What if you kept all your garbage in your house for a month?
For me this thought was a disturbing wake-up call. We don’t fill our garbage bin to the brim each week—usually we’re around the halfway mark—but sometimes we get awfully close. At this level of output, a month of keeping our trash around would mean living in an overwhelming mess of foul debris. And that doesn’t even take into account the waste we send down our plumbing pipes, out our exhaust pipes, and through god knows what other kinds of pipes.
I posed the idea of a month-long “live with our garbage” challenge to my partner. His first response was, “Okay, but only if we don’t have to keep diapers around.” We used to use cloth diapers but succumbed to laziness shortly after our oldest kid’s first birthday. Our second child wore cloth diapers maybe five times before we threw in the towel and sold our entire collection to cloth-dedicated friends of ours who were about to have their second child and needed to boost their supply.
The unchecked privilege inherent in our decision to sell our cloth diapers and switch to disposables is what disturbs me so much about our current garbage output. There’s so much writing out there on privilege by people who have given it far more thought than I have, and I won’t make any pretenses regarding my understanding of privilege. I’ll start with a humble beginning—the Merriam-Webster definition: “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.” Even with this surface-level definition, privilege is a perfect word for my family’s dynamics around waste. We’re immune to worrying about waste, since we pay to have it taken away by things like trucks and plumbing. As long as we don’t think too hard about it, our waste situation feels practically serene, like the photo I included with this post.
But the more I think about it, the more that photo evokes the Jaws theme song for me. This privilege we have is insidious. It seems nice and convenient that we can consume whatever we “need,” but we’re really hurting ourselves and others. We don’t personally have to deal with our gross output of waste in the short term, but others do; and we all do in terms of climate change. And because humans pull this shit en masse, we’re assaulting the planet’s ability to sustain human life (and who knows how many other forms of life). Privilege numbs us to the fact that we’ve set ourselves on a collision course with destiny.
I’ve always seen myself as someone who cared about the environment. However, I think I’ve made a pretty decent case here, without even getting into many details, that my actions haven’t stacked up well against my values.
So we’re living with our garbage for a month
A major theme on this blog is paying attention to how my values and actions line up. So here I am coming to terms with the garbage behavior I’ve gotten by with all this time…and what I’m going to do about it.
In a 30-second interview with my partner, he did a good job summing up the value we aim to hold up in our behavior: we want to consume in a way that’s sustainable in perpetuity. For now I won’t dive into the complexities of this statement, such as how people in other parts of the world are now picking up on oil-dependent habits like clothes dryers and mass driving that Americans in the middle-class and above have been hooked on for decades. There’s plenty I can change in my own backyard, and I’ll focus on that.
Starting today, August 1, my family will keep the garbage we amass in the house until September 1—except diapers, the one condition my partner placed on this exercise. I can already tell you that our kids go through about 215 diapers a month (!). Even without the diapers, hanging onto our garbage for a month will help us stop ignoring how our actions don’t match our values.
When it comes to cutting down on waste, my skills are lacking, and I’m sure as hell not going to sit around in a stinky house because of it. So I began researching and have come across some amazing resources full of ideas to help us cut down on waste—or even eliminate it (I haven’t read enough yet to learn what these people do with their poop, but if I find out I will let you know). For example, this woman and her family of four make just one quart of waste in a year. I’m sure the tininess of her family’s waste hasn’t hit home with you, so I’ll show you a picture of it from her website:
I don’t think that’s quite realistic for this August, but as a first step I think we can get to taking our trash out once a month instead of about twice a week. As I’ve grown accustomed to saying, I’ll report back…….