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6 ways to reduce garbage at the cottage

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For a lot of us, a childhood trip to the cottage dump was a great adventure—especially if, most of the time, we lived somewhere where garbage simply disappeared in the back of a snorting, rumbling truck. Whether your parents or grandparents were inveterate dump pickers or simply drive-and-drop types, there was always a strange, smelly fascination with those piles of garbage and their attendant populations of gulls, deer and bears.

Nowadays, it’s a little harder to quash the guilt that goes with garbage disposal—and with many rural landfills and transfer stations launching mandatory recycling and increased costs for disposal, garbage reduction has become a whole lot more interesting than garbage picking.

Follow our tips for greening your garbage at the cottage.

Reuse everything—even disposables

Reader Karen Hatton shared this clever garbage-saving tip with us on Facebook: “Wanted to share our cottage solution for cutting down on the use of too many disposable cups. At the beginning of the weekend everyone takes a cup and doodles their name and a character on their cup. When not in use, cups get hung on a string with a clothespin. This keeps them out of the way and the kids love it!”

If you get plastic disposable dishes, you can wash and reuse them for a weekend, then recycle them when you get home. Ideally, though, don’t use disposables at all. If your cottage is short on dishes, hit a garage sale or thrift shop on your way up, and make a game out of stocking your kitchen with the tackiest (cheapest) dishes you can find.

Plan meals carefully

Even though food is biodegradable, it still takes up space in a landfill, and can create large amounts of greenhouse gases as it decomposes. Plan your meals carefully to avoid food waste and unnecessary leftovers—or make sure you bring plastic containers so you can take those leftovers home with you.

Bring up as little packaging as possible

If recycling facilities at your cottage are limited, take items out of their packaging before you leave and recycle the wrapping at home. Transport food in reusable containers, rather than throwing boxes and wrappers in the cottage trash. Buy frequently used items in bulk, then bring up only what you need each trip, or keep them in bulk dispensers. And if you have to use bottled water, buy large bottles rather than individual ones.

Find eco-friendly crafts

Rather than pre-purchased craft materials, look for ways to incorporate natural items into rainy day activities. Glue dried flowers onto a cereal box to store jewellery, make a model city out of sticks or colour on fallen birch bark. Collect paper that’s been printed on one side for cottage sketchbooks or scratch pads. Reuse old paper for score pads.

Think about composting

A cottage compost pile can be easy to maintain and can stay wildlife-free if you avoid meat and dairy products and use a sealed container. (One that rotates can make turning your compost—a must to speed up decomposition—easier and a lot less messy.) If you’re nervous about attracting bears, a smaller kitchen composter can be a good alternative—or, if you fish at the cottage, look into getting a worm composter.

Get the kids involved in tracking your waste

Set a goal for the family—like one less bag of garbage each visit—and involve your kids and guests in helping you meet the goal. A colourful chart and a reward for good behaviour can turn waste-watching into a fun game.

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