Zero Waste Week, Day Two — How to Avoid Garbage & Then How to Dispose of it

by Katy on April 16, 2013 · 57 comments

Zero Waste Home

It’s Day Two of Zero Waste Week, and so far my focus has been on food, food and . . . wait for it . . . food. Searching for businesses who sell without packaging, finding bulk sources and adjusting how my family cooks and eats.

So far, it’s been a delicious experiment.

However, a family’s household waste is not limited to the kitchen, so today I want to shine a spotlight on the rest of the house.


Here’s what my family already does to minimize waste outside of the kitchen:

  • We refuse items on a regular basis. Promotional doodads, free whatzits and other people’s discards do not need to enter my house.
  • I allow myself time to really think about having to buy stuff before I pull the trigger. I’m often able to come up with an alternate solution to my initial gotta buy it inclination.
  • We changed our Oregonian newspaper delivery to just Tuesdays and Sundays. I had originally fully cancelled the paper, but there was a special 99¢/week deal that would include the Tuesday/Sundays coupons. And since there’s a monthly Tuesday $10-off $50 Safeway coupon, this seemed prudent. I don’t use a ton of coupons, but I definitely use some.
  • We mend and repair before we replace. This includes backpacks, major appliances, decor, shoes, clothing, furniture and bedding.
  • We have eliminated single use products such as paper towels, napkins, Kleenex and pop-up cleaning wipes. Instead we keep a stash of T-shirt rags, cloth napkins, handkerchiefs and bandanas. I clean using washable rags. (I clean the bathroom sink by wetting the hand towel and wiping everything down whenever I switch out to a fresh hand towel.)
  • I use a menstrual cup instead of  tampons and pads. I switched over five years ago, and my only regret is that I didn’t know to buy one decades earlier. I love that I no longer have to worry about keeping supplies on hand and being discreet with the bathroom garbage can.
  • Even though the initial cost is higher, we mostly use rechargeable batteries. (Yes for my husband’s bike light, no for our smoke detectors.)
  • We take advantage of curbside composting, which accepts all garden products, food waste and food soiled paper.
  • We rent and borrow instead of buy seldom used items. This can be everything from tools, DVD’s, books, trucks, furniture and gardening equipment. We also make sure to lend our stuff out such as our rug shampooer, tools, wheelbarrow, mini-van, books and games.
  • I own less clothing, which means that I treat it better. When you only own two pair of jeans, you sure as heck change into your single pair of paint-splattered pants before working on a messy project.
  • We share garbage service with our next door neighbors, which keeps us in check. I know we can’t put out a ton of garbage, which forces us to think outside the can when it comes to how to best get rid of our unwanted stuff.
  • I rarely buy anything new. By choosing to forgo Target, there’s very little product packaging that enters our home.
  • I make my own cleaning products. But mostly, I just just wipe stuff down with water. I’m not eating out of my toilet.
  • I try to keep junk mail to a minimum. I call catalogs to get off their mailing lists, as well as individual businesses and charities.
  • I bring my own bags for produce and general grocery shopping. I also know that not everything requires a bag in the first place. Buying five apples? Why even use a bag? To support this, I always keep a net bag in my purse, which takes up next to no space, yet stretches out for larger purchases.


I have also made myself an expert of where to recycle/rehome different things:

