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Keeping up with the Joneses'... garbage can.

By Jana Fischback

City of Wenatchee residents who are Waste Management customers recently joined the rest of the area in being able to choose their garbage can size. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach (with everyone having a 96 gallon can), now those in Wenatchee also have the choice of two smaller cans, a 64-gallon or 35-gallon option. Wenatchee customers have until April 9th to decide. Find a FAQ here.

So what’s an eco-minded person to do? If you’re reading this, you’re likely interested in reducing your ecological footprint and trying to produce less waste. Of course, you can try to estimate what size you’d need by how full you typically fill your current can. If you only ever fill up your old 96-gallon can about halfway, should you opt for a 35- or 64-gallon? I’m here to convince you, you can do it! Get that little guy!

Warning, here comes some math. In illustrating the new options, Waste Management shows a couple with the smallest can, a family of 3 with the medium size, and a family of four with the biggest option (though the text says 5-7 people). They also say that a 35-gallon holds two bags, a 64 holds three, and a 96-gallon holds seven.

For the heck of it, since tomorrow is garbage day for me, I just checked how many bags are in my can. I live in Chelan County, just outside of city limits, and we have a 32 gallon can. That’s just a bit smaller than the smallest size for Wenatchee. I’m mindful of my waste, but I’m no zero waste hero (YET). I live with my husband and two young kids, plus a medium-sized dog. All that to say, we had 3 fairly full garbage bags that filled the can right up to the top. I definitely could have squished more in there if needed. These were the white kitchen bags from Costco which are 13-gallon, so that sounds right - each were filled maybe about 10-11 gallons worth = 32ish gallons.

I like to think that my family is “normal,” but there’s really no such thing of course. I'd guess the average household size in my neighborhood is four, maybe five people. But very few other homes around us also have the little can. That has given me a sense of pride because the average American produces about 5 pounds of garbage per day. Yikes. However, I still look at this picture of three bags and think - what's in there, anyway? Despite recycling, composting, and cloth diapering, we could definitely do better.

Even though it's small, we’ve never struggled with not being able to fit our garbage in our can. If I can easily fit three bags, it makes me think that the 64-gallon must be able to fit closer to four to five totally full bags. That’d adds up if you’re talking about 13 gallon bags, 5 x 13 = 65. Seven bags for the 96-gallon sounds right.

If you are thinking of going for the little can, here’s three things to encourage you:

  1. If you opt for a smaller can than you think you need, and you end up really needing a bigger one, you get one free change within the year. Wenatchee customers have until April 2022 to do one free switch. If you waited until after that timeframe, you can still switch, you’d just be charged a service fee of around $17.00 This is also true for others who live in Chelan or Douglas County, East Wenatchee, etc: if you currently have a bigger can and think you can downsize, the $17 fee pays for itself after just a couple of months.

  2. If you’re on the fence, and every once-and-a-while will have too much garbage for the smaller can, there’s also the option of putting out an extra bag* for about $4. You can put it in your own 32-gallon can or put a bag on the street. 32-gallons is around a typical black trash bag size, or a medium size lawn/leaf bag (not the huge ones). So if once or twice a year you’ve got lots of company over, or throw a huge party, you’ve got some insurance without needing to size up.

  3. You'll save money! Downsizing to the smallest can will nearly cut your bill in half. Use that money to buy yourself some nice unpaper towels or a Sustainable Wenatchee membership. Wink wink.

What about recycling?** That’s “included” for all Waste Management customers, but remember, this is not a truly free service. The price of recycling is included in what you pay for trash. While you don’t want to be an aspirational recycler - trying to recycle things when you’re really not sure - if you faithfully recycle right, that should help you to downsize your garbage can.

One caveat though. With the new changes to Waste Management’s services in Wenatchee, customers there can no longer put glass in their recycling bin. Now East Wenatchee and Cashmere are the only local places where glass is still accepted curbside. (Leavenworth residents can take their glass to the Leavenworth Recycle Center thanks to Waste Loop). According to Waste Management, this is because there’s a lack of local glass recyclers in the area. So if you’re someone who buys a lot of products in glass, this would be something to consider, as now that glass belongs in your grey bin, not your blue one. And besides Leavenworth, there are no local drop-off recycling locations for glass.

The best option is to try to reduce bringing home glass as much as possible: reuse glass containers with a lid just as you would a mason jar. Refill your beer, cider and kombucha growlers or buy them in a can. And *gasp* consider buying boxed or canned wine. I’ve actually found a couple of local organic wineries that offer boxed wine that’s just as good as the bottled stuff. You can read more about glass crushing/recycling/repurposing in our blog from 2019.

Finally, if you’re up to it, do a waste audit of what you’re throwing away to identify any room for improvement. What do you see over and over again? If it’s food waste, start a composting bin and actually eat all the produce you buy (please teach me this skill if you master it). If you can, buy higher quality items that will last longer, including clothes, and repair when you can. Opt for reusable items over disposable whenever possible. Also, consider the bulky stuff. All styrofoam (even soiled take-out cartons) can be taken to Dolco. High volume trash like berry containers and TetraPaks can't be recycled in NCW, but you can smash them down.

Working toward less waste is a journey, one we'll never quite reach the end of, unless you become one of those crazy/amazing people who keep their garbage in a mason jar. Let's not take this chance to judge our neighbors' garbage can sizes. There's enough division out there, we don't need people saying, "Oh, I see you opted for the 96er, huh?" But I hope you're encouraged to challenge yourself a bit. We might not be in the Zero Waste club, but "Don't do nothing just because you can't do everything." - Colleen Patrick Goudreau.


*You can do this with recycling too, just not in a plastic bag. Extra recycling should be put in a cardboard box or large paper bag. It also will cost around $4. Never ever ever put plastic bags in the recycle!

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