Whitney Point, N.Y. resident Chris Burger has to think for a minute before recalling the last time he sent a trash bag to the landfill.
It was 1992, and at the time it had taken his family of four a staggering five years to fill one standard 32-gallon bag. More than 20 years and many recycling improvements later, he says the household trash they've collected since can fit inside a grocery bag.
When we read Burger's story over at PositiveNews.org, we knew we had to catch up with him to learn how he does it.The Commitment
When Burger and his wife, Cindy, pledged to go garbage-free in the 1970s, they were barely out of college and their neighborhood didn't have so much as a recycling program.
"At the time, there were a lot of people crying for the government to pay attention and businesses should be paying attention to the environment," Burger said in a telephone interview. "Not that we're disagreeing with any of that, but we felt there had to be a place for personal responsibility, too."
But their garbage-free lifestyle didn't happen overnight. They started by joining a community food co-op and learning how to compost their food waste. When the couple moved upstate and built a home in the late 70s, they installed recycling bins in every nook and cranny, eschewing the county's $400/year garbage service.
Today, if they can't compost or recycle a product, chances are it won't make it past their front door. Burger says it helps that businesses have improved their environmental standards to the point it's no longer that much of a hassle to stick with recyclables.Adjusting for a family
With the birth of their daughters, the Burgers went old-school to cut down on the typical waste associated with infants – namely, dirty diapers.
They stuck with cloth diapers (saving boat loads on pricey disposable options), and learned how to store them on trips by using recycled bread bags as makeshift diaper sacks. They took clean ones out of the bags and stored the dirty ones till they could wash them. Then the bags were recycled.
One of the keys to their success has been knowing exactly how much food they need to cover their family over a certain period of time.
"(Throwing out food) is a real waste of money," he said. "We avoid over-consumption to the point that if things go to waste, and if there are food scraps, they go into the compost."
If it's not in their backyard composting, then it's been recycled in some form or another. As for the paper grocery bag which has taken them 20 years to fill with un-recyclable trash, Burger refers to it simply as "our mistakes."
"A lot of times when people come to our house, they say 'These people look normal,' and in a lot of ways we are normal," he says. "It's not like we're denying ourselves. We found buying good quality stuff may be more costly upfront, but in the long-run it's less costly."DON'T MISS: How one man gave up money and made a new life in Utah's wilderness >
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