A documentary following a Canadian couple who spent a year trying to see who could produce the least waste proved one of my favorites from last week's Tallgrass Film Festival.
"The Clean Bin Project" provided a stark view of what, and how much, we throw away and how simple it would be to limit what we take to the landfill.
Grant Baldwin and Jen Rustemeyer of Vancouver, British Columbia, tried to live one year with zero waste. Their results were remarkable. They composted and recycled just about everything and finished the year with little more than a small waste basket full of trash.
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I learned so much more talking to Baldwin while he was in Wichita, I caught up with the couple this week by telephone at their home. What's more impressive is how they've been able to continue to produce less trash for the landfill. Instead of competing, they now share one small trash bin.
"We take our garbage out every three months, and it's about the size that would fit in a microwave," said Baldwin, who visited Wichita with the film.
During the year of their project, they had rules, including not buying any material goods, except for what Baldwin needed for his job. That means they had to avoid all packaging that couldn't be recycled in some way.
That means taking their own, reusable containers for eating out, including eating utensils. They carry stainless steel containers in their cars to carry food from takeout or from the deli. They just ask the people behind the counter to use their containers instead of the disposable ones the restaurant or store provides. As you'll see in the movie, they get some strange reactions initially, but people usually comply.
"I heard a good analogy from a guy who teaches zero waste, who said you have to prepare yourself for the urban wilderness," Baldwin said. "When you go out hiking in the wilderness you have to pack it in and pack it out. It's the same in the urban wilderness. It's pretty funny."
During his visit in Wichita, I noticed Baldwin carrying his own fork with him.
"At the end of the project, we got these little sets as gifts," Rustemeyer said. "They have a fork, a knife, a spoon and chopsticks and they're all made of bamboo, so you can fly with them. But when I'm just around town, I keep, like, a regular fork and knife in the car."
They use cloth bags for groceries, of course, and mesh bags for produce.
One question they get asked: What about toilet paper?
The couple can buy hygiene items. But they buy recycled or eco-friendly toilet paper. Rustemeyer worried about the plastic packaging, which is hard to recycle. She found a recycling center that would take the wrapping, as does Kansas Pro Miller Recycling in Wichita — they go with the plastic grocery bags. Rustemeyer also found a janitorial supply company which deals in recycled toilet paper and packages it in cardboard boxes, which is easier to recycle.
During the competition and making of the documentary, Rustemeyer said what worried her most was feminine hygiene products. She found the solution with a menstrual cup, a silicone device that worn like a tampon but is reusable. They've been around since the 1930s.
"I did not know about it until I started this project, and I wish I had. I love them," she said.
Baldwin and Rustemeyer said what sounds complicated is really a matter of rethinking the way we live.
"We used to live this way years ago,” Baldwin said. “We have gotten away from it.”
While the movie is not yet in distribution but is available for community screenings and private showings in schools.
Baldwin said he would like to return to Wichita and bring Rustemeyer with him this time. They would schedule a community showing and spend the day visiting schools and teaching about zero waste.
"All we'd need is a sponsor," he said.
"The Clean Bin Project" tries to inspire others to think about what they use, and what we throw away.
"The reason we did it was not to show how awesome we are," Baldwin said. "If we can get more people to change the way they live, and to think about what we throw away, maybe that will make a difference."