Two People, Sixteen Months, One Can of Trash: An OregonLive Story on NWEI Volunteers Betty and Jon Shelley

NWEI volunteer Betty Shelley dates a bag of garbage under her sink
NWEI volunteer Betty Shelley dates a bag of garbage under her sink

Last week Portland’s Oregonian newspaper shared the following story on NWEI volunteers Betty and Jon Shelley via OregonLive. Read on to learn more about how the Shelleys have managed to reduce their trash output to one can of garbage in 16 months! For the full story, click here.

Taking 16 months to fill one 35-gallon can with trash is the best the Shelleys have done so far in reducing their waste.

They wrote no blog chronicling a year of sudden, anti-garbage inspiration with panicked Styrofoam-meat-tray-crinkly-cereal-box-liner moments. Instead, their effort to cut back on waste started slowly more than 20 years ago with the question: Where is “away” when something is thrown away?

That led to habits Jon Shelley says now come as naturally as breathing, making their feat not much trouble at all. But how does someone else get to that point?

A recycling information specialist at Metro, Betty Shelley heard that question enough she decided to teach a three-part class on reducing waste. In “Less is more: Getting to one can of garbage a year,” she details her many habits and explains how, most importantly, she carefully considers what she brings home, asking, Where will it go when it’s used up, served its purpose or breaks? Because while recycling matters, reducing consumption reigns.

The Shelleys don’t have curbside service of any kind for trash, recycling or compost. She estimates they save $400 annually on garbage alone. Recycling goes to Far West Fibers. Vegetable peels get composted in the backyard. They eat meat as something other than a main course roughly three times a week, and what few bones exist (she usually buys skinless boneless chicken breasts) go in a bag in the freezer…So now, every six months a neighbor composts the bones in exchange for cookies.

Buying in bulk reduces waste
Buying in bulk reduces waste

In her tidy Southwest Portland kitchen, Betty Shelley has an organized system under the sink. A paper grocery bag marked 11/13/12, the most recent starting date, holds the garbage, which is neatly flattened and will eventually get packed tight as a brick. Another paper bag contains paper recycling. A smaller bag contains ferrous metal such as steel and iron. And another contains nonferrous metal such as aluminum.

No more paper towels
Because they buy staples such as rice, honey, syrup, quinoa, oats, corn meal and beans in bulk, they don’t have much packaging to recycle. The Shelleys’ first big change was to stop using disposable paper napkins, towels and plates. Betty tells those in her class they can use cloth napkins multiple times before washing them with other items so they don’t require a separate load.

“We gradually noticed our garbage was less and less and we found other options for things you would throw away,” she says. So they dropped to monthly garbage service. In 2006, they got it down to one can a year.

Not only did they curate what they took in, but they also found creative ways to purge: rubber bands from produce went to a nearby elementary school and candle ends to Scrap, a Portland environmental nonprofit…

The Shelleys continually assess how they can go greener. They reused the pipes from a rooftop solar water heating system as deck fencing. Slate stones unearthed from their backyard are now pathways around the house and cemented to the foundation as decorative trim…Her latest habit: She carries a takeout container in the car for leftovers.

And a favorite point is this: “People don’t realize they’re role models for others. They think someone big and important has to be a role model — a celebrity or intellectual.”

For the full article and tips for reducing waste, click here.


Comments are closed.