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Waste Management on a Homestead

 
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Hello everyone,

I'm what you could call a "recent convert" to the idea of homesteading; after 5 years of office work post-college I've come to the conclusion that my real calling in life is to lead my family out of the city and begin a radically new kind of life, building a homestead, hopefully with my sister and her husband being a prt of the project. I've never been involved in growing, farming, or homesteading and I have so much to learn its overwhelming, so I expect I'll be asking MANY questions here in the next two years before we move and begin our homestead. But for now I just wanted to start with one questions that's been fascinating me since I started planning this: how do homesteaders handle waste management?

Obviously this could include human waste, but I'm mainly interested in what would normally just be "garbage". For our homestead I plan to get the land in the next year or two and gradually scale the operation up in terms of size, sophistication, and sustainability measures. So probably for the first couple years we would just be on the regular garbage service. But a major part of my dream is for us to "disentangle from the modern world" as much as we can, and I would really like to see this include sustainability measures such as environmentally friendly waste management.

SO...for homesteaders that have gone down the self-reliant, sustainability path this far, how do you handle your waste? Do most people just rely on normal garbage services, or have many people developed their own systems for waste management? What do you recommend to a total newbie?
 
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I think you can't go wrong with the old "refuse-reduce-reuse-recycle-repurpose" (a few more have been added since I first learned this, but I think they're all relevant.
Think about what waste you're producing. Some is inevitable, I think for most people. There are lots of smart ideas for repurposing things here on the forum, maybe you can switch some waste to things that you can repurpose, maybe eliminate other purchases. I've heard of people switching feed brands to get a paper bag that they can use as mulch instead of a plastic bag (although those plastic feed bags may have use as well).
I live in the city, but on occasion I spend some time with a friend who's got a homestead in the sticks with no trash service or recycling. Any trash needs to be packed out (there's the specific answer to your question- in their case, all has to be driven out to the nearest small town that has a dumping station. When I leave to go home I take the trash with me.) and it made me think about things a bit differently.
 
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I produce one bag of garbage per month.  That is, material that ends up in a dumpster for commercial pick up. I have a 4 bin composting system.  Food scraps go to the dogs, chickens, or pigs.   Paper is saved to start fires in the winter or to make seed starter cups.  Some paper is used in worm beds otherwise composted.  I try to keep plastic to a minimum as well as cans.  I squash what I can't repurpose down, and that ends up in the monthly garbage bag.  Oh yes, while we do have flush toilets, I also have a commercial composting toilet.
 
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I agree with most of what has already been said.

Our problem is what to do with big things that don't fit in a trash can. I don't want our property to look like something I have heard others say. "I bought a property with junk everywhere" or something like that.

For a year we had an ice maker sitting on our front porch.  I paid our kids to paint the house so they finally hauled it off.

I have not had my washer go out, yet, but if or when it does what do I do with it?  No one will deliver a new washer or haul the old one off.

Just my thoughts...
 
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Nikolai, welcome to Permies!

Reducing garbage (or "trash" as it's called here in the south) is both a goal and a learning process. I'm almost ashamed to admit that after we dispatched and processed our first chickens, we didn't know what to do with the waste, so we put it in the garbage and took it to the landfill! (We have no garbage service). Now we bury it wherever we want to feed the soil. We've also discovered that pigs will make short work of such waste, and do it with delight. Our basic rule is that if we grew it here, it feeds something one way or another: chickens, goats, and pigs get kitchen, canning, and garden waste, the soil gets everything else either through compost or burial.

The only thing we throw away as trash is from stuff we buy: packaging (mostly plastic), stuff that breaks and is unfixable (also mostly plastic). We use empty feed bags as our garbage bags, so I don't buy plastic trash bags to turn around and throw away.

In addition to trash, we also haul away recyclables (glass, cardboard, plastic, and metal cans), although much of this can obviously be reused. Glass and plastic can be used as containers for other things (leftovers, hardware, seed storage, etc.) Cardboard can be used as fire starter, mulch, or vermiculture. Metal cans can be used as planters. There are lots of creative ideas here on the forums, and I'm sure you already have a few of our own.

