Earlier this week I wrote about the journey we are on in our household to bring a dead place back to life.

Want to know a crazy by-product of this process? A dramatic decrease in waste. 

Waste is a serious problem for Americans. We’re waste-o-holics. Just like we’re quick to use chemicals to grow marshland grasses in deserts we are quick to abuse the resources we have by throwing them away.

Some facts I can’t get away from without making changes:

A couple summers back I stood in an Eastern Sierra stream fishing for trout. I was overcome by love for that resource in that moment. But I also had to start dealing with the fact that what I do in my house somehow, on a macro level, impacts the Eastern Sierras. I can’t love those streams until I rethink how I live in Southern California.

Ways We’ve Reduced Waste

I’ve already shared that getting rid of grass has been a major part of this. Grass needs about 30 inches of water to do well. Here in San Diego we average 11 inches of rain. That meant that if I wanted to keep our grass green I’d need to irrigate 19 inches of water… yeah, that had to go. Easy waste elimination there. When we replaced our washing machine we put in one that does a great job with about half the water of a normal one. Another easy waste elimination. Our house has a tankless water heater so we’re not storing and heating 50-60 gallons of water all the time. Another easy waste elimination. 

Speaking of water– we installed rain barrels which collect hundreds of gallons of water from our roof when it rains. We use rainwater to hand water in the garden. I even recapture the water that we use in our hot tub into our rain barrels. It’s really easy to get the chemicals out of it for use in the garden. Why let it run off your yard when you can grow flowers with it?

Next, the more we’ve gotten into gardening the more we’ve understood the importance of composting. Almost all of our food waste either goes to the chickens– who will eat just about anything— or our compost bins. We have two traditional 4’x4′ compost bins plus a smaller worm compost bin. Nope, doesn’t smell. Nope, doesn’t attract bugs or rats. But it does reduce our waste while creating great stuff for the garden.

Between five humans, two dogs, five chickens, and three compost bins… there’s very little food being thrown away in the McLane house. (Yes, we give our dogs table scraps of meat… deal with it.)

Speaking of chickens. They poop. A lot! I could collect that and have it hauled off in our yard waste bins. But together with the straw we use for their bedding, we just add it to the compost bin.

What else is good for composting? Cardboard and newspaper. That stuff rarely makes it into our recycling bin because it’s super good for helping us control weeds and in the compost bin.

Why Does This Matter?

Here’s something simple, yet profound, I’m learning: The more we bring life the less waste we produce. 

Maybe– just maybe– this learning extends beyond household management? What if the more we bring life to our work the less time people will waste? What if the more we bring life to our neighborhood the fewer people will move away? What if the more we bring life to the way we parent the less we’ll waste on stuff trying to make us feel good about how we’re parenting our kids?

What if… what if… what if?!?!

What if this post isn’t even about yard waste at all?

You’ll never know.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

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