How does a person living off the grid dispose of trash?

How does a person living off the grid in a remote area dispose of trash? Raymond California

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That’s an excellent question. Because I don’t live off the grid in a remote area, I asked one of my buddies in Vermont who does. He and his wife built their house by hand in the middle of the mountains, and they power it with a small wind turbine and solar panels. His lifestyle, house, handiwork, organic garden, and lack of electricity bills (not to mention his jaw-dropping views from the front porch) all make me extremely jealous, so I don’t talk to him that much. But for you, Raymond, I made an exception. His response: “We put our trash into a trash can, and haul it to the landfill every couple of weeks. Duh.”

Well there you have it.

An even better question to ask people who live off the grid is, “How much trash do you create?” In most cases, the answer is almost none. And you can easily follow their lead, no matter where you live.

First, start composting—if you don’t already. About one-quarter of all household solid waste that goes to landfills consists of yard trimmings and food matter that can be composted in your back yard (and then used to feed your garden). Think of the money municipalities would save, the reduction in landfill space, and the drop in garbage truck fuel consumption if everyone started composting.

Second, reduce the amount of packaging you use. Buy as much from the grocery store bulk bins as you can—like sugar, flour, spices, nuts, and pasta. (It’ll also save you money.) Bring a reusable shopping bag. Use glass food storage containers for the fridge, instead of Zip-Loc bags, tin foil, and plastic wrap. (If you do buy Zip-Locs, clean and reuse them).

Third, recycle—and I’m not just talking about paper, plastic, and bottles. Instead of throwing out furniture, clothes, books, toys, or (gasp) electronics, advertise your stuff on sites like and, and sell them or give them away to whoever is willing to pick them up.

Finally, don’t buy plastic stuff, or stuff packaged in plastic. My off-the-grid buddy would sooner see me giftwrap a wooden-framed photo of Dick Cheney for his five-year-old daughter’s birthday than give her a Barbie sealed in that insidious clamshell packaging. He follows all of the steps I’ve mentioned, and a few I’m no doubt missing. And at the end of the day, he savors the fact that he threw almost nothing in the trash—no doubt while he’s sitting on the front porch, chewing a piece of celery from his organic garden and enjoying the sun setting over the mountains while his wind turbine hums gently in the background. That bastard.

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