Just begin to make a difference, no matter how large or small, in reducing the amount of trash you generate. That’s the encouragement that authors Dave and Lillian Brummet of British Columbia, Canada, give to their readers and to anyone who will listen. They know firsthand that, if motivated, anyone can make small changes to do their part for the Earth.
The couple don’t believe in wasting time playing the blame game. They provide encouragement and positivity throughout their book Trash Talk, which was published in 2004 to provide specific ways in which people can reuse waste materials and reduce their consumption of resources. Originally a biweekly newspaper column, Trash Talk generated into a single resource that is being used in classrooms and by individuals and families to make a real difference in the world, and save money at the same time. Honored by the Recycling Council of British Columbia, Trash Talk also has been praised in Britain, the United States, South Africa, Japan and the Netherlands.
Dave and Lillian, who also are poets, photographers and book reviewers (Lillian’s book, Towards Understanding, is a collection of 120 poems), spoke with Edge Life about their service to the planet in a telephone interview from their home in Grand Forks, British Columbia, just across the border of northeastern Washington.
Were the two of you aware early on about the value of, and the necessity of, saving resources?
Dave Brummet: Actually, we were both raised in families that were very creative in utilizing reused goods. My dad used to have a collection of bicycles that he rebuilt to sell and give to kids in the neighborhood. I was raised reusing and being creative with things that were formerly destined for the landfills. Lillian grew up in a farming family and reusing was part of her life, as well. It came natural to us and writing about it was a natural progression of who we are.
What inspired you to begin writing your newspaper column, “Trash Talk”?
Lillian Brummet: That actually began with experiences we had. I used to run a cleaning business for some higher-end clientele. We were noticing that a lot of the people wouldn’t shop in used stores, because they were worried about how they would appear to their peers. Then when recycling became more common, especially when blue recycling boxes started to appearing, we noticed that people began using them to “keep up with the Joneses.”
Dave and I saw a need to show people that recycling and reusing is not about ego or false pride or keeping up with the Joneses, it was about…
Dave: …doing the right thing. And it’s not something to be embarrassed about.
Lillian: That’s right. You don’t have to be poor to reuse and to care about the environment. It’s something we all should be doing.
You eventually put your columns into the book by the same title. What was the overriding idea you wanted to share with others through this book?
Dave: The main point is to inspire people to reduce their own output of trash. I wrote a small article introducing the Trash Talk book, and I’d like to quote from it now: “Picture yourself walking alone across a flat plane of endless white sand. It is unbelievably pristine and beautiful. But, wait. Trailing behind you is a jet stream of all the waste you have generated in your lifetime all the diapers, food, cans, wrappers, furniture, clothing, paper, or plastics that you ever threw away, all of it. Your personal jet stream is surprisingly large when put into this perspective. The smell is huge with all the organic matter fermenting away. Now, add all the collective jet streams of the entire population of North America since the dawn of man on earth.”
If you could picture your own personal jet stream behind you, it would be huge for each of us. Our focus and the concept of Trash Talk is for everyone to decrease their personal jet stream, to look back and realize what’s there, what you have created, and how you can cut that down from standing right where you are now.
Unfortunately, most of each of our jet streams probably has not even decomposed yet.
Dave: That’s right. Sadly, the way the landfills have been treated in the past is that all organic matter has been mixed in with everything else, the plastics and the metals, in what is called an anaerobic environment where things don’t break down properly. In a compost bin, of course, you have layers of green and browns. That’s where a compost works great. With organics and plastics and all the stuff mixed together, it doesn’t work.
What do you think makes your book unique from other books about recycling?
Dave: I think our book talks about the four “R”s in maybe a different order, or what we call the proper order. Some people just talk about three “R”s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We also include a fourth “R” Refuse which we start with.
Refusing is choosing not to buy what manufacturers have put out as non-recyclable packaging or overpackaged items, and refusing to be consumer sheep and just buying what’s out there. Try to shop around and buy products with packaging that can be reused or recycled. As a consumer, use your voice. Tell that manufacturer that you refuse to buy their product unless they change their packaging. As a consumer, we have the power to shift that. We are their customers, so if they hear the voice saying, “We want something different,” it will change.
That actually will help support and give more profit to the companies that are doing the right thing.
Dave: That’s right. A lot of people obviously are using the “eco,” the green thing, as a marketing ploy, but it definitely sells products. People are thinking that way now. So, energy efficiency and “green,” “good for the earth,” “eco-friendly,” all those terms are now used as a marketing strategy.
What is the second “R”?
Dave: The second “R” we talk about after Refusing is Reducing. Reduce the packaging you buy when you purchase. Don’t buy products that are not in bulk. When you buy in bulk, you can take that product home and put it in your own packaging. Reducing in this way when you shop makes a huge difference. Lillian and I go as far as to buy things that are hopefully in a container we can reuse for other things, such as peanut butter and mayonnaise. Those all come in the nice, plastic, recyclable sealable container with screw-on lids. We used those for years as dry good containers in our shop and in the garden. Reuse them like that for any kind of packaging, and after reusing them for years you can still recycle them.
The main thing is that you’ve not taxed the recycling system by putting it straight to the blue bin. You’ve reused it for a few years and got some more life out of it.
The third “R” we like to talk about is Reusing. Reusing involves donating, refurbishing and repairing anything you can do with an item that’s going to give it some more life before you take it to the final step of recycling. We’re not saying the fourth “R” of recycling is bad or negative. It’s a wonderful thing, but I don’t think we should all rely upon it as the be-all and end-all.
