31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010: Take the Trash Challenge

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31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010: Take the Trash Challenge

Join us all month for 31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010!

Last year I introduced The Trash Challenge, my own attempt to be more  aware of what we were throwing away and decrease our amount of trash to one bag per week. However, despite my realization that I needed to finally take the plunge and start composting and use a burn pit for some non-compostables (because I live in the boonies and can do that), I did neither. And because of the mineral content in our water, our cloth diapers have to be hung outside every time in order to prevent stinky diapers, so with a new high-maintenance baby and the freezing temperatures of winter, I’ve switched back to disposables for now as well. With disposable diapers and food products going into our trash each week, we’re back to two to three bags of trash a week, and this year I’d like to focus on making some permanent changes to reduce it to one a week.

The Trash Challenge is obviously not a common resolution, but as many people strive to live more sustainable lives, I think it’s worth including anyway. If decreasing the amount of trash your family produces is a goal of yours as well, here are five tips for making it happen in 2010:

1. What’s in your trash?

Start by figuring out what you’re throwing away each week. I kept a piece of paper by my trash can and wrote down literally every piece of trash we threw away. It was an eye-opening experience and got me really thinking about things I could change. As you write down each item, think about ways to eliminate it altogether. For example, I love Orville Redenbacher’s 100-Calorie Kettle Corn packs, but I can make popcorn in a paper lunch bag, which can be reused several times, to eliminate several of those bags each week. Instead of paper napkins or paper towels, we use cloth napkins and kitchen towels for most things, and I’m sure there are other disposables we could replace as well.

2. Get everyone on board.

Because sustainability has become such a popular topic these days, even my kids are aware of the effects of leaving lights on, leaving the water running or littering and will often remind me to turn the faucet off when I’m in the middle of washing dishes or filling a pot. This year I plan to introduce them to The Trash Challenge so that we can look for ways to decrease our trash together. They love to recycle our trash for crafts, so I’m sure they will be excited by the goal. This is one resolution that’s hard to achieve if your family isn’t on board since it requires effort from everyone, so try to get everyone excited about it!

3. Challenge yourself.

Create a challenge with yourself and the other members of your family each week to see if you can produce less trash than the week before. Competition is a great motivator, and if your kids are participating, you could even offer prizes for the person who comes up with the best ideas for reducing the amount of trash you throw away such as a crown made from recycled materials, maybe, and the title of “Trash Queen” or “Duke of Trash”! Don’t let complacency convince you that there’s nothing you could do to produce less trash, but really look for ways to stretch and beat your own achievements!

4. Do something today.

This is true for almost any resolution. We can’t let procrastination paralyze us from the start or make us give up, or we’ll never achieve the changes we want. I am realizing that I need to get my compost bin and/or burnt pit set up now rather than waiting for the perfect time. I’m essentially procrastinating because I’m overwhelmed by the idea of composting (and because I don’t want to waste money if I’m not going to do it right!), but I need to just get started and figure it out as I go.

Have you thought about the amount of trash your family produces and ways to decrease it? Do you have any sustainable resolutions this year?

The 31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010 series is sponsored by Get Organized Wizard. Find ideas, prompts and suggestions to motivate you to change in the Life & Goal Organizer.

About the Author

Mandi Ehman

Hi. My name is Mandi and I’m an organizing junkie. I’m also a wife, and Momma to four little girls (5, 3.5, 2 and a new baby!). I've worked at home since our oldest was a baby, and like a lot of other moms, my life is a constant balancing act of caring for my family and my home, meeting my obligations and finding time for hobbies in there somewhere. Oh, yeah, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m somewhat of a kitchen dunce and I only like to pretend that I’m crafty. Read more here!

11 Responses to “ 31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010: Take the Trash Challenge ”

  1. We used to be down to one bag of trash a week, but with the move we are no longer composting(so we can clean it out and move it) and we are buying a bit more premade foods. Normally I cook everything from scratch and our recycle bins are usually fuller than the trash. Hopefully after we are settled we can get back to one bag again.

    Composting is easy once you get the hang of it. It’s a bit of trial and error to get the right levels and not to much moisutre in your bin. That’s my husband’s job I just collect the kitchen scraps.
    Bekki´s last blog ..Cleaning house My ComLuv Profile


  2. with this series i feel like you are reading my mine. i started last year thinking about how my family could be better not only to ourselves but in the world. i also started to organize my home to figure out how it can work better for us. trash was a major thing for us. we had 3 babies in diapers at one point and used throw away diapers. we also did not recycle which my som (10) keep telling me how we were leaving a big footprint on the earth. so that is one of the first things we worked on. i started to rycycle and reuse everything i could. i went from about 9 trash bags a week (i know now that sounds horrible), ow we use only 3 . it is now a game in my family to try and figure out how we can reuse things. i thank my 10 y.o. for bringing this problem to my attention. we can learn so much from our children if we listen to them!


