That’s Not Garbage!

For the past 7 months, we have been trying to raise awareness of the amount of food that is wasted in our community. We’ve attempted to rescue as much usable food as we can from the grocery store dumpster next door and have posted those finds on this blog. We’ve shared that food (when we can) with those in need. We’ve conditioned ourselves to shop the reduced-to-clear bins first at the grocery store and ugly produce always has a home in our refrigerator. We’ve volunteered with organizations that directly fight both food waste and hunger and we’ve attended educational events on the subject. We’ve talked about food waste and shared our dumpster diving stories with almost anyone who would listen. And maybe, to a small degree, it’s working.

Or perhaps, we’ve just encouraged more folks to forage that particular dumpster 🙂

There’s still quite a bit of food being tossed out next door, but the overall volume is much less than it was last year, or even just a few months ago. It’s been this way since they reopened after their remodel. I’d love to say that it will stay this way but from experience, we know that the summer months are usually lighter than the winter months on waste anyway. My guess would be that the grocery store probably orders less fresh produce in the summer when it is available locally. Less produce ordered means less produce to toss out when it doesn’t sell. Only time will tell as to whether my theory holds true or not.

In the meantime, we’ve turned our attention [once again] to another area of waste – consumer goods. Having lived the past decade in various apartments in Colorado, Florida, and Tennessee, we’ve noticed there’s one thing they all have in common. Residents have no qualms about discarding good, usable clothes, furniture, household and sporting goods, and electronics with their trash. Florida was the worst, though you’ll probably question that statement once you read on. In Florida, we found 2 bicycles, countless garbage bags full of clothing, 2 storage ottomans, the Paula Deen skillet that we use every day, lots of storage containers, and a brand-new camping stove, among many, many other things. It seemed that every other day we were picking up something from the trash area to take to the thrift store.

Since moving to TN, the two dumpsters next to our building have yielded 2 brand-new blankets, a book of collectable coins, a child’s kitchen playset, 2 ride-on toys, a hammer, a wrought-iron flower stand, several flowerpots, lamps and more lamps, and a few dozen storage totes and bins.

Just last week, we picked up 2 wooden pallets, 2 lamps, a clock radio, 4 men’s dress shirts, 3 ties, a computer keyboard, and a brand-new neck massager.

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There’s no denying the thrill of finding good stuff in the garbage. It’s almost like finding money on the ground (oddly, that happens a lot to us too – I just found $5 at the park yesterday). But this is no cheap thrill. Americans spend $12 billion a year on clothing and $206 billion a year on consumer electronics. With consumerism comes its inevitable byproduct – waste. When you buy something new, whatever it replaced (along with whatever is broken, no longer in fashion, no longer needed, or no longer desired) is usually discarded. Sadly, only 22% of clothing and 29% of electronics are recycled, so most end up in landfills. In fact, every year, 10.5 million tons of clothing, and 2.4 million tons of electronics are sent to landfill. This is where the items we found last week would be right now if we hadn’t rescued them.

We took 90% of the items we found to Goodwill. We kept the clock radio and lamp. When we arrived at the drop-off location, we were struck with a terrible sight. Rows and rows of collection bins lined the street outside the store. It was as if everyone within a 2-mile radius had cleaned out their closet or garage and brought their clutter to Goodwill. Considering everything I said above, you might be thinking, “this seems like a good thing…at least it’s not in the dumpster.” But…I started to wonder…just as it also started to rain, just what happens to this good, usable stuff if the store can’t sell it? Or worse, what happens if it’s ruined by the rain before they can get it inside?

As long as we live in a disposable society, the question of what to do with used goods is always going to be an issue. I don’t foresee a time when we pass the dumpster without seeing something in it that shouldn’t be. And with the Goodwill no longer seeming like the best option (for us, at least), what can we do?

Angie and I have been tossing around a few ideas lately. Here are some of the better ones:

  • Research other local non-profit agencies that accept donations for actual client use and pass along any rescued goods to those places. Example – we could have given the shirts and ties to the Rescue Mission for their workforce program.
  • Resell our rescue finds on eBay, OfferUp, etc. and donate any proceeds to charities we already support or give them away on FreeCycle.
  • Store our rescue finds until we have enough to either have a yard sale (donating the proceeds to charity) or host an annual “free store” where people in the community can take what they need.

There are positives and negatives with all of these options – including the fact that storing anything goes against all that we believe in as minimalists – but just like food rescue, there has to be a way to get these usable items into the hands of people who will actually continue to use them (at least for a little while longer). Are we crazy? Are we just prolonging the inevitable (stuff ending up in landfill anyway)? Or do you think we’re onto a good idea here? I’d love to hear your input and ideas.

