Analyzing Trash Output

Cans for recycling

I've written about minimizing our trash output to avoid paying for garbage pick-up. Even if you don't pay a premium for trash pick-up (or you live in a town where it's "free"), I recommend trying to do without trash pick-up for at least a few weeks. Why?

Personally, I believe that just throwing all of our trash into one big dumpster to be hauled away (and forgotten) means that we never stop to think about where all our trash is coming from and how it can be reduced.

We can put bags of garbage out at the road, and it's conveniently disposed of for us. Out of sight, out of mind. But trash doesn't just disappear when the garbage truck turns off of our street.

If you had to go through your trash, piece by piece, and come up with a way of getting rid of it (compost, burn, recycle, donate, etc.), you would probably give it a second thought.

Empty canning jars, waiting to be "recycled" (filled with food again!)

I love washing canning jars, because to me they symbolize the true meaning of "recycle". They don't need to be sent off to a factory for costly recycling techniques. They can be washed in my dish water and refilled next fall.

If you've read the two posts I linked to above, then you already know some of my strategies for reducing trash output.

It started when we moved here 4 years ago. I refused to pay for garbage pick-up, and instead determined that I would start a compost pile and sort recyclables.

What to do with an empty cocoa box??

Suddenly, an empty cocoa box like the one in this picture, is a big deal. The sides are made of cardboard, which is easy enough to burn or compost. But the top and bottom are made of metal. What waste, for a little bit of cocoa powder.

Whipped cream in a can

However, the cocoa box isn't a big deal in comparison to this packaging for 7 ounces of whipping cream. Convenient, but not efficient, and certainly not environmentally healthy.

Egg cartons -- to pass along

Egg cartons are easy enough to get rid of if you know someone who has laying hens. If you don't know anyone personally who can re-use egg cartons, ask around -- maybe someone else does.

By the way, I can't say it loud enough: Start composting! :) I was amazed when we started composting, at how our food scraps (peelings, egg shells, watermelon rinds, etc.) sunk and biodegraded and basically just disappeared after a while. Our compost scraps would have been many huge bags of food scraps if it were going to the landfill, but in our compost pile it just settled and composted.

My clothesline

Besides the compost pile/bin, I think the other most useful and frugal trash-and-energy-output-saving item is my clothesline. We use the cloth version of just about anything possible (including diapers, of course!) and line-drying is free. ;)

I'd love to hear your creative and resourceful ideas for reducing trash output! I'm sure we're not the only ones who don't have trash pick-up coming to our house every week. :)

Lindsay has a recent post about reducing junk mail. Unnecessary but unavoidable paper waste can be composted quite easily if you have a shredder! Yes, I'm kinda on that crazy composting bandwagon... :)

More frugal tips can be found here! :)


We make only about a bag of trash a week, and we often forget to put it out on the curb. We have a good resource for recycling and save our egg cartons for a friend who sells eggs. By composting and recycling, we've cut our trash in half over the past year.

I don't know anyone who sells eggs so I only buy the kind that come in paper containers so that I can recycle/compost them. BTW, it is a real pet peeve of mine that the 'healthier' egg with Omega 3 in them come in extremely unhealthy styrofoam containers, at least in our area.


We have been composting for years to the point we have several compost bins *5* for turning over etc until its finally broke down ready for use. Our garbage is included in our property taxes and I would say for a family of 5 soon to be 6 we average 3 bags a week of stuff we simply don't have a way to compost/recycle etc .. Anything that can be reused is reused..

We buy our eggs froma local farmer by the flat which is 2.5 dozen eggs per flat and we just return the flats to them.. Not bad for only $2..considering in the grocery store you pay over $2 for just a dozen meduim eggs


We recycle our egg containers by giving them back to the woman we buy our eggs from when they're empty. I love composting and seeing how little trash we can put out every week. It's like a challenge for me. What can I say? I am easily entertained.

Okay now Tammy convict me why dont ya! :) I've been wusing out (serious preggy hormones) and using paper diapers, easy convienance packaging and *GASP* paper towels!!! :) Bless your pea pickin little heart. LOL NO really I am seriously considering repenting of my lazy ways. :) Good post. Thought provoking.

