Trash trolls

28 Feb 2019 | 02:09

    “Wait, the garbage in the kitchen? Under the Narnia drawer?” Six-year-old Kai asks, hesitating, holding the baby’s sodden diaper I’ve just handed her. Kai knows every board and book in our house. If I move a picture she’ll spot the change immediately. She even has a decent grasp on the contents of the Narnia drawer — what pencil sharpener or hotel sewing kit might be found there — so named because I have no idea what’s in that bottomless repository. But seriously, she doesn’t know where the garbage is? I’m secretly chuffed.

    We throw stuff out in our house of course, but the garbage is the last option. Food scraps go to the chickens and goats. Cardboard boxes get repurposed for egg deliveries. We use bamboo paper towels that go in the wash, and compostable diapers, which we throw into a pile along with animal carcasses and the contents of our outdoor compost toilet (yum!). Hey, let it sit for a year and it makes good soil. We don’t buy garbage bags, but re-use chicken feed bags.

    Are you bored yet? Socks worn through at the heel become kid legwarmers (until kid develops own opinions regarding fashion); onesies stained at the bum become rags. My sanctimonious list is almost done. Plastic clamshells from the grocery store we keep in a tangle in our basement, which we’ll re-use to give away produce from our garden. We had a blowup once when husband Joe tossed my clamshell stash. I guess I had the blow-up.

    At some point it turned into a sort of private competition for me. Could we actually be trash-negative? Could our homestead absorb more “garbage” than it makes? We take egg cartons from neighbors, collect tired Christmas trees, which feed the goats ‘til the spring grass emerges. Come fall, I’ll pull into strangers’ driveways and toss their bagged leaves into my trunk, for chicken coop bedding. I bring shredded paper home from the office and an accountant friend gives us his — same purpose.

    We have no high horse to stand on. We have three kids, which you could certainly argue means taking up more than our fair share of the earth’s resources [debate on page 30]. But maybe because of our extravagance in that department, we’re bound to make up for it by being incredibly annoying. We can’t just smile politely when our groceries find their way into doubled-up plastic bags while we were getting our wallet out and keeping the kid from climbing onto the conveyor belt.

    “They should be illegal,” is Joe’s line, any time he gets offered a plastic bag. Mine is more friendly and ineffectual: “I try to avoid them.”

    Recently, though, I feel myself slipping. Kai hardly touches her lunch some days at school, so I’m willing to try anything to get calories into bloodstream. Cheese sticks wrapped in plastic decorated with Frozen characters? Where have you been all my life! (She doesn’t like those either, so I’m saved from that particular booby trap.) I’ve been shrugging my shortcomings off, thinking: This is the real world, with little plastic tags and wrappers on everything, and you might as well live in it.

    I’ve taken a liking to grapefruit seltzers. Cans for glorified water, how inexcusable, and yet so bright and fizzy, and I can slip one in my coat pocket on the way out the door.

    Baby Dion pees right through his compostable diapers, so when I bring him on an outing I’ve begun putting him in a disposable. Hence Kai’s confusion when I asked her to throw the diaper in the garbage. That diaper will take 500 years to decompose, but it does such a good job of wicking. This is the real world, where you can’t be stopping what you’re doing every hour or two to change a diaper and — oh look — the onesie, which is soaked. Right? I don’t hear anyone telling me otherwise, except sometimes Joe with his silent disapproval, which is irritating, and why I hide all evidence when I stop at Dunkin Donuts.

    Well, there are a few others out there, friends who bring a certain consciousness to the everyday things they do: wrapping a gift, preparing food, diapering a baby. They’re not judgy, though, just admirable. That’s one way to be a trash troll. The other is the way we do it.

    Joe has been known to announce at a party, after remaining mostly silent, that he’d rather die of thirst than drink out of a plastic water bottle. “No thanks” works, I suggest. But we both know it doesn’t. “No thanks” sounds like you’re just not thirsty.

    I interviewed a teenager named Malcolm Condon a few years ago. He’s deadset on being a marine biologist. He was instrumental, at age 13, in getting straws banned in Ulster County. Later, I had him and a few other teens over to a roundtable at my house. I put out cups made of that corn starch plastic substitute. When he approached the food I could see where he was looking, and I practically knocked over the table in my rush to tell him: they’re compostable!

    His brow relaxed. He gave me a smile, which said something like, we both know that corn starch stuff doesn’t really compost but it’s better than the alternative. Thank you for making an effort.

    I think of him a lot, a disapproving angel on my shoulder when I crack a can of seltzer. A future marine biologist who will be studying an ocean with more plastic than fish in it by 2050. I know it’s boring. I’m well aware that no one wants to hear it. But the fact remains that we were lazy to begin with, and now we’re up against the “it” power couple of the century that is Amazon Prime and Marie Kondo.

    So go ahead, raise an eyebrow at that person with a shopping cart overflowing with plastic bags. They obviously won’t notice, since, you know, they’re oblivious. But we need more trash trolls, just in case anyone’s listening.