The Cost of Your Trash

I absolutely hate it when I throw things away. Few things frustrate me more than having a full trash can.

Why? I know that, on some level, I paid for the things that are being thrown away.

If I’m tossing the box that a prepackaged meal came in, part of the cost of that prepackaged meal was the box. The box wasn’t free.

If I’m throwing away the remaining scraps of a vegetable that I chopped up for a dish, those scraps were part of the cost. When you weigh fresh vegetables at the market, they do weigh the roots and the stems.

If I’m getting rid of a pan because the Teflon coating is coming off, the reality that I didn’t buy the best pan is coming home to roost.

If I’m chucking food from the back of the pantry or the back of the refrigerator, I’m paying because I wasn’t organized in terms of my food.

Trash is money lost. It’s packaging for products when at least some of the cost of that product went to pay for the packaging. It’s food that you didn’t find a use for and has gone to waste. It’s items that weren’t the optimal choice because you didn’t make the optimal choice.

One potential response to this is to become a hoarder. I have friends and family members who are loathe to throw anything away and find themselves collecting piles of largely useless items. They have old frying pans, empty cardboard boxes, and countless other items that simply doesn’t have a use.

That’s a questionable response because storage space has a cost. The more stuff you allow to accumulate, the more space you need to store it. It’s an incredibly common thing for people to have excessive living space in order to simply store stuff that they virtually never use, which means that all of their hoarded items is costing them.

I prefer a different response. I focus on buying items that minimize waste. In fact, if you look at many of your purchases through that filter, you’ll end up saving a surprising amount of money. Here’s how.

First, buy reliable items that you don’t have to replace very often. If you’re throwing away an item that you use with any regularity, that means you’re going to have to replace it in the near future. I’m quite happy to research a product and spend 20% more on it in order to significantly increase the reliability of the item. A more reliable item is one that requires fewer repairs (saving you money and time) and less frequent replacements (saving you time and money).

Second, make meals yourself from the most basic ingredients possible. Prepackaged foods generate a lot of trash. Most of the time, you can recreate the item – or make an even better version – by simply making the item from scratch.

There are a lot of examples of this. Instead of buying tomato sauce, buy some raw tomatoes, boil them, run them through a food processor, and strain it a bit. Instead of buying loaves of bread, make several of them yourself with a single sack of flour, a jar of yeast, a container of salt, and some tap water. Instead of buying individually-wrapped slices of American cheese, buy a block of cheese and get out the cheese slicer (seriously, compare this one – you’ll be amazed). In general, the smaller the volume of your waste, the closer to scratch you are with your meal and the lower the cost is.

Consider also using reusable containers for as much as you can. Instead of buying bottled water and chucking the containers, keep reusable containers in your fridge filled with water. Instead of using baggies for your sack lunches, put everything in small reusable containers.

Another tactic you can apply is to compost your vegetable waste. If you grow any sort of plants at all, you can get some value out of a small composter. Save your vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and egg shells. Turn the mix regularly and wait until it composts into rich brown or black topsoil, then apply it to the soil in which you grow your flowers or other vegetation.

You should also evaluate the other things you toss for genuine usefulness. Can you translate this item into real usefulness in the near future? For example, I’ll often save Amazon boxes, but that’s because I’ll use them for gift packaging in the future. I’ll save egg cartons and newspapers if I’m going to be camping in the near future. However, I won’t save a broken toaster because… well, when will I ever really use a broken toaster?

Recycling is also a better option than just throwing things away. We don’t live in a community with curbside recycling, unfortunately, but we do save many types of recyclables (paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, glass bottles, etc.) on our own and take them to a recycling center regularly. While this doesn’t strictly cut down on your refuse, it does ensure that it goes to better use than simply winding up in a landfill.

Most of the time, when you strive to minimize your trash with sensible approaches, you wind up with more money in your pocket. You also wind up adding less items to the world’s landfills, meaning future generations have a little less of our trash to deal with.

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