My personal pet peeve is plastic, because it doesn't decompose, it disintegrates into smaller particles of plastic. So my goal is to decrease bringing it home (likely near impossible, but something I work toward anyway.) My learning process has been in finding alternatives for plastic items. In part, that's meant learning alternative ways of doing things, or even doing without.

Like everything else we do in homesteading, we find ourselves analyzing what we're doing and why, and then start asking if there's another way to do it! Then little by little, we eventually reach our goals of greater sustainability and less waste.





 
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Like Leigh, my number one trash item is plastic. Just about everything else (and some of the plastic too)  can get recycled, repurposed, composted, or given to someone else. I try to avoid buying plastic, but that's impossible. But when given the choice, I'll buy the item without the plastic, and clothing without synthetics.  I'm not totally against plastic. It has its place in life and sometimes is the better choice. But generally, it's plastic that ends up in our trashcan.

In order to reduce your trash load, try exploring ways to repurpose and compost items. Ask around to see who would like some of your discarded items. Around me there are people wanting styrofoam, glass, cardboard, egg cartons, old clothing, wood, old clothes dryers, broken freezers and frigs, discarded wiring, carpeting, etc. The trick is in finding them and setting up a connection network.
 
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Anne Miller wrote:I agree with most of what has already been said.

Our problem is what to do with big things that don't fit in a trash can. I don't want our property to look like something I have heard others say. "I bought a property with junk everywhere" or something like that.

For a year we had an ice maker sitting on our front porch.  I paid our kids to paint the house so they finally hauled it off.

I have not had my washer go out, yet, but if or when it does what do I do with it?  No one will deliver a new washer or haul the old one off.

Just my thoughts...



Get a youngster to bury it and plant peanuts on the mound to keep the soil from eroding. Crown vetch is attractive. (I've done this)
 
master steward
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Burl Smith wrote:

Anne Miller wrote:I agree with most of what has already been said.

Our problem is what to do with big things that don't fit in a trash can. I don't want our property to look like something I have heard others say. "I bought a property with junk everywhere" or something like that.

For a year we had an ice maker sitting on our front porch.  I paid our kids to paint the house so they finally hauled it off.

I have not had my washer go out, yet, but if or when it does what do I do with it?  No one will deliver a new washer or haul the old one off.

Just my thoughts...



Get a youngster to bury it and plant peanuts on the mound to keep the soil from eroding. Crown vetch is attractive. (I've done this)


What are the advantages to burying it?  Seems like you're putting lots of weird things into your soil to rot/rust/percolate and probably still be there in 20 years?

I'd be tempted to partially disassemble the washer, save the motor for some future project (or sell it), use the perforated tub as an in ground composter or compost sifter or some other application, and take the rest to the scrap yard to exchange for money.  Or put it at the curb with a "free but broken" sign on it.  Or contact a scrapper via craigslist who will take it along with any other metal scrap to the nearest scrapyard.  Or if it's broken in a way you can't/won't fix, put an ad on craigslist explaining the issue and offering it for free to someone handy.
 
John F Dean
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Great point regarding the large items.  I think I have every refrigrator I have bought in the past 20 years.  One ended up with a thermostat problem. It froze everything. So, I kept it as an upright freezer.  Another stopped working. That is lockable tool storage in the barn.  Other appliances have been hauled away by an old friend for scrap at no charge to me.
 
Anne Miller
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When I was writing my post I forgot about the freezer that went out not long ago.  It is sitting just outside the barn, still on the dolly.

No way would I ever try to bury big stuff like that that will not degrade. Like I said in my other post

I don't want our property to look like something I have heard others say. "I bought a property with junk everywhere" or something like that.



I don't want to hear  "I bought a property with junk buried everywhere" or something like that.

