Do I Have To? A Reluctant Environmentalist On Washing Trash

*This is a guest post from Megan’s husband, Michael, a reluctant environmentalist.

I suppose this is my fault. I encouraged Megan to take action on an idea that she’s had for several years now: to create a blog about all the little things normal people can do (that she makes us do) for the environment. I encouraged her partly because I knew she was passionate about the topic and had a lot to share and mostly because I wanted other men out there to feel my pain. Recycling and composting is harder than throwing it all away in one place. The reality, though, is that the pain is worth it.

About four years ago we were just like any other American. I would take the trash out to our apartment’s communal dumpster probably once every three days. We produced a lot of it… at least two very full Hefty bags every week.

In addition to our landfill trash, we were doing our best to recycle the things we knew we could recycle, like paper, cans, and bottles, but things that confused us, like milk cartons, yogurt containers, takeout containers, and other stuff got automatically tossed in the trash.

Then one day, Megan came home armed with new knowledge about how we could recycle anything with a number 1-7 on the bottom, so we started to do that. Now we were producing less and less trash, but I now had to make two separate trips down to the dumpsters— one for trash and one for recycling. It didn’t exactly feel like an upgrade.

As Megan learned more and more about all the different things you could recycle and how to recycle them, she quickly discovered that dirty was bad. Now not only was I separating my trash, I was washing it. I found the concept of washing my trash endlessly irritating and I was a non-stop source of complaints. But she persevered.

Do I Have ToOnce we moved to San Francisco, the list of potentially recyclable items increased, and all of a sudden we had an entirely new category of non-trash trash— compost. If I thought recycling was bad, composting was definitely worse. Not only did we have to clean the trash (recycling), but now I had to save all the scraps that I once put down our efficient garbage disposal, somehow get them into a rather tiny compostable BioBag, and save those scraps for future curbside compost pickup. Ugh.

To add insult to injury, because we had to freeze those scraps so they wouldn’t smell, they sat in their bag in our freezer, next to my ice cream. Now every time I wanted to eat ice cream, I saw the compost, and even worse, every time I made compost, I wanted ice cream. The household ice cream bill increased considerably.

Now that I’ve been at this composting/recycling/not-creating-much-trash-at-all thing for about eight months, I can say that I’m partially reformed… an almost environmentalist. I still complain about cleaning and drying the trash, because I think it’s laughably ridiculous, but I do notice that we throw out a ton less. And that’s definitely an upgrade.

Recently, Megan asked me when the last time was I had taken out the trash. I racked my brain. It had been months. I looked at her silently. (Was this a trap? Was she mad at me for not doing my share of the household chores?) She quickly admitted she hadn’t taken out the trash in months either. As it turned out, the cleaners I hire to do my chores every two weeks are now the only people who take out our trash— one half-full bag every two weeks for a two-person household. Score!

The bonus for me and the icing on the cake with all this trash washing and freezing is that my mother-in-law reads Littervention, has started recycling and composting religiously herself, and now every time I visit her I get to listen as my father-in-law complains bitterly about cleaning and freezing the trash too.

But, you know, it is worth it. Both for the planet and because happy wife = happy life.


Reluctant But Nonetheless Reformed Husband