I vividly recall garbage night when I was a little girl in Brooklyn. We had to carry the heavy metal “ash cans,” as Grandma called them, out to the curb. She told me that “ash cans” comes from the days when coal was burned for heat. After cleaning the coal ash from their furnace, people would leave it curbside for the sanitation to pick up. Grandpa Sal was a garbage man and he remembered standing in a truck almost knee-deep in discarded ashes.
Of course, people threw out other garbage in addition to ash. There was no recycling, so they’d put their garbage in paper grocery bags or wrap it in old newspapers before they put it in the can. They didn’t have plastic garbage bags like we have today.
Those days of ash cans and paper garbage bags are long past. I would be reluctant to use paper bags for garbage these days — even with Grandma’s trick of using a milk carton for wet things like tea bags. I would worry about the smell and that the paper bag might rip or fall apart if it rained.
So what does a person do to responsibly dispose of household waste without using lots of plastic? I used to use plastic grocery bags for garbage. I didn’t feel too guilty about throwing them out because I used them multiple times before I used them for garbage. After carrying my groceries home, I might use the bags for carrying dirty gardening shoes from the community garden, conditioning my hair, or lining the lunch tote I took to work. After using the bag a few times, I could use it for garbage.
Now that New York has a ban on plastic bags, I need another solution. When I buy something in a plastic bag, like a bag of potting soil, I use it as many times as I can before using it for garbage. When I don’t have a used bag, I use a new garbage bag made with post-consumer recycled plastic.
I try not to generate too much waste in the first place, but even with recycling and composting I still generate some. So, I reuse bags as much as possible and keep seeking greener options for disposing of my waste responsibly.