We can't compost so we have three places that we feed the wildlife.  One is for vegetables only, one is for food with meat, the third is at a back corner where an old culvert existed. That culvert is a haven for rattlesnakes.  And where our deer hunters put the remains from gutting and butchering their deer.  We have been doing this for about six years.  I never see any of the remains that we put out nor do we see the wildlife that cleans it up.
 
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I believe there are some systems to melt or compact plastics into bricks, to build with.  Not sure how feasible these would be at homestead scale.
 
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This thread - https://permies.com/t/135617/permaculture-upcycling/ungarbage/Creative-ideas-parts-broken-washers - is all about reusing material from broken washers and dryers. I can think of way better uses for them that burying them for some other person to find 50 years from now and say a bunch of not-nice words about.

I think a big part of waste management on the homestead has three parts:
1. Think of how you will dispose of something *before* you get it in the first place. You might change your mind about getting it!
2. Think of how much of it is easy to recycle or store for re-use.
3. Think of how much is biodegradable and on what time scale. thomas rubino posted a picture of a tree growing through a rotted out car here - https://permies.com/t/540/134939/Game-Picture-Association#1086249 . It's a good example of nature succeeding against all odds, but a part of me questions did anyone drain the oil and other toxic fluids out before they just abandoned it in the field?
 
John F Dean
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Hi Anne,

It just hit me. I made a misleading statement in a previous post.  I was speaking of my garbage.
I moved on my property over 20 years ago. I am still dealing with a pile of trash that was dumped in the woods before my purchase.  I make a point of hauling out 20 contractor sized bags a year. That is over 400 bags since I moved here.  What is frustrating is that a month ago, I took a walk along my creek bed and found bottles in the creek on the edge of my property. I have no idea where they came from.  To add to the excitement, I located the footings to what looks like an old homestead.  So now, as I clean up, I have to stay aware there might be a well.
 
pollinator
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I deal with most waste on farm.
I feed a lot of food stuff to my chickens.
I compost what can be composted.
I have a burn barrel where a lot of stuff gets burnt.
What doesn't go that way will be a truckbox full to the municipal landfill once per year. They charge to take stuff, and it is a hassle, so taking something to the landfill is a last resort.
A big thing is too think before buying anything, will it wear out and have to go soon? Is there a bunch of obnoxious packaging? If so maybe don't buy it.
 
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Anne Miller wrote:When I was writing my post I forgot about the freezer that went out not long ago.  It is sitting just outside the barn, still on the dolly..



you know, you could build a mini root cellar out of that freezer...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evM7taps76s
 
Anne Miller
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Thanks for all the suggestions on the freezer.  It is a chest type and will probably be used to store things.

If it gets moved back into the barn, it could be used for feed.  If it stays were it is it will probably be too hot so maybe tools?

Maybe potting soil, etc?
 
Leigh Tate
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Speaking of old fridges and freezers; I can't post any photos of this because they aren't mine, but here is a link to some folks who cleverly turned an old fridge into a worm farm.

Out Back Tania:  the wormery ~ and adventure in vermiculture

Lots of photos and complete details.
 
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Speaking of composting clothing - what about clothing from natural fibers, but with almost-certainly synthetic dyes? I have some that is worn out, but am hesitant to add the dyed fibers to our compost system. But...carbon. It's hard to find enough carbonaceous materials around here...so I'd like to compost them if it's safe to do so.

I've read pieces online that say "yes", and others that say "no". One source says the dyes will break down in sunlight, so I could perhaps hang them on the line for several months first until they're bleached by the sun, but...we've enough problem maintaining the minimum level of respectability in our tiny village 'stead.

What wisdom do you kind folk have to offer?
 
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Another use for a fridge or freezer: build a cheese cave, if you have dairy animals.
 
Yeah, but does being a ninja come with a dental plan? And what about this tiny ad?
Native Bee Guide by Crown Bees
https://permies.com/wiki/105944/Native-Bee-Guide-Crown-Bees
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