  3. Re: Composting

    I’m not sure where you live and I’m newish to your site, but if you have a garden in the spring, just dump your stuff in the site of where your garden will be if it’s not too snow covered and you don’t have animal worries. It will freeze right now probably, but by spring it will start to decompose. When you get the garden ready in spring, you can put the partially composted stuff in whatever bin you’re ready to use at that time. Also, start small – coffee grounds, veggie/fruit peels, etc. This way you’re doing SOMETHING while not overwhelming yourself. If you can run outside for 2 minutes every other day or so, you can start small with this. Good luck!

    PS – If you have a deck or patio and it’s cold enough, you could probably through stuff in a small container and run it out to your site once a week without having to worry about smells. I did that here in NJ too.


  4. Thanks Mandi for this great series! I’ve let my readers know about it! You are amazing!


  5. Can you repost this on a day when it isn’t below zero outside w/ a winter storm warning ;) I need to start dumping my compost on my garden plot, but it is toooo cold today.

    I have started using cloth napkins. They are great for lots of things. I wish I started w/ them long ago. I keep one in the microwave to cover things I reheat. I use the slightly dirty after dinner ones to wipe up the floor etc… If you are going to get some, Dark colored ones are best. Although when I decided to switch to cloth napkins I discovered I already had a dozen of them from wedding gifts etc…

    Also I found some hankerchiefs to replace a lot of the tissues we use around here. And I found that the burp rags I am starting to use less of make great hankies for those forever winter runny noses on my little ones as well.


  6. Can you elaborate on making popcorn in a paper bag? Do you mean in the microwave? More specifics please as we go through a lot of those too.


    Mandi Ehman Reply:

    Sure, Lisa!

    You just take a paper lunch bag and add 1/3 cup popcorn kernels, clip it with one of those plastic chip clips and microwave it for the same amount of time you microwave your store-bought popcorn. You can then add oil, butter, salt, seasoning, whatever, although we’ve never really perfected that part of it and mostly eat ours plain (which kind of grows on you after time).

    Hope that helps!


  7. Do you recycle? I used to have a large garbage can for family of 4 but now that we recycle I use a small garbage can under the sink with plastic grocery bags that fit inside of them. I go through maybe 1-2 of those a week at most. My recycle bin is another story :) That is taken out several times a week.

    I also use my garbage disposal for food items that can go in there instead of throwing them in the garbage. I don’t have composting and it’s something I would like to check into by my hubby won’t go for it.


  8. Something to consider about burn pits…while you’re making less trash to go into the landfill you’re increasing emissions to the air by burning whatever is in that pit. So it’s a trade off. I like your idea “As you write down each item, think about ways to eliminate it altogether.”

    Great thought provoker! I’ve already started thinking about what I’m going to do with new baby…to cloth diaper or not, that is the question!


  9. With a high mineral content add vinegar to the rinse water. We used cloth diapers also (still place them under her until she not longer has night time accidents.) and have a high mineral content (so much that the tub would have a pink tinge from iron by Saturday scrub day. Until we installed a water softner! But cloth diapers always had a cup of vinegar added to the water. Not only does it soften up the diapers, they’re deodorized, and vinegar will remove any soap left in the diaper that’ll lead to rash/smells! :) I would add an extra cup of vinegar to every other wash load. Oh, and adding baking soda to the diaper pail helps too. Don’t put fluid in the pail though it’s both a safety hazard & it breaks down the fibers of the fabric. Empty the solid waste, toss in the diaper, add a teaspoon of baking soda (essential oils added to the baking soda is nice too for combating any smell & bacteria), to the top of the new one & close. I would wash a load every other day. I also washed on hot & ran the same load twice with an extra rinse in the second wash. We’ve never had an issue with diaper rash & we use prefolds & aio’s. During the winter I do dry in the dryer. We don’t have many sunny days that’ll kill off anything that might be growing so I like the hot dryer. They also have dryer balls that pummel the diapers & keep them soft w/o softners added (softner is good for covers but not the diapers).


  10. [...] 31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010: Take the Trash Challenge reminded me of working as a waiter. We used to have to do trash audits to see what was getting thrown out. That might be a good thing to do at home also. [...]

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