Check your city's website and follow its policy regarding proper recycling.
- In general, the following household waste can be recycled:
- Plastic containers numbered 1 - 7
- Paper products like computer paper, egg cartons, newspaper, and cardboard
- Glass containers
- Aluminum cans, aluminum foil
Dispose of trash and hazardous waste properly. There are some household items that just can't be recycled or reused. These items have to be thrown out with the trash or disposed of at a hazardous waste facility. Try to reduce your consumption of the following items, and when you do use them, dispose of them according to your city's laws:
- TVs, computers, and other electronics
- Light bulbs
Save your food scraps and yard cuttings from the trash. Food scraps and yard cuttings don't need to be thrown out. Instead, you can compost them and turn them into rich, nutritious soil that can be used to nourish your garden - or donated to someone else who will be able to use it for theirs. There are many ways to compost; some compost mixtures allow for items like meat and dairy to be included, while others are strictly for fruit and vegetable scraps. To start a basic compost pile, save these items:
- Green items, which break down quickly, like raw vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, tea bags, grass cuttings, leaves
- Brown items, which break down slowly, like sticks and branches, paper, cardboard, eggshells, sawdust
Create a compost site. Select an area in a sunny or partially shaded spot in your yard for your compost site. Ideally, you'll compost directly over dirt or grass, but if you don't have a large yard area, you can compost on a concrete patio. Here are a few different ways you can structure your compost site:
- Make a compost pile. This is the simplest way to compost. All you have to do is make a pile in your yard. It should be located well away from your house, since composting sometimes attracts mice and insects.
- Make a compost box. You can construct a box made to the exact dimensions that suit your needs.
- Buy a compost bin. They're available at most home and garden stores, and come in a variety of different shapes and sizes.
Choose to make either a cold or hot compost heap. Making a cold heap requires less effort, but it takes longer for the compost to be ready. Making a hot heap requires a little work, but you'll have compost in as little as 6 - 8 weeks. Here's the difference:
- To make a cool compost heap, fill your bin with a few inches of both green and brown materials. Keep piling more in whenever you need to get rid of food scraps or toilet paper rolls. When the bin is full, leave it to compost. It may take up to a year to full compost, but you can use the compost forming at the bottom of the bin as needed.
- To make a hot compost heap, mix your green and brown materials well, and fill your bin all the way up (or heap up a big pile). It will warm up and get hot to the touch; when this happens, stir it up, and it will cool. When it heats up again a few days or weeks later, stir it up again. Keep doing this until it stops heating up after you stir, then let it rest to finish composting.
Maintain your compost site. If it seems to be rotting too fast and turning slimy, add more brown items to slow it down. If it seems to be too dry to work its magic, add some water or more green items. The more effort you put into tending to your compost site, the faster you'll have usable compost.
Use your compost when it's ready. You'll know your compost is ready when it turns a rich brown or black color and takes on an earthy smell. Your compost can be used to fertilize your vegetable or flower garden, or you can simply spread it around your yard to give your grass and other plants a nutrition boost.
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