When we were kids we always had a compost pile for the garden in the summer. A Punishment my father would give us was tearing paper... we would have to sit in a chair and tear the 'paper pile" into small squares. This in turn was put into the compost pile in the yard or if it was summer put right into the garden soil that was being dug up.

Tammy, with regards to your scraps that you are putting in the compost pile do not put in potato peelings in... we did that one year... and had stray potato plants comming up all over the garden!!!

When we first moved here a year ago our garbage and recycling were full, every week. It did not help that it was left full for us. (geeze, we have the nicest neighbors, one of them would have either put it in theirs or taken it out for him!)

Any ways, part of that was with the townhouse being on the market for 8 months there was no decluttering work! Just hide it! Put it in a box!

But, there is no way to dump out trash ourselves, so we do have to pay. But as part of that we got a free dumpster to recycle all our moving supplies! (The ones our neighbor kids did not commandeer to play with!) We offered around for free, but no one wanted them, and there was no place to store them to wait it out! But we probably gave away about 1/5 of them.

But seeing the bins each week made me very aware of what I was throwing out! I started using my own cloth grocery bags, which give me a small credit at most stores for each bag i use. I have started saving all my jars for storing bulk purchases. And a bunch of stuff already mentioned.

But out here in California our schools are being hit very hard, and even though we plan to homeschool, I still support the school where our neighbors take their kids as part of loving our neighbors. We clip box tops etc. But also, they recycle cans and plastic bottles for money, so we are starting to do that. Also, their middle child is in preschool, and a lot of preschools, daycares, and Sunday School classrooms (especially with it being VBS season) need a lot of stuff we would just throw out! Paper towel rolls, egg crates, etc, just ask around. It is an easy and cheap way to love those around you.

Also, like this is not long enough! Even if you don't compost, you can always spread your grass clippings over your flowerbeds. It takes about 1-2 weeks for a layer to dry enough that it can be covered again, and by the end of the year you will find that most of it is gone. I wish we had room to compost, but we do what we can with what we have!


Phil 2:9-11

I just got interested in recycling and reducing trash output recently. It takes a lof of effort (no recycling facilities in our small town so we have to haul our recylcable around to other towns) but I feel like it is worth it. My kids have really gotten into it to.

A great book on the topic (and the one that got me going) was "Serve God Save the Planet" by J. Matthew Sleeth. His personal story is excellent and so is his biblical insight into the call to care for our environment. I highly recommend it. I reviewed it on my blog if you want to read that. www (dot)bricck (dot)blogspot (dot) com

I just got interested in recycling recently. It is a lot of hard work (no recycling facilities in our small town so we have to haul our trash around to other towns) but it is totally worth it. My kids have really gotten in to it too. I'm glad I am helping them understand how important it is.

A great book on the topic (and the one that got me started) is "Serve God, Save the Planet" by J. Matthew Sleeth. His personal story is amazing and so is his biblical insight in to our responsibility to take care of God's wonderful creation. I reviewed the book on my blog if you would like to read it.

Before I become aware of how much I contributed to waste and destroying the ecosystem, I would throw everything in the trash.

Now we carefully decide what goes into the garbage pail. My outdoor garbage pail used to be so packed (about 7-8 kitchen trash bags) each week that the lid could not shut.

Now, two years later and we usually only have 1-2 kitchen trash bags in there from an entire week.

I get excited when I see how much we have cut back on waste.

Hi Tammy. I have a question about the clothesline.

I am absolutely dying to have a clothesline. I feel we would save SO much. Plus I love the idea of having to go outside, and the fresh smell of the sun dried clothing.

But we are renting our home...and the landlord is...not so nice. We wouldn't be able to erect a permanent clothesline, or anything that couldn't be easily removed when me moved out. Do you have any ideas on how we could get around that? My husband says no to inside drying, and we don't have a fence.

I'm just feeling like there's got to be something we can do (cheaply) but we're having a hard time coming up with something.

Thanks, Kim :)

you can get what the call an "umbrella" line... all it takes is a hole in the ground..( which you can refill if and when you ever move... ) It opens like an "umbrella" and they sell them at Lowes... my Mom just bought one for our "rental" property and they do not allow, " the city that is " clothes lines... I think my Mom said it ran about 57.00. the really cool thing is it spins... so you can just stand in one place and put up or take down the clothes... Oh and it holds I would say at least 2-3 loads...

