Trash matters, so try to minimize it

May 11, 2012 

David Leach, a driver for the Monroe County Domestic Abuse Shelter, takes some surplus chairs, a book case and table from The Nature Conservancy, demonstrating how to reuse unneeded items.

Good news: The recycling rate for Monroe County increased to 21 percent in 2010, an 11 percent increase from 2009.

The commercial sector is contributing to this increase and having seen the volume of glass, cans and plastic generated from one Saturday night during Fantasy Fest, the positive environmental impact would be immense if more bars and restaurants started recycling regularly.

Despite the improvement in recycling, the amount of trash also increased in 2010 and Monroe County generated the third highest volume per person in the state, according to Colleen Murphy, Monroe County recycling coordinator. Our trash is driven 200 miles out of the Keys to an incinerator in Broward County, burning fuel to truck increased volumes of trash to be burned. More resources are used to produce more stuff and more resources are used to get rid of it.

My husband and I recently replaced our old trash bins. One is now a composter, the other will become a planter. Our new bins are larger. I'm not sure why my husband chose such large bins. Unless we are pruning trees and bushes, we don't even fill one halfway before trash pickup day.

I realized that changes we had made over the years have reduced the trash we generate:

  • We are eating more produce and less processed food.

  • Our eggshells, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps go into my composter.

  • I cook most meals from scratch and we eat leftovers for lunch during the week.

  • Packaging and containers are recycled -- cans, plastic containers, glass jars, bottles and cardboard.

  • We recycle all junk mail, envelopes, newspapers, magazines and boxes.

  • We use reusable shopping bags most of the time so we have very few plastic bags to dispose of.

  • Plastic newspaper bags and any shopping bags are reused for doggy poop that does go in the trash.

  • We take gently used, unwanted items to the Salvation Army or Habitat for Humanity.

  • Our large purchases have become more thoughtful. We try to buy items that last longer or fix them to last a little longer.

    We used to live in Fort Lauderdale and I was easily caught up in the shopping culture and the allure of new things. Since moving to the Keys, I have found that I desire less stuff and it saves us money.

    I work for The Nature Conservancy and we recently moved from Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key. We had been in the Sugarloaf office 11 years, accumulating items over time. The move provided an excellent opportunity to clean house and take only what we needed.

    Using, a website that connects Keys non-profits that are looking for donated items, I was able to find good homes for a lot of our surplus furniture, office equipment and supplies.

    The Domestic Abuse Shelter, Key West Wildlife Center, Gerald Adams Gifted Students Program, Sea Camp and Florida Keys Outreach Coalition were among our beneficiaries. Not only were we able to divert items away from the incinerator or landfill (where the bulky items go), but these organizations were able to benefit and get real use from our unneeded items, and I got to meet some great people in the process.

    Repurposing, reusing and reducing are excellent ways to reduce trash and maybe the Keys can drop from third highest trash producer in the state.

    Shirley Gun is a member of the Keyswide nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education. She writes about green living and the four R's -- reducing, reusing, recycling and rot (composting). She can be reached at

  • KeysNet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

    Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service