Over the years, but particularly in the past year, I have met a lot of people who are making changes in their lives to be a better neighbor to planet Earth.  They are pretty ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  They are inspiring, and we all need inspiration, so, I’d like to shine a spotlight some of them.  I’ll call these “Neighbor Spotlights.”  This one is about a trash game.

12 weeks of trash in a small (15 gal.) Needham trash bag

The current record is 14 weeks.  That is how long it took for Maureen and Bob to fill up one small Needham trash bag (15 gallons).   That is not a lot of trash.  I feel like in our house, we are super-duper re-users and recyclers, but we put out at least twice as much.  How do they do it?  It’s a competitive game, Maureen said.  How low can we go?  What else can we reduce, re-use, repair, or recycle?

Growing up, for Maureen, frugality was a necessity.  Her father taught her to fix things and nothing was thrown away.   As young adults, when Maureen and her sister owned a triple-decker, they found that fixing and re-using things made economic sense.  Over time, recycling and reducing became second-nature.  And at some point, with Bob, it started to become fun.  Together, they go step-by-step, so that everything they do becomes a habit – and that way it is never overwhelming.

They fix things.  There was the time the microwave started to sparkle and buzz.  So Bob googled “microwave sparkling”.  Sure enough, there is a you-tube video on how to fix this problem (it’s very simple).   Then there were the holes in the antique rug that Maureen repaired; the ice-cream maker that went to the Repair Café; and the speaker that is waiting for the next Café.   Besides reducing trash, a cool side-effect of these efforts is a sense of greater independence, and personal empowerment.

They recycle and re-use things.  Unneeded household items that still have some life left can be dropped off at the Goodwill trailer at the RTS, or at Savers.  Even worn out and/or ripped fabric,  clothing and shoes can be dropped off at these locations – they are sold to a textile recycler.  Food waste goes onto the compost pile, and Maureen takes this effort one step further, by composting the dog waste in a dedicated hole in the yard.  Rather than buying new books, they borrow them from the library, or buy used ones.  They try not to acquire stuff unless they need it.  They have reduced the in-flow of paper 70-80% by getting all bills online, and setting them up on autopay, cancelling all retail catalogs, and opting out of mailing lists via the Direct Marketing Association.

Overall, this may seem like a lot of effort, but it is not, Maureen says.  It becomes a habit, you make it into a game, and you feel good about helping the planet, even if only in a small way.  And reducing the amount of time spent shopping frees up time for other things:   “It’s not that hard to be green.”

Babette Wils is a Needham resident and active Green Needham volunteer. Babette is stepping down from a career in international education consulting and stepping into a career as a food forest farmer. This article is adapted from a post on Babette’s BigFoot Gardens blog.

Neighbor Spotlight: The Trash Game
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