  • CFL lightbulbs — Ikea
  • Batteries — The Batteries Plus store will take spent batteries for recycling. It’s free with purchase, otherwise you pay a small amount.
  • Styrofoam — Far West Fibers on S.E. 26th, although I see they have a Rosa Parks location as well.
  • Plastics  — Also Far West Fibers, although I was just told that they no longer accept hard plastic, like clamshells, etc.
  • Toxic Products — Metro services.
  • Large Unwieldy Items — Curbside with a “Free” sign. It’s amazing what people will take with an eye for fixing up. Broken furniture, decrepit old barbecues, unbearably heavy shelving all find new homes here in Portland.
  • Still Usable Items — Goodwill or Craiglist. I prefer Craigslist over Freecyle, as I can post a photo and not be limited by the finicky Freecycle rules. Goodwill accepts ripped up and stained clothing and blue jeans for use as rags and home insulation.
  • Unwanted Gifts from Japanese Exchange Students — I donate some of these to the Japanese Immersion elementary school in my neighborhood. They’re always happy to take them, and I know they’ll be used and appreciated in that setting. (I don’t give everything away, but there’s a limit to how many decorative fans my family can accommodate.)
  • Unwanted and Outgrown Clothing — Consignment shops for both clothing and household goods can give you a small amount of money or store credit for stuff you’d have donated to Goodwill in the first place.
  • E-Waste — I first try to find someone who could use or repair our unwanted electronic devices, but after that I’ll give to an e-waste location. Free Geek takes “Used Technology,”  and will likely bring the donation back to life before shipping it overseas for supposed “recycling.”

Addendum:  I save spent gifts cards for my friend Lise. She teaches kids’ silkscreening classes, and they use the gift cards to spread the ink across the mesh.

How we are producing garbage:

  • We buy too much packaged food. This means pasta, cereal, bread, liquid products, (olive oil, honey, milk, etc.) Trader Joe’s food and ice cream.
  • The cats’ litter boxes. I tried a cedar shavings litter once, and my cats took it as an opportunity to pee in the coat closet. Never again. We buy the clumping litter from Costco.
  • Constant decluttering of the house. As I delve into the never ending clutter, there’s always stuff that simply has to go into the garbage. This includes photos, laminated stuff and a myriad of other things.
  • Lids. Whether it’s from shampoo, food or household products. The lids are never ending.

I know these lists are specific to Portland, Oregon, but I included it so you might investigate your own city for similar resources. And needless to say, I work the getting-rid-of-stuff into my regular routine, so I’m not constantly driving across town. I’m sure there are gaping holes, so please add your two cents in the comments section below.

For additional Zero Waste information and resource, click on over to Zero Waste Home for a wasteless-ly good time.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie April 16, 2013 at 9:40 am

Thanks for all these wonderful ideas for “Zero Waste Week” (and beyond…!)

I have so often wished there was a resource for my local area of “where to take stuff you don’t need anymore” (there are websites here and there, but nothing comprehensive). I’ve even toyed with idea of trying to put together a database myself.

I’m new to Non-Consumer Advocate and do have a question about Goodwill that I’ve love to get some feedback on, which is this: how good is Goodwill about NOT sending stuff to dump? Or I guess another way to ask is, is how hard do they try to route items they can’t use to a more appropriate place? Thanks for any feedback!


Katy April 16, 2013 at 9:45 am

I’m guessing that there are many answers to that question. Someone recently told me that Goodwill throws away absolutely everything that’s left after hours at their donation stations, even when it’s perfectly good. Her brother drives the truck that takes it to the dump, so I believed her.

Also, Goodwills across the nation are going to have different strengths, so it would differ from location to location.

Portland area Goodwills send unsold retail store stuff to their Goodwill “Outlets,” which sell by the pound and are constantly busy.

But there are simply some things that nobody wants.



Planetrider April 20, 2013 at 7:51 am

I volunteer for Goodwill in Alberta, Canada. Much of what cannot be sold in stores is sold as salvage. Clothes for example are compressed into bulk blocks, sold to salvagers who often ship them to developing countries. We divert thousands and thousands of kilograms of goods that would otherwise have gone to the landfill.


pam mccoy March 12, 2016 at 1:54 pm

i work at a goodwill and we trash very little. Our shoes, cardboard and clothing is recycled. We even recycle all things related to computer. We keep hundreds of thousands of pounds out of the landfill.


