cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

Last week I did a favor for a friend and took a load of trash and broken furniture to the dump. Maybe it’s me, but I find it fascinating to see where our trash ends up. I may be wildly projecting, but I bet for 99% of the world, when they toss something in a can, for them it essentially disappears.

My trash goes to a spot out in the National Forest, the Buck Head Mesa landfill, which is hidden from the stream of vehicles

If you have never been to the dump, make it a field trip. Take the kids. Drive by sometime at night and gaze on the flames that shoot out of the tubes. Perhaps wonder about the real estate decisions to where your refuse goes (in Phoenix, nearly all suburban roads funnel trash to the giant one on the Salt River Pima Reservation.

But let’s put that aside.

Since moving fulltime to Strawberry in 2008, I’ve been making more and more conscious efforts to contribute less trash to the stream. It’s not saving the world, I am not trying to act like that, but it is something I can do on a very small level to cause less impact on this ball of rock and water.

There is a practical reason- I do not have any pickup service for my garbage. I transport my own trash down to Uncle Tom’s Texaco station in Pine, where I can drop it in their dumpster for $2 a bag. So putting less in the bags saves me a small amount of money and reduces the number of times I have to do that. At least I carry my own trash part of the way. I think I have it so I take a bag there perhaps once every 3 weeks when I am home.

Update August 25, 2013 It’s more like a month between trash empties, starting a spreadsheet to track

But I was rather surprised when i helped my friend at how much more trash they accumulated (2 people), and could not help but notice the amount of glass and paper in their trash.

So today I tried to document in photos all of the things I have tried to make less trash, and I likely am missing a few. It’s more than diverting what goes in, there are things to do that reduce the amount that you even come home with (I like the idea of thinking about precycling, stuff like using cloth bags at the grocery rather than taking home wads of plastic, but also finding uses for items you might discard. It’s small things as well, like washing out plastic ziploc bags to re-use them, using rags rather than paper towels for cleanup.

Maybe having a smaller can is a good start- and what I use is an old bucket from a previous live where I shopped at Costco. The whole strategy is thinking every time you open that door to toss something out– does it need to go in the trash?

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

Composting is a big part of my routine. It was a trip to Vancouver Island in 2004 that I first saw a 3 bin system in action at the B&B we stayed at. This is a double win- I am avoiding throwing out my fruit and vegetable waste (plus coffee grounds and egg shells)

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

This works even in dry Arizona. It might take year for my piles to mature, but all of mine naturally have attracted their own residents of worms which do a lot of the work. I just added a third bin; mine are cobbled together from material like shipping palettes and left over chicken wire. I also toss in a lot of yard debris (leaves, trimmings).

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

When I first got this place, we took loads of tree trimmings and yard waste to the landfill. This is not bad, as they keep the greens in another pit, and I am pretty sure they are able to turn it onto mulch over time. But in the last few years, I pretty much have made use of every leaf, pine cone, tree limb trimmed on my property. I keep piles of them around to dry out:

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

When it is time to work the piles, I clean off the leaves and small bits for the compost pile, and the smaller limbs and sticks go into bins under my deck, which I use in the winter to feed and start the fire in my wood stove.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

I end up with a pile of bigger ones and some longer logs I got from a neighbors construction clearing- these will need to be chainsawed into smaller mid sized wood I can use this winter in the stove.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

I also save all the paper, junk mail, phone books, cardboard, assorted boxes for the winter fires:

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

This becomes part of the cycle- the ash from the stove goes into the compost which goes into the garden which grows vegetables which end up back in the compost…

Recycling is a challenge, or pretty much non-existent in this small community. Down in Phoenix, you get recycle bins that you can toss almost anything into and not think much about it. Here? Well, I save it all.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

The aluminum cans are one thing that is recycled here- the Payson Humane Society has some bins around town to leave aluminum. I do keep glass (in the box on the left), and tins/plastic (white bin in the middle). I save these up til I have a truckload and when there is a trip to Phoenix where I can stop by the Mesa Public Library, which has free recycle bins.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

I’m able to store these bags below my house (I reuse the plastic bags).

The other arm of the strategy is trying to find ways to use things rather than just tossing them. My favorite example is a barbecue grill that stopped working a few years ago- I took out the innards, and turned it into a planter, it’s usually where I plant my oregano

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

I’ve a,so taken to creating an outdoor pile of broken pottery (kind of my way of confusing future archeologists)/ Everyime I break a coffee mug (happens a lot), I add to the ceramic pile at the base of a tree:

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

Okay, that’s pretty small.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

My shed is pretty tiny, but I have stashed away bits of 2x4s, hardware, tin cans, handles from broken tools, plastic containers, old socks (useful for rags), all stuff that I might find use of (and do). I make use of run off water as much as possible, all of my gutters (and the grey water from my washer) are channeled off to plants and trees.

That’s most of it, but I am always looking for new ways to re-use and make less trash. Got any tips?

Yeah, I am trying to be less of a contributor.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I love the idea of converting the grill into a planter. Out here in the east we go through grills pretty quick, what with the humidity and rusting. I’ll have to convert my next one to an herb garden.

  2. Your creativity knows no bounds, Alan–you live big and use little. It’s a way of life in Vermont, but even here where folks routinely re-use everything possible, make their own and grown their own, and recycle religiously, it is shocking how much we trundle off to the dump–a couple of bags every two weeks. HOw is that even possible? I’m going to try to get it down to your one every three–the cogdog way.

  3. I have two extravagant vices: seltzer water and good beer. I’m mortified by the cans and bottles that pile up in the recycling. I recently got my Soda Stream back on its feet, and I’m thinking about taking in growlers for fill-ups at a local brewery and/or local grocery store. I’m not sure how well the latter will work though.

    I like the idea of the grill-turned-planter. I recently started collecting plastic containers that strawberries and cherry tomatoes come in. I’m hoping to use them as places to start seeds next spring. Paper towel/toilet paper rolls also make for good seed starter pots.

  4. I used to get rid of a lot of stuff when we moved. I recently used it here to hand off the moving boxes, packing paper and bubble wrap. When a guy showed up to pick up 3 ceiling fans that we replaced I started to wonder whether I was helping to feed hoarder’s habits. He was a little creepy…

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