Trash talk


So you think you’re pretty good about recycling? Think again. Most of us could take a lesson from Jean Greenwood of Minneapolis. Last year she accumulated only two bags of trash. Total. For the whole year. 

“It wasn’t quite full so I was tempted to let it hang over to the new year so I only had one,” Greenwood said of that second bag of trash.

This wasn’t a sudden lifestyle change. Greenwood grew up with parents who had lived on the farm during the depression, a time when you reused and repaired things. She is also a self-described “child of the ’60s.”

When interviewed at the end of April, this year’s trash bag was about 1/3 full. When asked what was in it, she found a ballpoint pen, some cellophane wrappers, a toothpaste tube, an empty jelly container from a hotel, a band-aid, a wrapper from a granola bar, a chocolate-chip bag and the end of an electrical cord. She had recycled the wire part of the cord.

How does she do it?

What does Greenwood do so differently than most of the rest of us? She buys in bulk and buys things that last. “I don’t buy disposable things. I just use common sense,” she said. “I don’t buy a lot of stuff.”

She repairs things or finds new uses for things. She hasn’t accepted a bag from a store for decades. Instead she keeps cloth shopping bags in her car so they are always handy. She takes care of things she has like the old sewing machine that is supposed to be oiled every six months, and so it is. She doesn’t use paper towels, but has a roll at home “just in case.” She uses cloth napkins and handkerchiefs. When she has to use a paper napkin, she composts it. She wraps gifts in the comics, cloth or reusable totes.

Metal items-brass, aluminum, old shovels, old kitchenware, that old electrical cord, aluminum siding and windows-are recycled. She takes her plastic bags to one of the many local grocery stores that collect them and her #5 plastic yogurt containers go to Whole Foods for recycling. She does not buy water in plastic bottles. She brings her own plate to potlucks and back home to wash it. She gives household items to Arc’s Value Village. And the odd items like mesh onion bags, cardboard egg cartons, corks, rubber binders, Clementine boxes and plastic bottle caps go to ArtStart, an organization dedicated to arts education and linking the arts and the environment, where they are reused.