Can Garbage Be Green?

Originally published in the Powell River Peak

Think about the amount of waste and garbage each house on your block creates each week, it’s a lot.  What’s that saying? Out of sight, out of mind.  We all realize the garbage bags we place at the foot of our driveway each week don’t magically disappear.  In fact, that is only the beginning.  Once our waste leaves our hands it falls upon the environment to deal with what we have created.  This happens in a myriad of ways, the most common being landfills and combustion facilities.  Although these sites are heavily monitored and specifically design to handle waste they still have negative effects on the environment.  If we look at decomposition, it is estimated that it takes plastic 500 years and cigarette butts 50 years to decompose.  Some of the garbage that we create will long out live us.

Have you ever looked closely at what you consume?  Are you left with any garbage at the end of your day?  Do you have food wastes? Is that container reusable, recyclable or biodegradable?  Can you eliminate packaging by choosing a different product or by buying in bulk?  When you start to ask these questions your garbage will begin to turn green.  It is an extra effort that I encourage you to take.  As you make the attempt to become more conscious about your purchasing decisions you will instantly notice a decrease in the size of your weekly trash bag.  This effort can save you and your region money in terms of waste disposal and recycling costs and you will be contributing towards making a positive impact.

With waste on the minds of many ingenious people, there is an array of resources available to inspire creative creations to be made out of what would seem to be just garbage.  Upcycling is a relatively new term, born in the early 90’s, that has taken off and is known as just this; the process of converting waste materials or ‘useless’ products into new materials or products.  This concept is helpful when making purchasing decisions; if you will be left with packaging for example, can you somehow reuse, or upcycle it as to not create any waste?  One source that I enjoy looking to for new ideas is ReadyMade (a magazine available at the Powell River Library and through their website,  One approach to greening your garbage is instead of seeing used materials as garbage in need of disposal, your discards can be seen as valuable resources.

For the avid gardeners out there, your trash pile is a gold mine of treasures!  If you are starting seeds up indoors, instead of buying new small containers, use tin cans out of your recycling bin (avoid plastic lined ones as they contain BPA).  Food safe plastic containers such as yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, also work well as do paper coffee cups, toilet paper rolls and egg cartons.  Beverage cans and bottles also house your new seedlings quite well too if you never end up making it to the bottle depo.  All these containers are soft and drainage holes in the bottom can easily be constructed.  If you elevate the container the lid (if it has an edge) can be used as the drip tray.

Plastic containers are also useful to cut into strips and use as plant labels.  For extra seedling protection when transplanting out into the garden, take the bottom off a glass jug and pop it over your seedling to keep slugs and other pests away while creating a warm individual greenhouse.  Those twist ties you end up accumulating are perfect for securing a leaning plant upright against a stake.  I’ve recently found those small knitting needles to work brilliantly as stakes if you find yourself on the hunt for some.

Now that I’ve got you thinking about greening up your waste, try the waste-can weigh-in experiment at home.  Either weigh or keep track of how much garbage you create in a day, week, or month.  Record your results and challenge yourself to cut back on the waste that you or your household generates.  Be sure to celebrate your successes as you slim down your trash.