This is the year

According to Stats Canada, in 2004 Canadian households created 13.4 million tonnes of waste. Only about a quarter of this waste was recycled with 73% of it going straight into Canadian landfills. When I read this my jaw pretty much dropped and I couldn’t help but wonder how much my family was contributing to that number.

The easiest way for me to figure that out was to simply keep track. I started out rather smug but after holding onto our bags of trash for one week and looking at how much we were actually throwing away I was reaching for a hefty helping of humble pie. Before I started keeping track I would have guessed my family threw out about 2 bags of garbage per week if not less. It was more like 3-4 depending on the week, that’s at least a bag for each of us. I honestly didn’t know this, I am generally not the one who hauls our trash out to the dumpster and even if I was it’s hard to really grasp the amount until it’s sitting in front of you all at once.

When I examined what we were throwing away the experience was, again, rather humbling. I realized that most of the things we were throwing away could easily be avoided. Not just by recycling or composting (keep an eye out for those in later posts) but by simply using things up.

This week’s challenge kind of overlaps with last weeks challenge, but I really wanted to keep the focus here another week for one very important reason. My family throws out A LOT of food.

Some of it is unavoidable, there is just no saving-for-leftover-night after a toddler has rubbed his dinner all over his runny-nosed face but declined to actually eat any of it. There is, however, a great many things we throw away that CAN be avoided.

Embarrassing examples of things I’ve thrown out in the last week (by no means a comprehensive list!):

  • An avocado I forgot we bought
  • A quarter of a carton of buttermilk past it’s expiration date
  • Partial leeks, onions, peppers, and other produce
  • 1 can of chipotle puree minus about 3 tablespoons
  • Half a can of coconut milk
  • One partially used tub of sour cream also passed it’s expiration

Most of these items went bad and were discarded for no other reason than they were purchased for a specific recipe and the remnants went unused afterwards; basically bad planning on my part.

Another 52 week challenger mentioned this very same problem on the Facebook page not long ago, only in her case she was concerned about the leftover bits of beauty products that are thrown out when she buys replacements. For you it may be cleaning products, or ink cartridges, or notebooks that never quite get filled up before you move onto the next shiny new crisp clean one (Ok that one is mine too). Whatever it may be this week your challenge is to come up with a strategy to put every last bit of the things you buy to good use.

Planning: This is the obvious answer to my dilemma. This week I will be organizing our menu plan to make sure ingredients get used. In the case of the sour cream, for example, it was used to bake a banana loaf, if I had planned to make perogies or tacos the next day it would have been easy to use up the rest of the container but I just hadn’t planned for it.

Plan to use less: If you find you are throwing something out simply because you have more then you can use, find away to purchase or make it in smaller quantities. Don’t get sucked into the idea of bulk buying when it may not actually be beneficial to you. There’s no point in getting a better dollar/unit price if you don’t actually need large quantities.

Share with a friend: If you are having trouble finding items you often end up throwing away in smaller quantities, or if you still want to get the best dollar per unit price but don’t need large quantities, then maybe a friend or family member can make use of what you don’t. In my case I think I may be looking for someone to swap freezer meals with. This way I can still save money by making things in bulk batches but my family doesn’t get sick of eating the same chili for weeks on end and then toss the rest.

Think about packaging: In the case of old beauty products I think I can guess why the ends so often don’t get used up. Those little packages make it really difficult to get the last little bits out in order to use them. I have this same problem with lotions or soaps that come in hand pump containers. I have also noticed that many packages are designed to look nicer when full. Consciously or otherwise we as human beings want the pretty package and get tempted to replace products earlier then needed for this very reason. If we make a point to avoid this kind of packaging (or packaging all together) it may help eliminate these problems.

As always I look forward to hearing about what others are doing this week. Do you have trouble using all you have? How will you be trying to reduce the unused items that end up in your trash?