Deb from Iowa April 16, 2013 at 10:01 am

Seriously, I am seeing plastic everywhere in my house. It even lines the inside of my dog food bag! The funny thing is that I remember a time before plastic. When I was 7 I received my first plastic item for Christmas, it was a pick plastic heart-shaped jewelry box from my Dad, and oh, it had that wonderful plastic scent to it. I truly thought we had become rich. Now, I see how it is in everything, and is harmful. We were so innocent, but I am glad to see people like you and Bea Johnson opening our eyes to this senseless waste.


Deb from Iowa April 16, 2013 at 10:06 am

I meant pink


bella April 16, 2013 at 10:42 am

I hate to admit, I do love that plastic smell.


HeatherS April 16, 2013 at 10:10 am

We buy the scoopable/clumping cat littler also. I don’t want to upset the cats routine in that area! Ours comes in a huge plastic pail with a lid and handle that we have found ways to reuse. It’s plastic but heavy duty and gets reused a ton. My husband uses them as home-repair kits by using them to store certain like-things together. For instance we have one for “electrical”, one for “painting” and one for “drywall” repair etc. He can grab the marked bucket and know that he has the tools/supplies necessary for certain types of home repair all in one bucket. That is, if he remembered to return all the items to the bucket the last time! LOL We have also used them as buckets under leaky sinks or really anything you would use a bucket for.


Katy April 16, 2013 at 10:13 am

Ours used to come in a bucket, but now is a heavy-duty plastic bag.



Jennifer B. April 16, 2013 at 11:25 am

Petco has bulk clumping kitty litter which is darn good. During the time we were showing our home to prospective buyers, I actually had somebody mention that they couldn’t smell evidence of our cats. Uh, yay?


A. Marie April 16, 2013 at 11:28 am

“Coma in a bucket”? I’ve had days like that . But, seriously, thanks for putting the emphasis on the positive (what you do “right,” and, by extension, what we all do “right”) in today’s post.


Katy April 16, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Ha, luckily I can edit comments. “Coma in a Bucket” is the name if my next rock band!



Tracy Stone April 16, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I know no one wants to rock the boat with the kitties, but I use Feline Pine. Says it’s 100% pine, so I scoop out the solids and dump it in the back corner of the yard when I change it. One day I’m going to plant something in it.
Also, Aveda stores take bottle caps to recycle into their own tops (and maybe bottles, too. Not sure about that.).

bella April 16, 2013 at 10:38 am
Aimee April 16, 2013 at 10:53 am

That ad is awesome!


Kitty April 16, 2013 at 10:55 am

On the cat litter issue – we use Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat litter for our three cats – really, really does not have that awful pee stink after use. It clumps wonderfully and no dust (we were chocking on lesser brands). We actually never toss the entire used load – just clean every day (twice a day in winter), and pay the rest forward by adding a bit more new. It comes in 40 lb bags, the bag is heavy plastic. We dump the new 40 lbs into the kitty litter buckets of the lesser brand for storage near the stations. We are using so much less due to this being a quality product. There is usually a $3 or even $5 coupon on Dr Elsey site and Petsmart will honor their on-line price at the store which is usually $1 less but you have to show proof (I show them on my tablet vs printing it out).
Thanks for all your posts, I have enjoyed following you. You and your readers provide wonderful and thoughtful insights.


Alane April 16, 2013 at 11:06 am

The Petco in our area (St Louis) has nice clumping cat litter that’s available in bulk. Just purchase it once from them in a non-bulk container and you can bring the container back for refills.


Steph April 16, 2013 at 11:10 am

I save lids!! I’m a preschool parent educator and we collect all sizes and colors of lids for math projects, game pieces and sorting.
Maybe a local school would like them !?


Elizabeth B April 16, 2013 at 11:29 am

The Aveda stores in my area (SF Bay) take hard plastic caps and lids for recycling. I bring them bottle caps, shampoo caps, lids from that scary Kraft pseudo-Parmesan that my husband prefers… All that stuff.

At one point Origins was accepting empty cosmetics containers of all sorts, but I don’t know the status of that program.

Beth Terry’s My Plastic-Free Life is full of tips for dealing with trash.


Katy April 16, 2013 at 11:33 am

Those Kraft lids fit perfectly on Mason jars and are super handy for reuse.



