February 27, 2012

Cleaning Week - Day 6 - Trash Bags

Today is day six of Cleaning Week and it's also Monday so today's post combines both cleaning and plastic bags in the topic of trash bags.


Similar to plastic shopping bags, trash bags have a limited useful life (typically a few days before being moved from inside a  home to the main recycling or garbage container outside) and take a long time to decompose (estimated between 500 and 1000 years).  Growing up and during my time in Chicago I thought that trash had to be put into a trash bag or the garbage collector wouldn't take it.  However, when I discovered this wasn't the case in San Diego we stopped using trash bags although I had to do some convincing before Amelia was persuaded this was a good and/or sane idea.  (I think that I having recently had a bag of 1,000 worms delivered to my office had something to do with her hesitancy.)
I couldn't resist.
Stopping our use of plastic shopping bags was a first step, followed by using reusable produce bags instead of disposable plastic, so it seemed like a natural step to stop using trash bags as well.  This has been the case with many things that we've reduced or eliminated: once we get rid of one thing we start to see so many other things we hadn't noticed before.  Often they are things we've simply used without thinking about and don't miss them once they're gone.

Taking out the trash is a chore so often required the marital strife that can result from opposing views of who last took out the trash has become a common joke.  This joke is based in large part on the frequency with which we dispose of our garbage.  (Not to mention the prodigious amounts of garbage we create.)

Consider if a home has a trash and a recycling bin in the kitchen, plus two bathrooms with a bin each.  If each bin is emptied twice a week, 416 bags would be used in a year.  Take those 416 bags, which I think is a low estimate since it excludes yard waste and higher volume trash times like the holiday season, and multiply times the 114 million households in the United States.  That totals 47 billion trash bags used per year.  Even if it's not possible to stop using all trash bags, if just the bags in bathrooms were eliminated the number used would decrease 50%.  That size of a reduction can make a big difference.

Reducing the use of trash bags also helps to avoid infant deaths.  According to the US Product Safety Commission, an average of 25 children in America die each year by suffocation from a plastic bag.  90% of this number are infants under 1 year of age.

Suggested action steps:

  1. Consider stopping or reducing your use of trash bags (trash, recycling, bathroom, garage, etc.)
    1. For items like scraps of meat, grease, or other items that smell we take them to the outdoor trash immediately to avoid getting the indoor bin dirty
    2. Having a composter has helped us to avoid mold or other food issues in the trash, since they go straight to the composter
  2. If your garbage collector requires use of trash bags ask them why and to consider changing this policy
  3. If you must use trash bags, consider using a biodegradable brand like this one
  4. If your trash cans get dirty clean out with water and Dr. Bronner's soap or vinegar.  I set up a calendar reminder on my computer for every 3 months to help me remember.

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