2nd Quarter Progress to Goals

At the beginning of the year, we set two goals, which are featured in the post: Better Me, Better World. As the 2nd quarter draws to a close, we have had some successes in working toward these goals and some areas that are in definite need of improvement. Unplanned spending has been a hurdle in the Better Me area and food waste has been more of a problem than we imagined when we set our Better World goal. Here’s how things went:

Better Me

Goal: Live simply. Prove that we can live a happy, healthy, and prosperous life with less. 

Set a budget and stick to it. Strive for no unplanned spending.

So…this did not happen. The budget part, yes. We came up with a great budget at the beginning of the year and aside from a few minor tweaks, it’s been working well for us. The problem has been that the budget only accounts for my regular income, not our side hustles or proceeds from decluttering. We had $270 in sales on OfferUp and $1,833 in side hustle income this quarter. A large chunk of our extra income went to our travel fund. The rest to “unplanned spending”. We purchased a few items of clothing (mostly undergarments), a cork bulletin board, and two life vests for kayaking that were not on our list, along with a whole lot of food. We went kind of crazy at Sprouts. We also had to take our cat to the vet twice. Though we have a pet fund, the little guy has exhausted that this year, and then some.

Buy used when possible.

When the thrift store wants to charge $5 more for a used life vest than what a new one costs at Walmart, I’m sorry to say, Walmart wins. I know it’s not the best choice environmentally, but it was the best choice for our budget. We did opt to buy a couple of golf clubs at Goodwill (99 cents each) rather then renting them at the driving range.

Eat a mostly plant-based diet, with no more than 10% of meals containing meat.

Woo-hoo! YES! Finally, we did something right! We had 76 completely meatless days (out of 91) or 258 meatless meals. We prepared ZERO meals at home that contained meat. I’m really surprised that we made it through 2 weeks of separate visits with our parents (and Angie in Texas, no less) without eating more meats. My mom cooked several all veggie meals for me while Angie was gone and though her parents weren’t thrilled with the “no meat” plan, they only insisted on Angie eating the same dinner as them just once. In total, only 9% of our meals contained meat.

Do something active 3 times a week.

See, I told you we’d do better this quarter! We walked/hiked 74.7 miles. We hit golf balls at the driving range. Our summer chores – mowing, weeding, gardening – have ramped up and we’re spending at least 5-6 hours a week in the yard/garden. Angie did some woodworking with her mom and helped with the farm chores (feeding the chickens and horse) while she was away. My visit with my mom was a little less active though. We did some sewing projects and puttered around in the yard in the evenings.

Better World

Goal: Zero-food-waste. Prove that one couple can have an impact in reducing global food waste.

Plan meals.

As always, this is a work in progress. We’ve done fairly well with planning meals since CSA season started though.

Continue food rescue.

The grocery store next door is back open and we’re up to 279 pounds of rescued food so far this year. We’re also volunteering with Society of St. Andrew to glean the Nashville Farmer’s Market once a month and have gathered 90.25 pounds of produce for the Nashville Rescue Mission.

Shop reduced-to-clear/quick-sale items first when grocery shopping.

Angie almost got tackled by an old man when she reached for a bag of cherries in the reduced-to-clear bin last week. Aside from that, we’ve had much success in finding most of our potatoes, onions, fruits, and breads there.

Buy local foods.

Along with our CSA basket, we’ve been visiting our Saturday Farmer’s Market and a few farm stands throughout the week to source our fresh produce. Today, we’re off to the U-pick to get a few gallons of blackberries for the freezer.

Grow a garden.

Yep, we got that covered. We have tomatoes, peppers, black-eyed peas, green beans, squash, zucchini, sunflowers, blackberries, and a mystery plant (from compost) that may or may not be a cantaloupe.

Compost year-round.

So far so good! Angie even started a worm bin a few months ago with some pitiful looking fishing worms from Walmart. I had zero expectation of their survival but somehow, she has managed to turn them into thriving (and fat) worms.

When we set our goal to have zero food waste, we anticipated that it would be easy, since we are in control of our food choices, right? Turns out, that’s not always the case. In 6 months, we’ve wasted 7.15 pounds of food, a good bit of which was prepared for us by someone else. Since starting to eat more of a plant-based diet a few years ago, we’ve cut out a lot of sweets and God love them, both sets of our parents are sweet junkies! My mom bakes a mean cake and her cobblers are out of this world but after one piece, she usually gives the rest to us. There’s just no way we can eat all of them. I’ve tried freezing pieces for later but later never comes before the next cake appears. I’ve given some to the wildlife, but chocolate is not good for them so where do those cakes go? Sadly, to waste! It horrifies me every time I have to write down yet another ounce of wasted food but we’re at a loss on what else to do with them.

What were your goals for this quarter? Did you achieve them? We’re there any surprises or setbacks?

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