Lillian: After we talk about the recycling and the four “R”s and the real steps people can apply around their home, and ways to save money by doing so, we get into how to use appliances more efficiently, how to save energy around the home, how to use gardening skills to make a difference in the environment, and how to reduce water use. It’s not just about what goes into your waste bin. It’s your overall impact on the environment that we focus on.
Dave: We consider wasted energy a waste, as well. It is a waste of resources that is taxing our environment. Any resource you have is taxing the environment in some way. As the subtitle of our book says, it’s an inspirational guide to saving time and money through better waste and resource management. We don’t waste anything if we can help it.
Lillian: We really try to focus on keeping a positive outlook on things, showing people the real and measurable difference that they’re making with each of the steps that we suggest. We show how they’re saving money. We give examples of the difference that it makes and what studies have revealed. For example, if you reduce your organic waste stream by a third and then, of course, recycle your organic waste into compost, it turns into a valuable product to fertilize your garden and yard, which you no longer have to pay for. It’s an ongoing chain.
Dave: Yeah, it’s a snowball effect, really.
Since writing your column and releasing your book, I’m sure you have seen people who have changed their minds about reducing, reusing, refusing and recycling. What have you learned about what it takes to shift one’s mindset toward saving resources as opposed to not caring about it?
Lillian: I think the main thing is to show people that they have the power, to help them not feel so overwhelmed by all the negativity. We’re all bombarded by all this negativity, and we start feeling like, “Jeez, we’ve got to have a lot of money, we’ve got to have a lot of time, what can little us do in our little home?” We show how you really can make a difference, and we’ve had people contact us to say that their children are now having contests in their home to find ways to reuse items. Schools are taking up the whole idea. People are telling us how they’ve saved money. A friend of ours contacted us from a few cities away and said that she didn’t realize how much her actions were ultimately impacting and doing a positive thing. It gave her a whole new inspiration and feeling about it. She started feeling a lot more positive and began more proactive activity.
Dave: It gave her a feeling of hope, seeing that even though she’s only one person doing a few small things, it does add up. And it will influence people around you, too. It creates a circle of chain reactions around you.
Are you sensing a mind shift collectively?
Dave: I think so, yeah. It was already on the way. The idea was out there, but our book was timely in being able to share ideas with people who were already in that mindset and inspire them that much farther and the people on the verge have just been boosted a bit.
Lillian: That’s right. Actually it wasn’t too long after the book was published that we started hearing more commercials about zero waste initiatives. It was just perfect timing, really.
Explain zero-waste initiatives.
Dave: The zero-waste initiative, locally for us, means that they’re doing curbside pickup of recycling goods. They’ve gone so far as even picking up all our organic yard waste, trimmings and grass, if you leave them out in a certain format. The dump itself is sorting through all your woods, metals, recyclables, paints and dangerous goods. Those are all now separated. Any organic wastes now are being treated in such a way that they’re going to process them into a reusable landscaping product, like a mulch. Zero waste means they’re taking steps to cut down everything going to the dump that’s organic, and separating anything that can be reused or recycled in any way. Bigger cities have been composting at the dump for years now, and they’ve made a viable product out of it.
Would you consider Canada pretty progressive in terms of doing all of that?
Dave: I would. Nationwide, I would say we’re pretty much getting there. Zero waste is introduced into all the communities. Of course, each community is not at the same level as the others right now.
Lillian: We’re seeing a lot more interest in e-recycling, recycling your electronic waste. You’ll be seeing that more in the larger cities than you will in the smaller towns. Slowly these things are spreading across the continent and we’re really getting there. We really are. And it’s a wonderful feeling and quite inspiring and we’re very hopeful about the future.
Maybe pretty soon we’ll have stores where you walk in and you look at things that have been rebuilt from reused products.
Lillian: I hope so!
Dave: Yeah, that’s the future. It’s here now I think. It’s just a little slow in coming. It needs to just happen a little more.
Lillian: We all need to encourage it to happen a little more.
Ultimately, why do you do what you do in regard to the time and energy you spend on the idea of reducing, reusing, refusing and recycling trash?
Lillian: For us, I think it’s a matter of legacy, not a matter of having our name in print or gaining fame out of it. We really just want to make a difference. About eight years or so ago, Dave and I were going through some life-changing experiences. I had been involved in a couple accidents and we were going through some other happenings that really had us questioning our efforts. We looked back and we’re thinking, “Jeez, we’re struggling away, we’re surviving like everybody else, and what difference have we made in the world, you know? When we pass, what has our life been worth?”
Dave: What are we going to leave behind, yeah?
Lillian: Because we were embarking upon a writing career, we decided to use our talents to try to make a difference in the world and inspire people from the home level.
Is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about?
Dave: Even though it seems overwhelming to try to make a difference in the world with all the environmental concerns, just try to start where you are. Start small. Don’t think that you have to put out a huge amount of money or time into a big cause. You don’t necessarily have to do that to make a difference. You can start where you are. Start by decreasing your own personal jet stream and your own personal resource output, and you can make a difference by doing that. Remarkably you’ll see within no time a small to large difference. It depends on the efforts that you put in. You will notice a difference.
We’ve gotten to the point where instead of two or three bags on the curb of trash, we’re down to about a quarter to a half bag per week now. So we go out and start cleaning the trails where we walk and hike, and we bring trash back from there and start filling up our curbside bag just to make our quota (laughing). We’ve noticed a big difference in our efforts, just in the curbside output, and we’re spending a lot less when we think about how we spend.
For Trash Talk articles and more information, visit www.sunshinecable.com/~drumit. The site features: more than 70 links to waste and resource organizations where the reader will learn more about better waste management and networking between groups can be done; a free “Tip-of-the-Month” where visitors can learn and share reduction and reuse ideas; and much more.