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Earth Matters

Sustainable Saturday: Miracle Garbage Diet

by Susan Hellauer

Sustainable Saturday is sponsored by Green Meadow Waldorf School, Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio

You’ve cut down, cut back and cut out, but you just aren’t getting the dramatic results you’re looking for. But, lucky you, the weight–er, wait–is over. We’ve got some exciting new tips and tricks that will melt away those pesky pounds overnight. 

You’re not cheating. You’re doing everything right: recycling piles of paper, those metal and glass containers, and the plastic with those triangle marks. Maybe you’re even composting food scraps, and being thoughtful about the future garbage that you buy and bring home. Yes, you’ve trimmed down your trash bag. Bravo! But now you’re looking for an even bigger payoff for your sustainability workouts.


Go from this . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . to this

Just follow this simple, painless plan and see amazing results within 24 hours.

Day One: Breakfast

Go ahead, kill that container of cream. It makes coffee taste great! Give it a quick rinse with a little water, crush it flat and replace the cap. Now walk briskly to the recycling bin—the green one with the mixed containers—and drop it in. Repeat as needed for all paper food and beverage cartons, gabled or rectangular. Rockland County started accepting cartons for recycling just a few months ago, and getting these bulky items out of the waste stream will have your trash bag red-carpet ready in no time.

Day One: Lunch

A little too much creamy cream at breakfast? Why not steam some broccoli and toast the last slice of that gluten-free bread. But now you’ve got two plastic bags that will make your trash look fat, because you know that plastic bags must never, ever go into the recycling bin.

No curbside recycling for plastic bags, true, but now there is a convenient destination for all sorts of plastic packaging.


how2recycle bubble wrap

Supermarkets and big box stores don’t advertise it, but they will accept most kinds of clean and dry plastic bags and film: produce bags, product wrappers, ziploc bags, plastic cereal box liners, dry-cleaner film, new-furniture wrap, bags from those evil curbside advertising circulars, even bubble wrap and plastic shipping envelopes (but have your kids stomp on them to deflate). They can all go back to the store. You’re going there anyway, probably later today, and you’ll walk right past the bag bin near the front door. So, no excuses!

(For a complete list of recyclable plastic bags and film, and dropoff locations, consult the industry website

Day One: Dinner

Once again, you’ve lost the will to cook from scratch. Fortunately, you’ve got some health-convenience food on hand. There’s just enough of the guilt-free mushroom soup left, and you already know what to do with the empty container (see Day One: Breakfast). Some faux-meat strips would turn it into a hearty-yet-planet-preserving meal. And it’s in a plastic bag that’s now empty. You know what to do with that too, right?

Not so fast!


how2recycle “Do not recycle” label for multi-layer bag

In an unsustainable irony, plastic bags for many products from the health food store or natural food aisle—especially snacks and frozen foods—are made of multilayered materials that can’t be recycled. You can see this yourself (foil inside, plastic outside, perhaps) or you can look for a “How2Recycle” label for information.

How2Recycle is a packaging-industry initiative to encourage proper recycling. Their labels tell you how to prepare the item for recycling, whether it is curbside or return-to-store, or if it is not recyclable. More manufacturers are joining this group all the time, so you’ll start to see these labels on a wide array of products soon.

Maintenance plan

Repeat Day One forever, and

  • Watch that trash bag shrink.
  • Watch the cost to your municipality shrink, because hauling garbage costs about four times as much as picking up recycling.
  • Watch a community of nice people, who live near the landfill where your trash goes, get a little relief from the smell and pollution that plague them.

Bonus feel-good diet tip

If you’ve got a favorite “earth-friendly” snack or product that comes in a non-recyclable package, get in touch with the makers and nail them for their hypocrisy. It won’t make your trash lighter right away, but it will make you feel just fabulous.


This healthy snack is everything good . . . except for the non-recyclable package

Learn more:

Featured image courtesy

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Sustainable Saturdays, a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living, is sponsored by Green Meadow Waldorf School, Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio.

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