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Comments on: "Week Three Challenge: Use What You Have" (5)

  1. Zach was doing an experiment a couple months ago. He kept ALL of our packaging, instead of recycling it, or throwing it away, just to see how much we used. This included plastic containers, styrofoam flats ( for packaging meat), egg cartons, milk cartons, shampoo bottles, cleaning supplies, fast food containers ( KFC bucket and gravy!), and so on. It drove me so mental to see all of that garbage in our kitchen…I BEGGED him to get rid of it many times. I thought it was so embarrassing to have all those containers laying around the kitchen, even though they were cleaned and stacked nicely. In the end though, I found that we ended up re-using things that I never thought I would…and we even moved some of that “garbage” to the new house. I hate to say it, but I’m glad he did his experiment. We still recycle a lot, but I think before I send it to the recycle bin now…because the recycle bin usually DOES mean the garbage dump.

  2. I have a hard time dealing with expiration dates, as in reality they actually mean very little. I recently took a food safe course and in it my instructor was very helpful.
    Although by law, restaurants need to throw away food past the date on the packaging, most foods remain perfectly safe to eat after the date, to an extent. Buttermilk, for example, lasts an amazingly long time. Yes, it continues to thicken, but if you shake it up, it is still good for baking. Un-curdled milk is pretty much the base of any yogurt. Dont get me wrong, if food is weeks past the date on the package, it is likely no longer safe. I was informed by my food safe instructor, that the dates they use are only a third of an items shelf life. For example, pasturized milk may be labled as good for 5 days, but in reality it is probably safe for up to 10 or 15.
    Just thought that was a bit of information that could be shared, since so many people are obsessed with expiry dates. To sum it up: yes, food does expire. Does it magically expire on the date that it is stamped with? No.

  3. A while ago I found an amazing website that has helped me with the expiration date issue: http://stilltasty.com/

    I tend to be really paranoid about expiration dates, and I sometimes cook for someone who is really blase about them, so this site has helped me to resolve that as well as to save lots of food. Especially things like dairy, which I tend to throw out a lot, it helps me to be ok with eating it past the date to see it printed somewhere. There are also instructions for freezing a lot of unexpected things (eggs!!).

  4. Love this post. I find I keep “bits” of food in the fridge too. ..so, I will throw them out within 2 days if they aren’t eaten up as I read somewhere, it’s probably dangerous to eat them if they have stayed in the fridge for over a couple of days. Now I make an effort to put the leftovers in one container and take it for my next day’s lunch. This is to my advantage as
    1. my lunch is made for the next day
    2. The leftovers are used and not stored in the fridge. This is one dispute my husband and I have ..is all the little leftovers I save. I inherited this from my mum, who always says, waste not, want not.
    Re the buttermilk…I save mine for banana loaves or muffins…they turn out nicer than the sour milk the recipe calls for.
    I love Kate’s comments about safe food.

    Re: the garbage and recycling. I have always been a saver of yogurt containers, tobacco cans, paper towel rolls, newspaper, tinfoil containers from Chinese food etc. They do come in handy for sending leftovers home with my son or other family members, or to give to the neighbour. We used to have back lane pickup for garbage and we recently switched to the front yard containers. I was pleasantly surprised to find we only used one kitchen bag of refuse per week and one small bag of kleenex and other bathroom and bedroom garbage.

    When one of the library staff asked for milk containers I started sending them to Connaught for their gingerbread house program. She asked for old kool aid packages that might be lying in the cupboard..guess what..I had one and sent it on to the programmer. Coffee cans is another thing I have “saved” and they come in useful for a number of things, including using it for the “dog’s gold” in the backyard, or for the garden in the summer…or for library or school programmes.
    Christmas cards…recycled for name tags or for a playschool program. My mother used to rip apart the envelopes and that is what we used for drawing paper when I was little. I think these ladies from the ’30’s and the war generations could teach us a lot.
    I remember an article from the newspaper about 1982 when they asked readers to send in ideas for recycling ( which was coming of age then) I wrote in with several suggestions that I had grown up with and they published it. I had several mending clothes suggestions including patching the knees of pants for my boys, fixing the ribbing on their t-shirts or jackets, recycling the fabric for quilts or bibs and many more that I can’t really remember.
    It’s so easy to buy new but more challenging to recylce…good luck.

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