I’m Sara Tetreault—wife, mother of two and household manager. We live in Portland, Ore., where recycling has been made easier thanks to our city’s program, but we still need to do more when it comes to “reducing.” Since we’re an active family with after-school sports, dinners on the go, and PTA meetings to attend, we don’t always slow down and really think about how our actions affect the rest of the world.
When our family had the opportunity to participate in GLAD’s® Waste In Focus one-week, waste-reducing challenge, I thought it would be a chance for us to carve out time to discuss how we as a family could do more to reduce, reuse and recycle. The Waste in Focus project is raising awareness about the amount of stuff we throw away day-to-day through a series of eye-opening photographs by photojournalist Peter Menzel found at WasteinFocus.com (www.wasteinfocus.com). The photos showcase the waste produced over a week’s time by eight average families in different cities across the country—San Francisco, Atlanta, Phoenix and New York. You’ll be astounded—as I was—when you see the piles of paper, produce trimmings, packaging and other debris discarded.
As part of this project, GLAD® challenged my family to come up with creative ways to cut back on our own waste over one week. While I can pretty much talk my husband and kids into doing anything for just seven days, it was important that we use this week to establish new habits. Through this challenge, we took small steps that will become new long-term routines—which could really make a difference over time.
Here’s how our week went—how we approached the challenge, the new ideas we came up with and how they made our household more Earth-friendly.
Day One: Bin there, done that!
The kitchen, where we spend most of our time together, seemed like a good place to start. My husband and kids are so good at putting everything into the trash—a good thing, as it makes for an uncluttered house, but not so good when you’re trying to encourage recycling. I wanted to make it easy for them to remember to sort, so I moved the recycling bin positioned next to the garbage can under our sink. That should make it easier for cans, bottles, plastics and paper to go into the bin rather than straight into the garbage can. I also added a compost pail front and center on the counter so we can easily put fruit, veggie scraps and coffee grounds into the pail when we’re cooking or preparing a meal. It was important that the pail be stylish (I’m not one to sacrifice fashion for function!). The scraps will get added to our outdoor compost bin, and feed our vegetable garden all summer.
Day Two: Let’s swap!
My chaotic pantry needed organizing, but instead of buying storage bins and trays, I looked around the house for anything that could be repurposed as containers. My collection of enamel bowls was perfect, as were the metal bins and baskets that held blocks and dress-up clothes my teens no longer play with. The make-believe clothes and toys went to Goodwill, and I grouped the bowls, baskets and metal bins on the deep pantry shelves to make food easier to access. I also stored grains and nuts in empty peanut butter jars and pickle jars that I had been saving. Glass jars are great storage for the foods we buy from the bulk bins at the grocery store, because it’s easy to see what’s inside. At the end of the day, it felt good to have a more organized (and great-looking) pantry without having bought any new storage containers.
Day Three: I’ll second that!
Today we updated the décor in our entryway. With two budding artists and no shortage of school projects, we decided to create an “artwork gallery.” After hitting a few garage sales and a local resale shop, we ended up with plenty of frames to choose from. The kids chose several of their favorite drawings and paintings and frames to match. Then, we measured the wall and placed the frames on the ground to decide how to position them. The artwork looks much better adorning our walls than collecting dust in a storage container or file folder, and the kids are thrilled to have their works of art front and center for all to see. Plus, my daughter and I had so much fun hitting the thrift stores and shopping second-hand, my daughter and I decided to shop vintage the next time we have the urge to go to the mall!
Day Four: Looking “sew” good!
Now that my 15-year-old has stopped getting taller, she has several pairs of jeans that still fit but are too short to be worn and still be fashionable. We didn’t want to get rid of them, so we experimented with turning them into capris. She tried them on and we marked them at just the right length. Then, we cut off the bottom and added a simple hem. Viola! We also transformed pants into shorts the same way. If you’re not a sewer, you could cut pants or jeans with very sharp scissors and roll them to the desired length instead. We brainstormed other ways to reuse clothing that’s out of style or doesn’t get worn. Future projects: turning a dress into a skirt and top; morphing an out-of-style skirt of gorgeous fabric into cloth napkins; removing a collar from a blouse for a new style. The possibilities are endless!
Day Five: Scratch that!
Sometimes I feel like a broken record: I’m constantly reminding my kids to do the same things—chores, homework, picking up backpacks. Wanting to give everyone (including me) a break, I jotted down a to-do list on the back of a junk-mail envelope. All the kids had to do was look at the notes I had scribbled and left on the kitchen counter. To keep all of the reusable envelopes and paper handy, I put a basket on the shelves close to where we open the mail. Now, we can easily place paper and envelopes that can be reused as note paper in the basket. When we need to make a grocery list, a meal plan and even a honey-do-list, they can all be written on the backs of envelopes. There are plenty sheets of paper that can be re-used in our printer, too.
Day Six: Garden to table – and back again!
While we live in the city and have a very small space to garden, we try to maximize our growing space. We only grow vegetables that we know we’ll eat and that we’ve had success growing. Each year, we enjoy crops of spinach, kale, green beans, peas and tomatoes. As I was thinking about our garden this week, I decided to include plants that could serve multiple purposes. I love to decorate with natural elements like vases of fresh herbs, bowls of pinecones, and gourds and squashes for Thanksgiving. So we planted seeds for gourds, pumpkins and squashes I’ll be able to enjoy on our mantel or gathered in a large bowl in the fall. After serving as decorations, we can roast them for dinner or make soup. (Roasted vegetables mixed with chicken broth makes a delicious—and easy—homemade soup for a busy weeknight!) I’ll definitely save a few seeds and dry them so we can grow them again the following year.
Day Seven: That’s a wrap!
With a family birthday party scheduled for the upcoming weekend, I had gifts to wrap but in the spirit of Waste In Focus, didn’t want to buy new wrapping paper. A bag of maps I’d been saving presented the solution: The blue background from the map (otherwise known as “water”) looked so pretty against the contrasting ribbon. For the smaller gifts, I whipped together gift bags with fabric scraps. With right sides together, I sewed bottom and side seams, and then turned the bag right-side out. By leaving the top unfinished and cutting it with pinking shears, it didn’t take much time to make. The gift was extra special because the fabric bag can be reused to store marbles or sea shells in or it could be reused as a “gift wrapping,” too. The ribbons for all the gifts were reused, too. I ironed the wrinkles out of the grosgrain and satin ribbons and trimmed the ends to make the edges look fresh and crisp.
Whew—what a week! We exercised our creativity, worked together as a team and ended up with some new ideas that will reduce our family’s footprint on the Earth. We’re GLAD (ha!) to share our journey with you—maybe it will inspire you to take the challenge yourself!
GLAD® is continually offering innovative products to help consumers waste less, like ForceFlex bags you can overstuff, composting and recycling bags, and trash bags made with less resin that saves 6.5 million pounds of plastic to landfills each year.
Sara Tetreault loves good food, travel and cashmere, and is the creator of Go Gingham. She’ll inspire you to save money and resources for healthy, green and frugal living.
Read more about others taking the challenge and enter our Waste in Focus Sweepstakes for a chance to win up to $2,500!