Beth B. April 16, 2013 at 12:36 pm

We use hankies at our house instead of Kleenex, but what do you do when you have company visiting from out of town? Tell them to use tp or just buy a box of Kleenex?


Katy April 16, 2013 at 1:03 pm

That’s never been an issue. The only long term guests we have would be perfectly happy to grab a handful of toilet paper. Not trying to impress anyone by our use of fancy Kleenex. 😉



Erin G. April 16, 2013 at 12:58 pm

So funny that everyone else is also commenting on their kitties…I didn’t know you had cats!

My cat was diagnosed with diabetes a week ago 🙁 She is doing pretty well with it though.

But it has increased our costs–and our waste. We’ve had to switch to canned food, and she needs insulin shots, so that’s two syringes a day as well.

It does make me glad that I’m frugal and live below my means–I would hate to not be able to take care of my kitty because of the cost!


Renee Drellishak April 16, 2013 at 1:39 pm

I love that you, a medical professional, clean with mostly water at home. Antiseptic conditions may be necessary in a surgical suite but not so much at home.


JaneUlness April 16, 2013 at 6:55 pm

So germs can only make you sick in the hospital?


Ann March 13, 2016 at 6:59 am

I think if the germs in your house were going to make you sick, you’d already be sick.


Krystal April 16, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Lids are the worst! Well, not really, but kind of. We’ve worked a bunch to limit anything in a non-reusable lid, or at least, a lid wider than 3″, which can be recycled here in Seattle.

Cat litter! I have a “picky pee-er” as well, and after struggling through a few issues, we’re keeping her happy with her wheat based litter. It comes in a compostable paper bag, but we do fill bags of her dirty litter. Both cat litter and dog poop account for about 40-45% of our total landfill waste.


Susan April 16, 2013 at 6:13 pm

I have always wanted to compost or “digest” my dog’s poo. I found out years ago that you can use dog poo compost in the garden, but I guess I have just been too lazy to put it to work. I just chuck it over the back wall every week. If interested…


Lindsey April 18, 2013 at 1:39 pm

I live in Alaska and near a sled dog team. I did dog poop composting one year, and it was the only time I have thrown up when turning my compost. Despite a lot of education, I lack the words to describe how horrific the odor was and how disgusting the texture while it was decomposing. It is also very difficult to get the temps up high enough to destroy pathogens. I discourage anyone from trying it, or using the results.


Jess April 16, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I teach preschool and lids are something that we can never get enough of! They are used for art projects, sink/float tests in the science area, etc. etc. Ask your local Early Childhood Programs if they want lids. They’d be crazy to say no!


tna April 16, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Cat litter and grocery packaging. I was reading that the Swiss who recycle over 50% of their stuff can leave grocery packaging at the store so the store or item’s manufacturer have to deal with their mess and possibly rethink their packaging. The only way I can really deal with grocery packaging is not to buy something and so change the items I eat. The Swiss burn their waste and use high tech incinerators that reduce pollution and produce energy. The US has lots of land to continue dumping so that probably won’t happen anytime soon. Yesterday someone walked up to me with a big smile on their face and handed me a 20 ounce Orange Crush and a Skor candy bar. I thanked them and sat down to contemplate my tasty problem. The bottle can be recycled but is still waste, the bottle lid my cat will play with so will go home with me, the plastic wrapper on the Skor….I don’t know of any place that takes them to recycle. If I had enough of them and the skill I guess I could weave them into a door mat or a beach tote. I tied it into a knot and it’s at the bottom of my backpack.
I’m starting to look at food with trepidation. What new found problem will it create for me?

I wear out shoes. When I’m through with them there is no way anyone would buy them at a thrift store so I can’t really donate them…it would just be passing the buck, as in “let Goodwill throw them away into the landfill.” I have seen people make old shoes into planters. ew.Or I could just keep them in the bottom of my closet and when I die all the shoes could be stuffed into my coffin with me and burried. But if I’m cremated they probably won’t accept the shoes. I could go barefoot but we have a lot of geese that leave presents on the sidewalks so that grosses me out. Shoes are a problem.

