Citizen Staff Writer
The Pierce family was frustrated with the amount of garbage it produced. For mom Kariman, the magnifying glass on the situation came in the form of her 6-year-old son’s lunches.
“It was ridiculous, all the trash, the plastic bags,” she says.
Starting in earnest this year, the Pierces have implemented several changes in their lives, from replacing plastic water bottles with reusable stainless steel ones to consistently carrying bags to shop.
Such a lifestyle switch likely puts each member of this family of four well below the national average of trash produced by an individual per day: 4 1/2 pounds, says Wilson Hughes, waste reduction planner with the city’s Environmental Services. Of that, we recycle about a pound.
That means the average family of four sends nearly 5,000 pounds of waste to the landfill annually.
The good news: reducing your family’s landfill load can start with some fairly easy adjustments and can be done without a huge hit to the wallet.
“A lot of this is going back to the way our grandparents lived: reusing things, buying things that are sturdier – glass containers, cloth napkins – and things that can be washed and reused,” says Torey Ligon, outreach coordinator for Food Conspiracy Co-op.
Here are 10 ideas to help your family cut its waste.
1. Educate yourself about recycling. Tucson Clean and Beautiful recycling education coordinator Beki Quintero says she often receives “Can I recycle . . . ?” calls, with questions referring to everything from cereal boxes (yes, blue-bin friendly) to electronics (some are recyclable, some can be donated).
Online at tucsonaz.gov/tcb/rd, find a long list of where to take items not accepted by Tucson Recycles. Tucson Recycles’ info line is 791-5000.
If the City of Tucson/Pima County Household Hazardous Waste drop-off, 2440 W. Sweetwater Drive, is too far, three satellite locations accept materials the first Saturday of the month. All locations of The Home Depot accept compact fluorescent bulbs, which contain mercury.
2. Buy in bulk. “A large percentage of waste in a home is coming from food packaging,” Ligon says.
Grocers such as Whole Foods and Sunflower offer many items in bulk, from anise seeds to ziti pasta. Food Conspiracy also offers wet goods – shampoo, laundry detergent – in bulk.
3. Avoid excessive packaging. Frustrated by the amount of packaging many children’s toys are sold in, dad Tyler Pierce avoids buying such products.
“A lot of ties, wire, bits of plastic. It’s a horrible thing that the industry’s done,” he says.
Some toy companies are mindful of such over-the-top boxing. A favorite of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’s Toys for this reason is Plan Toys. The company’s packaging is 100 percent from post-consumer waste, says Lisette DeMars, a store manager.
4. No more plastic water bottles! Tucsonans recycle more than 30 percent of their plastic water bottles, Hughes says. He would like to see that number rise.
“We’re encouraging people to bring those home and put them in the blue bin,” he says. “We don’t want them thrown in the landfill.”
Families such as the Pierces are increasingly turning away from plastic products. They’ve replaced plastic bottles with refillable stainless steel containers.
5. Purchase reusable containers. Reusable containers are plentiful, from glass bowls with plastic lids to stainless steel, stackable containers.
“Any thrift store in town is going to have a huge selection of glass and plastic jars,” Ligon says. She also suggests taking your own containers to restaurants so leftovers don’t go home in Styrofoam containers, which are not recyclable in Tucson.
6. Pack a green lunch. For her son’s lunches, Kariman Pierce packs cloth napkins, stainless steel water bottles, reusable (and washable) Wrap-N-Mats for sandwiches and metal spoons she buys at thrift stores – “in case they get lost,” she says.
The same thinking applies to adults as well.
“Every time you go out for fast food or to a restaurant,” Ligon says, “think of all the waste.”
7. Reuse what you use. In some ways, you’re only limited by your imagination here. Repurpose glass jars (from jellies, sauces, etc.) to store such things as spices and leftovers. Check out the Tucson Clean and Beautiful Web site for more ideas.
Though yogurt containers aren’t recyclable, Quintero suggests taking them – clean, of course – to schools for use in art projects. Give a call to see what other items your neighborhood school might need – coffee cans, plastic egg cartons, etc.
8. Make the switch to reusable shopping bags. “Definitely, when we go grocery shopping, we focus really heavily on taking canvas bags,” Tyler Pierce says. “We haven’t quite solved the little plastic bags that you put produce in, so we reuse them.”
Reusable bags can be found for as low as 99 cents.
9. Look for low-waste products. Paper toweling made from 100 percent recycled materials isn’t a new concept, but less-mainstream items include toothbrushes and razors available with handles made of recycled plastics, including yogurt containers.
The Preserve toothbrush is such a product, and the company even includes a postage-paid envelope so you can mail it in when you retire it. (The toothbrushes reincarnate as plastic lumber.) It’s carried at Food Conspiracy.
Other lower-waste options include concentrated liquids – laundry detergent, dish soap.
10. Compost. Food waste accounts for about 15 percent of trash, and “green” waste (tree clippings, pine needles) accounts for another about 10 percent to 12 percent, Hughes says.
Creating a family compost can redirect such waste from the landfill. To learn about composting, contact Tucson Organic Gardeners. The group offers a drop-in composting Q&A 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Saturdays at the Home Composting Demonstration site at Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon Way. The question-and-answer sessions are free with $7 admission to TBG.
Sustainable Tucson (sustainabletucson.org) – a clearinghouse for local green organizations, resources and tips
Tucson Clean and Beautiful (791-5000, www.tucsonaz.gov/tcb/rd) – go-to place for what can be recycled and where
Tucson Recycles (791-3171, tucsonrecycles.org) – info about acceptable “blue bin” items and locations of the 14 Neighborhood Recycling Centers
Tucson Organic Gardeners (670-9158, 670-9158, iwhome.com/nonprofits/TOG) – local composting experts
WHAT TO PUT IN THOSE BLUE BINS
Recycle these items:
• brown paper bags
• corrugated cardboard (remove plastic wrappers and flatten)
• paperboard (think cereal and shoe boxes; remove plastic liners)
• milk cartons and drink boxes
• molded fiberboard
• magazines and catalogs (less than 1/2-inch thick)
• phone books
• printing and writing paper
• mail (envelopes with windows and labels are OK; remove other nonpaper items)
• other paper (pamphlets, brochures, file folders, card stock, etc.; only shredded paper should be placed in a sealed, clear plastic bag)
• plastic (PETE) bottles (these have a “1″ on the bottom; soda, water, etc.)
• plastic (HDPE) bottles and jugs (these have a “2″ on the bottom; milk, water, juice, liquid detergent, shampoo, etc. Tucson does not accept other plastics or recyclable plastics that contain hazardous materials)
• aluminum cans
• steel/tin cans (nonhazardous aerosol cans are OK; but not other steel)
• Glass food and beverage bottles and jars; (no other glass)