Hi...I bought a cast iron stand for a pool umbrella and use that for my clothes line. I live in an apartment that doesn't allow permanent clothesline installation" either, but because I put it up and down, they let me have it. I got my stand from Sam's and it works great. I have an umbrella too.

Thanks these are great ideas!

On the stand do you hang the clothes? Is there an umbrella and you hang them under that...I guess I'm having a hard time picturing it. lol

Hi, Kim! :)

By non-permanent, do you mean something you take down at the end of the day, or something you take with you when you move out? :)

If you have any trees, or just anything where you could fasten some sort of hook/anchor, you can get some plastic clothesline for just a couple of dollars at Wal-mart or someplace similar... just tie/knot the line around the hooks. 

Also, if you are limited on outdoor clothesline, I really recommend getting a Tibbe Line -- it's an attachment that will allow you to dry 21 shirts (or anything attached to a regular clothes hanger) in just 1 yard of space. Perhaps a rope stretched across on a deck or porch, with a Tibbe Line attached... I don't know if it's an option for you, but it's another idea! :)

When we lived in a classist, no-clotheslines HOA neighborhood (that old "clotheslines are tacky, in other words they remind us of poor/rural/brown people" line) I had a temporary clothesline that I made myself with 2 d-clips (about $2 apiece at HD) and a vinyl clothesline. I just tied the ends of the clothesline to the D-clips. I mounted a couple of O-rings to the ends of my (hidden from the street) side patio roof and hung the clothesline there, taking it down when not in use. In a clean re-used cat litter bucket, I kept the clotheslines, bag of clothespins, and a couple of lingerie wheels (there are photos on my blog if you want an example.

The D-ring clothesline would be good for trees/poles too- you can just string the clothesline around the tree or whatever and clip it to the clothesline to form a loop.

We haven't had trash service for a long time. Since we live in the country (way in the boonies!), we would have to pay for it and it's rather expensive. So instead we reuse what we can, recycle (glass/plastic/metal/aluminum), burn (in a burn barrel) and compost. I save all glass jars with lids because I use them to water bath can (mayonnaise jars, jelly, etc.) If a canning lid & ring will fit on them, I save them! They work well for me! We've even started saving toilet paper tubes to use for starting our seeds! I also rinse out our cans and use some of them to make emergency candles...they work GREAT for that! I keep a stack of them in the pantry (I use used wax I buy at garage sales, via old used candles). We have a big covered cage in the back yard that we put all our aluminum in. Then when it's full, we haul it off to sell...last time we made over $100 that way! I take the paper we receive and roll it up into a tight twist and then dip them in starters! Any plastic tubs with lids get saved for storing leftovers, especially those that go to work with my husband, as they often never make it back home. I even reuse old worn out clothing! Most of them have buttons, zippers, etc that can be saved. You can also usually get some usable fabric from them. I cut out what I can save and smaller pieces get cut into 3 inch quilt squares...when I have enough I'll make a quilt! There are so many ways you can use up your trash to make useful things. Before I throw anything away I consider it and see if it has another use.

We also compost, but we are careful of what we put in so that it remains organic. For this reason we don't put our colorful junk mail in it, since it's full of chemical dyes and we use our compost on our food garden.

For the most part, we have very little trash. One or two bags a month is really all we generate because we are so fortunate as to have recycling and reusing resources nearby. The city picks up our curbside recycling, and we take our plastic bags, styrofoam (only on rare occasions do we use it), milk cartons, soup cartons and pretty much everything else to our co-op, which has an extraodinary recycling center. We also take our wide-mouthed jars, plastic tubs of all sizes, and egg cartons there to get reused (they sell items in bulk for which they offer re-used plastic tubs as well as plastic/paper bags for containers and they sell eggs in bulk, too!)

At home, I re-use plastic zipper bags (like ziploc bags) by washing them thoroughly and allowing to dry fully between each use. Sometimes they will only last a 3-4 times before they can be recycled with the soft plastic, but other times (if they're better quality) they will last longer. It's a good way to stretch those, too.