Oh to be carefree and trashy.


cathy April 16, 2013 at 5:17 pm

There are companies that will take used and beat up shoes and recycle them for use in other products. You could probably do a web search. I think Nike used to do this.


Katy April 16, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Nike dose take sneakers (any brand) to grind up for playground surfacing.

I’ve brought Keens there as they also have thick rubbery sole.

Here’s a link to find a location:


tna April 16, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Thank you both for the ideas. I found a Nike recycle place 100 miles from where I live. Since I walk and ride a bike it’s really not a good option. It’s nice that it is an options though.

I couldn’t find anyplace that recycles old used up shoes that aren’t athletic shoes. I buy all my shoes at thrift stores and don’t own any athletic shoes. It boggles my mind to think of all the shoes going into landfills. Over 300 million people wearing at the very least 2 pairs of shoes a year?



Susan April 16, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Susan Wasinger’s book, Eco Craft, shows how to make fabric out of plastic. She basically melts plastic bags with a hot iron and then uses the “fabric” to sew shopping bags, lunch bags, and even AWESOME lamp shades. Here’s a video…


carol April 17, 2013 at 7:19 am

This is a neat idea. But if you use it, be sure to use the iron in a well-ventilated area–maybe outside? The fumes from melting plastic are not good to breathe.


PoppyEcho April 17, 2013 at 1:44 pm

hey! I Posted about this on day one! A picture is worth a thousand words, though. A how-to video is worth 10 000!


Tracy Stone April 16, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Dang! Can’t edit my comment…so for kitty litter, which seems to be the topic of the day, I scoop out the solids and flush them! Then, when the litter is sawdust-like, it gets put outside. Just to clarify…

Wish there were places to deal with styrofoam.


JaneUlness April 16, 2013 at 6:59 pm

You can make really nice bathroom mats from plastic bags.


carol April 16, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Excellent suggestions! I, too, called about catalogs and other junk mail to get off their lists. Since I also used this website to get off lists, I have received no junk mail:

Thanks for your inspiration and all the above comments to keep me galvanized and on the path!


JD April 17, 2013 at 5:26 am

Thanks for that link! I needed that!


Joyce April 17, 2013 at 3:40 am

The lids for shampoo, ketchup, soda, etc. Those hard plastic lids–Aveda recycles them. All you have to do is find a shop near you that participates. I did this for years, with people in other departments in the hospital where I work bringing them in for me. Then the shop closed and there isn’t one near enough. Just a thought.


Diane April 17, 2013 at 5:01 am

I save all lids, bottle tops, yogurt cups, cardboard tubes and the like to donate to the Children’s Museum for their art projects. Also, Austin Creative Reuse has a fair once a year where teachers can come and collect donated items for reuse in their classrooms.


JD April 17, 2013 at 5:16 am

Has anyone found a way to deal with that awful shrink wrap? Surely that can’t be ironed and made into “fabric”, can it?
For hard plastic clamshells, though, my husband used them to start flower and veggie seeds. We also re-use soft drink cups to start seeds, cups that we get if we are away from home and can’t provide our own meals. Of course, our first option is to “refuse” such packaging, but sometimes, that’s the way the stuff comes and you deal with it.
When I was a kid, my grandmother worked in a glove factory, sewing beautiful soft leather dressy gloves. She brought home a bag of small squared leather scraps in all shades of tan, brown, and gray and gave them to us. My sister came up with the brilliant idea to “patchwork” them, and we sewed simple purses with flap closures out of the pieced together leather. All the girls at school wanted to know where we got those fabulous handbags! I think that is a great example of thinking outside the box!


