Trash really isn’t something a typical family of five thinks about. It’s crazy enough just to run the house and the kids, let alone to worry about how much waste we’re producing. Since we moved to Minnesota last February, our family of five has really dropped the ball on keeping an eye on how much waste our household produces each day–something we wanted to change.
Beginning this month, GLAD® is unveiling an eye-opening project called Waste in Focus (www.wasteinfocus.com). This photographic series, shot by famed photojournalist Peter Menzel, depicts an authentic, moment-in-time look at what eight families from around the country recycle, compost and sent to landfills in an average week.
On average, Americans send about half of their waste to landfill. That’s why when GLAD® challenged us to reduce our waste at home in just one week, we were excited to participate (and a little bit nervous, too).
The challenge made us put our heads together to come up with solutions that worked for our household. Our three tweens/teens—Keiran, 15, Brenden, 12, and Bayla, 11 going on 20—helped us get creative about reducing how much waste we produce every day. Here’s my day-to-day journal on how our week went.
Day One: Getting crafty
Today we conquered our infamous crayon drawer, which holds—literally—hundreds of tiny crayons bits. Rather than trashing the ones that are too small to use, we peeled the wrappers off of all the blue, green, and white crayons we could find to make cute Earth crayons!
To make our cute crayons, we preheated the oven to 250F. We used a pencil sharpener to shave green and white crayons. We placed a little bit of white flakes in the bottom of a nonstick muffin pan, then added green shavings, and topped them with broken chunks of blue. (You can use any combination of colors.) We placed the pan in the oven until the crayons were completely melted (it took ours about 10 minutes, but that might vary depending on your oven). Make sure you allow them to cool completely before giving them to the kids to draw with.
Day Two: Hand-me-down central
With two girls and one boy, I’m a big believer in hand-me-down clothing as not just a way to reuse, but to save money. The girls are three years apart, so anytime our oldest outgrows something, we save it to pass down to our youngest. As you can imagine, the castoffs pile up and can get unwieldy to manage.
Today, I created a system to organize the clothes so we will know what we have and be able to easily access “new” items for my youngest daughter when she needs them. I started the organization process by having the kids try on all of their clothes. If something didn’t fit my eldest, we put it in a bin labeled for the season: winter, spring, summer or fall. (My son and youngest daughter’s outgrown items went into a bag for Goodwill.)
Day Three: Reuse homeschool clutter
Being a homeschooling family, we go through a LOT of paper. Most of our school supplies—worksheets, tests, study guides—are printed from Internet. This week we challenged ourselves to reduce the amount of paper that we use in our home classroom.
Instead of only using a printed paper once, when the kids were done with it, we flipped it over and printed on the other side. For things like times tables, we pulled out our laminator and laminated the worksheets so we can use them over and over again. When my kids are done with them, we will pass them down to other homeschooling families!
Day Four: Throwing in the towel
For a family of our size, it’s really easy to go through a lot of paper towels.
The kids had the idea to make reusable washrags and hand towels and I thought, crochet! My grandmother taught me to crochet as a kid, so I wanted to pass that skill on to the kids.
If you aren’t handy when it comes to crochet, you can also take old bits of fabric from clothes and hand-sew them into potholders for the kitchen. It’s a great way to reuse old scraps, plus you only need to cut out two squares and stitch them together (just make them REALLY thick).
Day Five: Recycling as easy as 1-2-3
Today our mission was to make recycling as easy as possible. With our family, if it’s not easy to build into our schedule, it won’t become a habit. To make recycling a breeze, we put another trash/recycle can right next to our trash can. We talked to each of our kids about what you can and can’t recycle (check your local recycler to find out for your family). The kids immediately put the new system in action. It has reduced our trash already by two full bags!
Day Six: Easy Composting
We’ve always thought about recycling and reusing objects, but we wanted to challenge ourselves even more by composting. It really blew my mind how much garbage our meals were producing, and how easy it is to start your own compost.
Before we started, we made sure we knew what we could and couldn’t compost by checking GLAD’s® Waste 101. We figured out that no meat and no dairy was the way to go. Pretty much everything else can go in—even things like egg shells and coffee grounds.
To begin our mini indoor compost, we grabbed an empty plastic gallon of ice cream and began filling it with food scraps.
That bucket filled up very quickly, so we also bought a separate outdoor trash can and drilled holes in the bottom and sides. Once our little food bucket was full we took it out to the big can to get ready for spring.
Day Seven: Howdy, neighbor!
With three kids who are growing like weeds and developing new interests all the time, keeping up with their needs is a REAL challenge. Plus, they’re constantly outgrowing not only jeans and skirts, but hobbies and sports. This was our favorite project this week: The kids came up with the idea to organize a neighborhood swap as not only a solution, but as a way to get to know our new neighbors.
During our challenge week, we didn’t have time to do the swap, but the kids are really excited about the prospect of getting “new” stuff and getting rid of the old—at the same time reducing the amount that will end up in a landfill!
This week has been an awful lot of fun for our family. Who knew finding creative ways to reduce our household garbage would be a great way to bond. Now that we know how to reduce what we put out on the curb each week, it’s going to be great to see our family keep up these new habits in the future.
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.
Mom and blogger Ashley Sears is the creator of Crunchy Frugalista, where she shares recipes, money-saving ideas, DIY projects, parenting tips, and more.