Trash Talkin' Mama

by Katy on September 23, 2008 · 7 comments



Illustration by Jessica Wolk-Stanley

Illustration by Jessica Wolk-Stanley


When I started doing The Compact (buy nothing new) in January 2007, my family of four was putting out a 32-gallon garbage can every week. Sometimes it was half full, but mostly it was crammed to the brim. By stopping all new purchases, I was able to go down to a weekly 20-gallon can. This served not only to save us money, but was also a good reminder to not produce too much waste. 

I wanted to go to the monthly service, but knew that might be a bit too infrequent. We go through a lot of non-recyclable plastic food packaging like bread bags, cereal bags, brown sugar bags, etc. I would say that plastic packaging is easily 75% of our garbage output.

But I was at our local New Seasons Market last week, enjoying a muffin and coffee with a friend when I noticed a woman bring a huge bag of different plastic bags over to the recycling area.

Time stood still.

What is she doing? That stuff isn’t recyclable!

I quickly downed my food and made a beeline over to the recycling area. 

Instead of complicated #2, #5, #1 sorting bins, there were two categories:

Soft plastic.

Hard plastic.

The store was now working with a new vendor that makes plastic boards like those used for benches and decks.

My mind suddenly became a rapid slideshow of all the things I can now recycle.

Bread-tabs, lids, broken fake Legos, milk lids, and oh my god —

All. Those. Bags!

I know the solution is not to be recycling enormous amounts of plastics, but rather to decrease the plastics coming into the home. You already know I’m working on this. 

Today was garbage day. Our can had only two small grocery bags of waste in it. It would have been less, but there was a turkey carcass to contend with. I had also done a basement sweep to scrounge all possible garbage.

I called up the garbage hauler today to switch our service over to a monthly pick-up for our 20-gallon can. It turns out they don’t even offer such a small service, the monthly pick-up is only for a 32-gallon can. Luckily, the recycling is still weekly and yard debris every fortnight.

The savings to switch from a weekly 20-gallon can to a monthly 32-gallon can?

Five dollars per month.

It may not sound like much, but that’s $60 per year. If someone were to hand me $60 right here and now, I’d be feeling mighty fine. I might even add a swagger to my step.

How much garbage is your family generating? Could it be less? 

When you throw something away, where is away? 

Isn’t our away somebody else’s here?

Check out to learn more about minimizing your family’s waste.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jo September 23, 2008 at 4:54 am

It strikes me that our communities could do more to encourage us to toss less garbage. Like provide a way bigger discount to responsible citizens for instance!


Mary C September 23, 2008 at 5:13 am

I wish our area was more recycle friendly. We currently have voluntary curbside recycling that we have to pay extra for. But I happily pay for the privilege. You would think that California would be way up the ladder on Earth Friendly. We aren’t. We are too busy building roads and shopping malls.


LeAnna September 23, 2008 at 7:28 am

This hit me at a good time, I was just planning to downsize to the smallest of the three can sizes–I have to pay $10 for that switch, but then I save a couple of bucks per month, so the switch will pay off in less than six months. I downsized right when we moved into the place because there was no way we needed the 96-gallon (I think it moved us to a 64-gallon, if I remember right.) But I split garbage priveledges with a tenant upstairs, so I don’t want to be TOO stingy for their side of things. The last three weeks, though, the garbage can has been almost empty, so I think we can switch down to the smallest size each week.


Bellen September 23, 2008 at 8:39 am

Where, or what state, do you live in that recycles #5 plastic?

Our local Waste Management (SW Florida) starting Oct. 6th is collecting all garbage, recyclables and yard waste in one giant on wheels container and reducing collection from 2 times per week to once.

This is a cost reduction move and also hoping to increase recycling.


thenonconsumeradvocate September 23, 2008 at 8:46 am

I live in Portland, Oregon.

We are able to curbside recycle #2, #5 and anything with a “neck.”

Curbside recycling also includes scrap paper, newspaper, glass and cans/aluminum.

Portland is very pro-recycle. We’re lucky.

The Non-Consumer Advocate


Tracey Smith September 25, 2008 at 8:47 am

Hi Katy – great posting here and I’m passionate about trying to get the retailers to take more responsibility for the plastic that they offload onto us!

In the UK, I’ve put out a call for a bit of positive activism. I’m asking consumers to copy out a letter to their local large retailers asking that they give their customers a box to deposit superfluous cardboard and/or plastic waste.

The idea behind it being, if enough folks get behind this idea and if they leave said packaging at the point of sale if the retailers DON’T play ball, they will eventually rethink where they buy their products from and will finally give the customers what they want – groceries WITHOUT all the faff and palava!

You are not legally obliged to take any of that packaging home and are entitled to leave it at the point of sale….

If you’d like to see a copy of the letter, it’s on the website under the ‘Kitchen’ chapter, which is available free for all to read!

With kind regards and much respect for all the great work you’re doing raising awareness,



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