We use re-usable canvas bags when we go to the grocery store, and we save the little plastic bags we put our veggies in for re-use, too. Once we are home and everything is put away, I rinse the baggies I put the fresh vegetables in (if they need it) and return them to the canvas bags for our next grocery trip. Oh, and we get 26 cents a bag when we bring our own to the grocery store! That's not only saving some, but getting some, too!

As for God, his way is perfect, the word of Adonai has been tested by fire; he shields all who take refuge in him. For who is God but Adonai? Who is a Rock but our God? -- Psalms 18:30-31

Tammy, you already had me interested in composting, but now I am more interested than ever, because our garbage pick-up just raised their rates. It would be a huge step for our family to stop sending trash to the landfill, but I would sure love to learn how! I have never done any composting but I have read your post about making a composting bin. Would I just let the stuff sit in there, and maybe empty it once a year? Or should I empty it more often? What will the stuff look like when it is ready to spread around? Will it have a strong smell? Also, I can think of good ways to recycle our paper, glass, and metal, and of course most food scraps, but what do you do with the grease, bones, and skin, when you make a whole chicken? What would you do with bathroom wastebacket trash? Forgive me for being gross, but I am referring to used facial tissue, used feminine hygiene...

We just started composting and recylcing this year. About time, since there are eight of us! We still seem to have a lot of trash, though. (At least my brothers would say so, since they're the ones who have to take it out!) I can't figure out where it's all coming from.
At least we've stopped paying to have it picked up. The dump is about 8-10 minutes down the road from us. So we take it ourselves. What a waste, to have it picked up all the time, when we are so close!
Our recycling bin with cans in it looks so much like yours, I had to smile. Guess what we came up with this week? I said it the bin was getting full, and it was about time to visit the recyling center, but my father, always mindful of ways to save gas, said "You can fit more in there!" he proceeded to arm my younger brother with a sledge hammer, and sent him out to squash the cans flat. They now bearly cover the bottom of the bin.

Here is a link to a mobile clothes line that you can use indoor or out. Maybe this is something "lifeinlavender"could use? I too want a clothes line. It's now just a matter of doing it and sometimes that can be the hard part.

I've also been re-thinking the whole trash issue. I hope to make some positive changes this summer.

Great and timely post!

We used to do this alot more, we did not compost, but we had a slop pail which we dumped for the bears in the woods. We burned all paper garbage and cans and glass were recycled. We only had about 1 garbage can full in a month of things we could not get rid of this way.
I like the idea of composting, but hate bees so will probably never do it! Every compost pile, bin I have ever seen has been infested with bees...
We still do not go through as much garbage as many families.
We are not really a recycling community though so it is difficult to recycle here and you can spend more on gas trying to find the recycling places, than it is worth = (

For drying clothes outside, you can buy a fairly sturdy metal clothes rack you can use outdoors too. I did this last summer. Also, they sell retractable clotheslines too that you could put up. I think they make them for camping for temporary areas.

We live in an apartment and our suburb doesn't have curbside recycling, but growing up, our family of five produced very little trash.

My parents burn all paper trash (tissue boxes, used tissues, junk mail, the Sunday paper), compost all food scraps (even what you're not "supposed" to--they don't use the compost on the garden, just leave it to rot out of smelling distance of the house), recycle metal, glass, and plastic (Mom takes it to a recycling center on her way to or from work), return egg cartons to the neighbor from whom they buy eggs, use cloth bags at the grocery store and (obviously) the farmer's market, donate re-usable used clothes to the thrift store, tear up un-re-usable used clothes (like very holey socks) for the rag bag, rinse and reuse Ziploc bags and plastic storage containers....

All they throw away are plastic and styrofoam meat wrappers and those unfortunate "hybrid" cartons that are plastic and paper together so can't be burned (like for ice cream).

Where we live, we have been advised to not have a compost pile. But I read about your new one with great interest. I am thinking it might be worth a try. The reason we are advised not to have them is because of the mice here that carry hanta virus and the skunks are really bad in the summer. That's why having a compost made out of a trash can might work in spite of those 2 critters. I just hate throwing scraps away. We have always had chickens and dogs to give stuff too but not since we moved here. Thanks for the great ideas!!

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