It’s been a long-time ambition of mine to be able to live a less wasteful life, but that’s always taken something of a backseat to convenience and cost.  People use plastic baggies, trash bags, and shampoo bottles for a reason – it’s so much easier than the alternative, and not really that expensive on a month to month basis.  More natural products can often have a higher up-front cost as well that can put people off.  Then, about two years ago, we moved into an apartment complex that doesn’t have recycling.

California law actually requires most condo and apartment complexes to offer recycling services.  If they don’t, they can be fined.  However, try getting your condo association or apartment manager to listen to that.  The fine isn’t really high, and recycling services are expensive.  In addition, because we’re actually renting a condo owned by a private owner, trying to track down who’s responsible has been a nightmare.  So, long story short, it’s been almost two years and we still don’t have recycling services.

We already collected all our CRV cans and bottles, as well as aluminum cans and some assorted glass, so that we could get the turn-in value on them.  We’ve been doing that a few years now, and we usually get about $7 per load.  Hardly worth the effort, but at least they’re getting recycled.  Well, we decided to just add in all our other plastic and glass to the bins, but it turns out that the recycling centers don’t take most consumer plastics, other than the CRV bottles, and few other types.  So any plastics we did bring into the house we would just have to trash.

At this point, I started to feel really guilty about the amount of stuff we were just sending to the landfill.  This feeling was compounded when I found out that most plastics, even if put in the recycling bin, don’t get recycled.  So it didn’t much matter whether we had recycling services or not, pretty much everything we couldn’t reuse or take to the recycling center was going in a landfill.

Plastic takes practically forever to break down, gets into our waterways and can disrupt natural eating cycles of a variety of animals.  So I wanted to start decreasing the amount of stuff that we throw away.  We started with cleaning supplies and food storage, and have started adding bathroom supplies in the last year as relatively easy swaps that don’t break the bank.  We’re hoping over the next several years to progress further into food purchases and clothing.

We are very much aware that it’ll likely take years to really get to the point where we’ve got a handle on how much waste we’re putting out there.  We’re starting with the easier stuff first – things that we don’t buy very often, or that have a reasonably close replacement so that making the switch doesn’t cause a lot of discomfort.  The really hard things are still coming down the road.  Food purchases and clothing are especially hard, because so much of what we use comes packaged in plastic.  When was the last time you bought meat or vegetables, or even a loaf of bread, and there was no plastic anywhere to be found on the product?  It’s just not very common.  So we’re trying to get used to the other changes first, and then adding more in later.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll share some of our strategies for reducing plastic waste.  Some of them are working well, some of them aren’t, and some are still in the beginning or compromise stage.  Some replacements have saved us money (yay vinegar!!) and some have required either higher up-front or ongoing costs that we have to decide if we want to absorb.  Sometimes, we have decided that we are not ready to pay the higher price yet because we want to focus on saving/paying down debt.  Sometimes, we have decided that it’s a worthwhile expense.

I absolutely welcome any suggestions if anyone else is interested in this topic!