Just one can of trash a year? It's possible

Just one can of trash a year? It's possible »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. - Most of us recycle and try not to waste anything but imagine filling only one trash can in an entire year.

Sound impossible? It's not. A local couple - Betty and John Shelley - is making it happen and they're saving themselves $400 a year on garbage service in the process. Their quest to be thrifty started years ago when John lost his job.

So what's their secret? How are they able to pare down their garbage to just one trash can a year?

Betty says it's all about reduce, reuse and recycle and she's got some simple tips that anyone can do to reduce their waste. She teaches a 'Reduce Your Waste, Reduce Your Impact' class and is offering a discount for KATU viewers. Just send her an email at greenhouseone@gmail.com for details. Or you can start saving now with some of the tips she gave us.

Betty's Tips


  • Use durables instead of throw-aways, like using cloth instead of paper towels and napkins.
  • Buy bulk in the food department so you've got just the amount you need and avoid food waste.
  • Use a lipstick brush to get the last bit of lipstick out of the container - because there's still a third of it there to use.
  • Make your own cleaning products so you avoid having to get rid of the packaging when they're used up.
  • Don't put your fruits and vegetables in plastic bags at the supermarket. And if you're worried about them getting dirty on the conveyor belt - don't. You're going to wash them anyway at home.


  • Donate old wine corks, candle nubs and leftover ribbon to Scrap, an organization that resells craft supplies at a discount.
  • Donate packing supplies to local mailing stores.
  • Donate extra office supplies to your neighborhood school.
  • Rinse plastic bags and foil so you can reuse them.


  • Recycle beyond your curbside. Certain items can be taken to a drop site. Rigid plastics like caps, lids, spools and stretchy plastic bags can be recycled but crinkly plastics are not recyclable and will have to go in the trash. For more information on reducing your trash or finding beyond-curbside recyclers, head to Metro's website.
  • Compost food scraps. Put anything that isn't going into the compost, like grease, into a plastic bag and stick it in the freezer. That way it won't stink up what little trash you have that's sitting in the garbage can.

Tips for Families

I took Betty's advice and put together a list of my own of four easy things families can do to cut waste. Here are my tips:

Stop Throwing in the Towel

If your family is like mine, we use a lot of paper towels and napkins.  Instead, try using a cloth napkin for each family member at each meal.  Use the napkins for a few days at a time.  And if you're packing your child's lunch, slip in a cloth napkin instead of a paper one.

Pack Lunches Wisely
Switch out zippered plastic bags for small glass containers.  Pack real silverware instead of plastic.  And instead of individual juice box and mini milk, use a thermos.  You'll find that you save money, too.

Make it Easy to Recycle
In addition to a trash can, place a small can for recycling in every room.  Make it convenient, and your family will be more likely to recycle.

Build Your Own Recycling Center
Besides a spot for paper, put a labeled paper sack for the following items under your kitchen sink:

  • Metal - cans, lids, aluminum foil (rinsed)
  • Glass - jars (rinsed)
  • Hard Plastics - caps, containers (These items can go to a beyond-curbside recycler, perhaps every 6 months.)
  • Stretchy Plastics - bread bags, newspaper bags (These items can go to a beyond-curbside recycler, perhaps every 6 months.)
  • SCRAP - craft/office/school supplies (Donate, perhaps every 6 months.)