Out in the boondocks where I live the garbage is picked up every two weeks; recycling once per month. Until a few months ago this arrangement worked well. Garbage was placed in a large barrel the garbage truck could automatically empty into the truck hopper. Recycling was placed in blue plastic bags with paper and cardboard placed in either a box or tied in a bundle. A few months ago the system was changed for recycling. Bags were replaced with a blue barrel the same size as the garbage barrel. I understand why the change took place. Under the new system the recycling company could run the route with only one employee. The truck has a lift (like the garbage truck) to grab the barrel and empty the contents.

The problem comes from the amount of recycling I have. All the recycling from my office, farm and home went into the barrel and it was not big enough. It was hard to believe I had so much crap every month. The garbage barrel was almost empty; we have one small kitchen garbage bag for disposal every two weeks. But the recycling did not fit. At first I wanted to blame all the stuff (a technical term used by hard-core wealthy accountants) on the office and farm. Certainly, they played a roll, but personal recyclables still would fill the barrel monthly.

Whenever I see stuff going to the landfill or recycling center I start thinking. Why am I buying all this stuff only to throw it away? The only way to understand a problem is to research it. I had to know where all the recyclables (waste) were coming from.

To make for fair research, I excluded the loads of junk mail and other paper from the office and feed bags from the farm. My goal was to understand my personal waste. My garbage waste is so small I don’t think it pays to spend much time reducing the small kitchen bag of garbage. Mostly, we change the kitchen garbage every two weeks whether it needs it or not to prevent odor. But how in the heck do we fill a recycling barrel to overflowing monthly?

First off, I notice we have a lot of plastic jugs. I mean lots! We could mention the whisky bottle, but we will not go there to protect the reputations of the not so innocent. (Mrs. Accountant does not drink whisky… that I know of.) The real mass of plastic is dominated by juice bottles and milk jugs.51Asry1yxuL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_

I prefer drinking fresh, home-grown juice. Sometimes I buy apple juice at a local orchard in the fall. I drink milk, but not often. So I can place all the blame on Mrs. Accountant and my two Jr. Accountant daughters. Except it would not be fair.

Milk containers collapse down and don’t take a lot of space, but we guzzle three gallons a week. Juice containers are more rigid and collapse to a point. The barrel would fill slowly each day. There was also one other bulky item that consumed a lot of space other than office paper, feed bags and plastics.

Before I tell you the criminal in the recycling barrel I want to defend the Accountant household. The item causing all the problems came mostly from the office with only a few coming from the household. The culprit: packaging (cardboard boxes).

Food packaging is the worst. The ladies at the office love to ship in lunch on a regular basis. Example: one of my employees had a birthday recently so it was decided the boss would pay for lunch. (We have a petty cash account for special treats for the staff.) I had no say in the purchase. They decided on Subway. The plastic container holding all the sandwiches was huge! I had no doubt more cost went into the plastic packaging than the amount of food purchased. Two lessons here: 1.) the plastic package did not collapse down well so it took a lot of space, and 2.) the cost of the food was probably less than the cost of the packaging which was purchased for no other reason than to throw it away.

Since we know packaging is not free, we have an opportunity to reduce costs in our life without sacrificing lifestyle. I am on a mission at home and at the office to reduce recycling waste. Stuff tossed in recycling is still waste! And you paid for it; just as much as you paid for all your regular garbage. If we can find ways to reduce all waste, including recycling waste, it would do wonders for our personal bottom line. Call it frugality without giving anything up.

A Few Solutions

When you have a farm, office building and a large home you need a fair number of light bulbs. I use LEDs in all my buildings. Some LEDs are packaged with so much plastic I have to visit the shop to pry open the packaging. I discovered some LEDs use less packaging, especially when multi-packs are involved. I visited a few local stores to see if I could do better when buying stuff, LEDs in this case. Using my trusty pocket calculator I determined multipacks were a much better deal and used a significant amount less packaging. Lesson: More packaging equals either a higher cost or a lower quality to cover the packaging cost.

20160125_082511Packaged food is bad for your health and pocketbook. All the boxed foods my kids love (and I eat right along with them) are hurting my body while wasting a lot of money on packaging. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be somewhat more expensive, but after considering health they are a bargain. I have a plan to buy more in bulk to reduce packaging costs and to reduce prepackaged foods like cereals. In my defense, I eat eggs every morning and I get them from my barn. When I say ‘Farm Fresh’ I mean it. My breakfast: laid this morning. (BTW: you can buy my eggs (brown eggs) if you stop in the office. First come, first serve.)

On the farm I buy egg mash in 50 pound bags. I will move to bulk delivery without any bags and store the mash in a spare gravity box. I use about a ton of mash a month and when I checked it is cheaper for the same exact product. Savings: $40 per month. Farmers are noted for their frugality. I still cannot explain what took me so long to figure out I could save $500 a year with this simple change.

The accounting office will be a tougher nut to crack. I don’t always have control over the waste flow. Junk mail will keep coming no matter what I do. Boxes from Amazon for supplies or paper take a lot of space and cannot be easily replaced.

I reuse many plastic containers and cardboard. The cardboard works on the farm around trees or in the garden to control weeds and protect soil moisture. Juice contains store homemade wine well (ahem). In the end it will end up as either garbage or recycling, but used many times before discarded.

I saved food waste for last. We don’t have food waste in our house. What the chickens, steers and barn cats don’t eat goes into the mulch bin. It is estimated 50% of all food grown is discarded from farm to the table. We certainly have waste in the Accountant household. Garden waste is common during the summer and fall. Not all things grown should be eaten. Unfortunately, there is waste from the kitchen as well. Wasted food is going to happen. Things sitting in the fridge too long have to be tossed. Unless you have a farm you will have more food waste going to the landfill than my household.

Make a Difference

Every household has different waste/recycling issues. Any waste bothers me; it goes against my upbringing. My paternal grandmother used to remind us kids that during the Great Depression they ate lard sandwiches “and liked it”. We joked back that today we have Butter Flavored Crisco. Truth is it is not funny. Waste delays retirement plans as money funneled to retirement investments get a ride to the landfill or recycling center. Waste reduces quality of lifestyle. It also feels really good knowing you are acting as a responsible steward of the gifts life has granted you when reducing waste. Be vigilant. Whenever spending hard earned money (or easily gotten money, too), pay attention to the waste products you are buying with the stuff you want. It’s how wealthy accountants roll.