Posted on February 1, 2011 - by

No Rubbish Ideas: Rethinking Household Waste

How much trash did you generate last week? In an impressive feat of conservation, last year the Strauss family managed to pare down its waste disposal to merely one bag through vigorous recycling, growing their own food, and buying directly from producers.

To minimize packaging waste, the family opts to bring their own containers to the butcher and deli, and puts loose fruit and vegetables into reusable bags. All food leftovers are turned into new dishes or composted, and the lights run partly on solar energy. Cereal packaging is transformed into sandwich bags, and plastic ties from toys are used to stake tomato plants.

The average American produces 4.5 lbs of waste every day. About 31% of that is packaging and container waste. Food scraps account for 12.7% of waste, and only 2.5% of that gets composted. Less than 1% of plastic bags are recycled each year. However, it costs $4000 to recycle one ton of plastic bags, while the recycled product can be sold for only $32. (Source: Clean Air Council)

Rachelle Strauss reflected on the progress they’ve made since they first embarked on their zero waste project.

”It’s taken us 18 months to get to this level and we’ve put a lot of determination and effort into it. But if everyone just takes a few more steps towards recycling they can make a huge difference across the globe. A simple first step is not taking plastic bags at the supermarket and finding out from your local council where recycling points are.

”You can’t just buy something because it’s on offer or because it looks nice but you need to think seriously about how you’re going to throw it away when you’ve finished with it.”

At the end of the year, the only things that were thrown out were a few razor blades, broken toys and old felt tip pens.

You may not be ready to commit to that level of packaging austerity, but there are several steps you can take to reduce the amount of food and packaging waste you produce.

  • Find out how you can take advantage of municipal recycling programs.
  • Support local farmers and green retailers who use ecofriendly packaging.
  • Purchase products that use smart packaging, with biodegradeable polymers and minimalistic design.
  • Reuse packages to store other products.
  • Talk to your friends and family about the magnitude and consequences of our waste problem.
  • Think ahead when purchasing groceries and plan meals so that your food is used before it spoils. Take inventory of your refrigerator regularly.
  • Cooking can be a community experience! If you are a single-person household, pot luck with your neighbors to share excess food.

Is the Strauss family batty or ingenious? Do you regularly bring bags to the grocery store? Write on the backs of every scrap of paper? Send e-cards rather than buying Hallmark? What other steps do you take to reduce waste?

For more information on the Strauss’ feat, check out their website at



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    February 8, 2011


    Anna G said:

    It’s very ironic that we are only now trying to figure out how to live with the land, which we could have learned if we had integrated with the Native Cultures in the first place!

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    February 8, 2011


    Crystal Cun said:

    True, though there are plenty of examples of ancient civilizations that have collapsed without the destructive tools of the Industrial Revolution.