Best Intentions: Pet waste bags, trash bags, feminine products, diapers

In this new year, many of you are working to “be greener.” One of the areas you may be looking into is the type of materials your products are made of.

This is great! I’m so proud of you. Reading labels, for the environment and your personal health, are one of the most important things you can do to make serious lasting changes. We vote with our dollars as I’m sure you’ve heard.

Please be aware that when looking at what items are made out of, you need to be aware of what can be processed in your area. This is a big frustration for many people. Just because something says it’s recyclable, compostable, biodegradable, etc. doesn’t mean it can be accepted in your area, or that it really helps the environment.

When I say that it may not really help, I mostly mean products intended for the landfill. It’s a myth that things break down in modern landfills. This helpful website shared in the Austin Zero Waste Lifestyle group, http://www.allaboutbags.ca/degradeinlandfill.html, is good at explaining. Everything basically gets crushed to death in the landfill so very little ever degrades. Think “mummified.” If how trash behaves in a landfill and what it tells us interests you I highly recommend one of my favorite “green” books, Rubbish: The Archaeology of Garbage (2001) by Dr. William Rathje. If you live near me you may borrow it! So if you think you are helping the landfill by using BPI certified compostable bags, paper bags, corn bags, etc. for your dog waste and curbside trash, you’re not really, I’m so sorry to tell you. You are probably spending more money that you need to on your bags.

Trash, both pet waste and human/household waste, should be bagged, it’s safer for the truck workers and it prevents litter. I’ve asked the City of Austin to update their website to explicitly state this and to consider updating the City Code as well. I know using bags can be hard for some zero waste aspirants, but we do want to protect our workers and our land. Beyond safety, consider how long your bag will sit out in the cart: will the compost bag or paper bag “melt”/disintegrate and break all over the guys? The truck operators don’t always use the truck arms, sometimes they grab the bag out of the cart and throw it in the truck manually. Will pests have an easier time getting in bags? I use recycled plastic dog waste bags and trash bags. This “vote with my dollars” makes sure that the single-use plastic we do create is recycled and used in another product. So I have no virgin products in these processes. When possible we also reuse empty product bags for trash. You can have a ton of little bags in the cart if you want to put all your trash in chip bags like one Zero Waste Block Leader does! See “Think Outside the Bag” for more ideas on how to reuse chip, rice, birdseed, pet food bags, etc. for your trash bag. Many of these bags cannot be recycled so it’s a great reuse. They’re usually also moisture-proof too so are good for trash use.

Feminine Products used to be allowed or encouraged to be flushed, at least they were when I was in school. I’m pretty sure that most water utility departments do not want anything beyond toilet paper flushed nowadays. There’s too much volume to process and any little bit we can do to help, by keeping items out of the water system, the better. No human blood may go in the curbside compost carts. This goes for if you bloody your nose, cut your finger or have your monthly cycle. If your tampons or pads say they are compostable or biodegradable, that’s great material-wise (it’s not plastic), but a no-go in Austin’s curbside compost system. I suppose you could try burying them in your yard and checking on them. If you do please let me know how that goes. I have a clay backyard so we’re going to pass on that experiment.

In similar vein, no “compostable” diapers may go in City of Austin curbside compost. No human or animal waste in the curbside compost carts. It’s a newer thing, compostable diapers, and I’ve been asked by neighbors, checked with Austin Resource Recovery, and it’s not going to be allowed. So try cloth/reusables, a reusable diaper service, infant potty training, etc. or possibly like our family did use disposables but buy responsibly, try to reduce the number used, and be a zero waste boss on the rest of things to kind of help the difference. No judgement here, this was just our thinking when we decided to switch from cloth diapers to disposables. Honestly, our son runs around without a diaper a lot (with shorts or pants) and it’s really helping him learn self-control.

I hope this is helpful. I don’t want to sound negative or discouraging, but if it’s not really going to make a difference in the end (landfill), and remember “there is no away,” all trash/waste goes somewhere, then lets focus our efforts and our resources (our money) on other ways we can reduce the waste we produce.

Coming soon:
Reusable feminine/menstrual products

You may also like:
Pet Waste: It’s Waste
Think Outside the Bag