Mary Ann April 17, 2013 at 7:19 am
Jane April 17, 2013 at 8:16 am

I saw a wonderful use for lids 2 years ago. On a fence near our house was a beautiful large scale flower (maybe 5 feet tall). I walked up to it to see what made all the beautiful colors and realized it was a large piece of wood and the petals and stem/leaves were made of various plastic caps. They were drilled onto the board. Some of the larger caps even has smaller caps in them. Since then, we have been saving caps and asking family to also save them. I think finally this summer we will have enough to make our own flower and attach it to our fence.


Melissa April 17, 2013 at 9:17 pm

I’ve always recycled my lids at Far West Fiber, but I just tried to take a bunch of clamshell plastic that I’d been saving up and couldn’t believe it when I drove up and saw their sign. Bummer! Another idea for household items is the Community Warehouse. I prefer to take really useful items there (furniture, lamps, etc.), because it goes directly to people who need it, without money involved.


Brenda April 18, 2013 at 9:35 am

We use rabbit pellets (alfalfa) for kitty litter. It clumps well, and it is fully flushable (if you are on sewer). It does make a bit of a mess when kitty jumps out of the litterbox and shakes her paws, but it feels less gross than clay litter. Also, it comes in a heavy duty paper bag (we buy the 50 pound bag from Del’s) that can be recycled or composted with our yard waste.


Linda in Mass April 19, 2013 at 10:11 am

On the kitty litter, my cat will only use cedar sawdust. She will not use any other litter. When we tried to switch, she found some sawdust on the basement floor to use. So, it’s cedar for this house!


Jackie P April 19, 2013 at 6:33 pm

If you don’t want to use batteries for smoke detectors, look into getting hard wired ones installed by a licensed electrician. They go on electricity and not batteries.


Katy April 19, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Ours are hard wired, but they have battery backup.



Ed April 24, 2013 at 10:37 am

New Seasons (in Portland) takes plastic lids for recycling.


Tammy March 12, 2016 at 2:49 pm

The refusal part is hard for me. I have a 7-year old daughter and it seems like everywhere we go, someone is giving her some sort of junky toy (or candy). I just want it to stop.

I have put all sorts of stuff on my curb and had it magically disappear! We had a bunch of light fixtures in our attic (they were there when we moved in our house), and when we cleaned up the attic a bit, we stuck them out on the curb. They were pure garbage in my mind, but someone stopped and picked up the whole lot!


Ann March 13, 2016 at 7:02 am

I’ve actually put my hand between a giver and my daughter with a firm “no thank you” and a smile to take the edge off.


Marcia March 12, 2016 at 4:18 pm

I could certainly improve in this area, but we live in the country and there are limited options. We have mandatory recycling, so a great many things go in there–some of which we don’t really need to buy in the first place. Newspapers, food boxes (cereal, etc.), cans, glass, junk mail, etc. all get recycled. I have tried getting off mailing lists but if you buy online or donate to charities which solicit by mail, you get a lot of stuff, including whole magazines that you don’t want. I recycle them although food-contaminated papers cannot be recycled. We cannot burn trash either.
Even bulk produce is “supposed” to be bagged in plastic bags to be weighed. I don’t bag bananas, or green peppers, etc, but green beans—gotta do it!! I just stick the labels on the outside of the produce when I can.
Our stores don’t follow “directions” no matter how sweetly I ask. This week I bought milk, cider, orange juice and a large bottle of honey. She asked about the milk and I said just put the big bottles in the cart. She put the milk in the cart and bagged every single other bottle I had!
We do have medicine drop off points and we’re working on electronic recycling–the old recycling shed burned down, and there just is no place at the moment to put such things. We are actually storing a few items that we have no further use for–a non-working TV, for instance. No place to take it and you can’t throw it away! Just waiting for a solution to come up. Most things we attempt to give away or donate to local charities.


Tracy March 12, 2016 at 4:20 pm

SCRAP in Portland takes lots of odd items including plastic lids.


Kathleen March 12, 2016 at 5:23 pm

Cedar shavings in the cat box is a bad idea. I use dried pine or oak from the local woodworkers shop. Cat’s don’t like the smell of cedar.


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