Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Don't Trash On Me

I feel like having the name Sierra, people have always made assumptions. Some of them are right, others less so. The biggest misconception is that I am a vegetarian, which I am not, but kind of wish I was (just for the record VIENNA is). Other assumptions hit the mark: I have hippie parents, eat organic food and sometimes wear clogs. I am earth-conscious, a proactive, avid recycler and composter and yes, I drive a prius. I wear some of these boots proudly. Until recently, I was so focused on reuse (compost) and recycle (recycling) that I never thought about manipulating the TRASH (reduce!).
'itty bitty under-the-sink wares'

Now, I don’t know you, but I get a small thrill in solving problems. It’s a little bit of a curse. Creating “efficiencies”, with family, children, teaching, travel, etc, my brain is constantly running (like when you hear your laptop engine humming even when you are not doing anything).

Getting back to the trash. Sept 2011: the fruit flies are killing me. It’s war. I’m hot, irritated with fruit flies and smelling something mysterious and horrible in the kitchen. If this description so far makes it sound like I live in a sty, I don’t, we are just a family of 4 with a dog and my sensitivity to smell is positively prenatal sometimes. It was driving to the center of my sanity. I bravely put my nose in the trash, nada. I smelled a foot away, the sink, the dishwasher, the walls; it seemed to be everywhere and nowhere.

For days this went on; investigation was a code red. In a moment of sheer panic and overwhelm, I took the whole 13-gallon-plastic-complete-with-rocking-flip-lid bastard outside. Miraculously aromatic peace was restored. I knew with every fiber of my being that I didn’t want that trashcan in my life anymore. I was done. The break-up was final.

Sooo, you might ask what we did when we had to throw something away. Compost is limited and recycling doesn’t cover everything left over at the end of the day. So we played the geriatric lady syndrome of keeping an old plastic bread bag on the counter and shoving our waste into that puppy to the brink of full madness, pushing, stuffing. It became like a video game (there is irony there). The stakes had never been higher (insert irony here).

Then this magical/evil plan was hatched inside my brain. What if we had no trash, what would we do? I started recalculating our trash problem. What if we focused on NOT throwing away things. Food was the biggest issue. Children don’t clean their plates, it goes in the trash, food that we forgot we bought shoved in the back of the fridge, garbage! We have a 2.5 year old and sure we use at least 1 disposable diaper at night and those add up over 7 days -all other times we (predictably) use cloth diapers.

cutting to the chase: some facts (and opinions)
  • meal planning changed
  • buying changed
  • i got a little zany, but in an interesting way
  • adam, the other half of the decision making in the house, was not privy to the challenge end: “we don’t have a trash can anymore, ok. (no biggie)”
  • sadly, food scraps could not be fed to dog, as she had lots of food allergies
  • it was kind of fun
  • then the dog got into the trash (a lot) and it was really really gross
  • realized we had to get a real trash can
  • so we continued to push and push into the smallest possible size.
  • in the end we got a small 3 gallon ikea flip open trash can
  • another small fact is that our kitchen trash can is the only trash can other than my studio in the house, not even in the bathrooms (much to the dismay of some, especially out-of-town visitors)
the wee bear was just right
After a full week of getting rid of our trash can we had a party, non-trash related. There were over 75 people at this party and I thought argh we are going to have to drag the trash-barrel-bastard out again, but without me even instructing anyone, my adorable friends were sorting and compiling trash, recycling and composting. Talk about love! In the end, we used more than a bread bag of trash, but not much; it was the stuff legends are made of. We reused our industrial and faithful pile of Preserve dinnerware that we have had forever and here we are many months later and still going strong in peaceful partnership with our 3-gallon can.

Luckily the city of Boston has been more on board over the last year with a larger (finally appropriately) size recycling barrel. Our garbage amount pales in comparison to our busting 64 gallon recycling bin. Now we might fill our trash barrel in a month or so. Don’t even get me started on the quandary if the recycling is even being recycled (an investigation for another time). 

I have had the pleasure to see the infamous, 'No Impact Man' a while back and wow!, Its the movie about the man who took his family on a year long project of making as small of an impact on the earth as possible in what seemed like the impossible fact that they lived in NYC. It was hardcore and admirable. It was not what fed my desire to de-trash-ify the house, but the fact that people who are willing to go above and beyond, always gives me an adrenaline rush.

I don’t mean to stand on any soap box. Trash in the home was something that I never thought about till that moment of ousting the dictating 13-gallon menace. Then I gave a little tweak in the noggin and now it is part of life, not another thought (until it was requested by a certain someone as a story). If only I could apply this sense of logic to exercising. The old adage: when you have a bigger house, you will fill it. It seems that there is never enough kitchen cabinets, if you have 10 or 30. No matter the size of your garage, basement, closets, toy bins, they seem to all get filled to capacity. 

So where is the lesson in this? I don’t know, try it if you like, for a week or a day. Without the recycling or compost it would be big- maybe impossible, you might end up on a TLC show about hoarding (sorry). But it might teach you something about yourself, or might make you think about what is ‘trash’ or start you on composting. Over 7+ years of composting in the city, we have learned a few things about not creating a hotel environment for rodents, especially a deluxe spa where they receive shelter from our half pipe neighbored with a bounty of edibles.

Did I make this sound doable? Interesting? I would like to say that it solved all of our problems, made us eat like birds, I lost 10 lbs and my husband’s hair grew back, my two children never fight anymore and our cars became powered by wind. Instead of all that happening, I have less trash, less smell and a greater sense of peace about the battle.


  1. At the risk of being too nosy, how do you dispose of menstrual products? Do you just carry them into the kitchen, or do you use reusable things?

  2. Hey! Are you calling my mom geriatric? I'm telling! She's not going to be pleased that her daughter from anuthah muthah is calling her old! Tee hee. Nice article! I don't think I ever knew you were such a great and entertaining writer!

  3. K: Yup, I bring everything to the kitchen trash. I also have an aversion to hair going down my drain in shower (now it is getting personal), so I have a system of collecting my hair and bringing it to the compost after every time I shower.

  4. mle, your mom is the least geriatric mamas I know. she is just a woman of the world, that is really what the geriatric age is about.

  5. Rad mama. I'm looking forward to C & S's memoirs, particularly the chapters that include The Time My Mom Led Us on a Reduction Bender.

  6. Or the chapter titled 'The Time I Stopped Asking My Mom Recycle or Trash?' over every speckle of waste, which C does when she wants to dispose of ANYTHING.