Living remotely means, among other things, that we receive no municipal services for trash and garbage disposal or recycling. Surely anyone with a hunting cabin or a bug out location has had to do some of the following: We have become very intentional about what we haul out to our home because we have to figure out how to dispose of what remains! I have been inspired by Internet sources like “1000 uses for wooden pallets” and whimsical yard art from cans as well as techniques referred to now as “zero waste kitchens,” which I realize, applies to what I have been doing for a while now.
Below are examples of what we do with wood ash, vegetable and meat leftovers (including bones), animal and human waste, packaging, and construction debris. Many ideas may be useful to people, wherever they live.
Because we heat our home and hot tub with wood, we generate a lot of ash.
As a fertilizer, wood ash reads 0-1-3 and softens acidic soil, which is what our property needs… in modest amounts. (Get soil samples) The main recipients of the ash, though, are the chickens. Ash deodorizes their coop in winter and they like to fluff their feathers with it when they do their dust baths all year long. Some people use dark ash to encourage snow to melt, but I find that unattractive.
The best use I read was by a man up here whose cabin burned down last winter. He stomped out the word “HELP” in the snow and filled the depressions with ash, to be seen by a passing airplane. It worked…after he had been stranded for 10 days.
Kitchen and garden scraps
Vegetarian kitchen and garden scraps can be repurposed for the benefits of human, animal, and garden recipients. Most of the scraps I give to the animals, but I also save vegetable bits for a pot of veggy broth from time to time. This includes the water from vegetables that I blanch (to freeze). I NEVER cook savory dishes with plain water. I ALWAYS use homemade vegetable or meat or fish broth in rice, soup, stews, gravies, etc. Bruised or other vegetable scraps that I don’t save for us or the animals (like citrus and onion peels) are trenched directly into gardens to enrich the soil or stored over winter (15 gallons) for the same. (I haven’t had great luck with compost piles, but I do make compost tea all summer for feeding plants). Worm farms (vermiculture) also eat vegetarian kitchen scraps and produce wonderful soil in thanks. Whenever I boil potatoes or pasta, I save a cup or two of that water to make bread the next day. The starch in the water feeds the yeast and tends to produce a softer loaf than “plain” water.
Some vegetarian scraps have specific applications. Sprays made from onion, hot peppers, rhubarb leaves, and tomato leaves repel many pests. I dump coffee grounds and smashed egg shells in my potting soil. The Botanical Garden in Anchorage plants its potatoes in pots filled only with coffee grounds scrounged from local coffee bars. Banana and orange peels deter aphids, deliver potassium, phosphorous, and some nitrogen. Eggshells deliver calcium – particularly important to tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and squash. The poultry benefit, too. I pulverize shells and add them to their water or food. Sharp shells supposedly deter slugs, but were inadequate in that regard during a particularly wet and sluggy summer (2020).
All bones flavor broth. When the liquid cools, the bones are fished out and offered to the poultry. After the birds have picked them clean, the bones are tossed into the wood stove to burn to ash for the gardens (0-12-0 nutrients). (Burning bones smell BAD).
Fat from beef, ham, and pork I cut up and save. Some is dropped into pots of beans or soup to add a meaty flavor and a silky mouthfeel. Other pieces are fed to the poultry in winter as a calorie dense treat. The only fat I have rendered into lard is bear fat. Bacon grease is tasty addition to so many dishes. I use it to sautee green beans and brassicas (cabbage family), make tortillas, fry pancakes, drizzle into a quiche or grease a pan for cornbread.
Human and Animal Waste:
The average person produces 500 liters of protein rich urine per year. During the summer, I save the night time accumulation in our indoor chamber pot, dilute it by 8-10x with water, and pour it around the yard or gardens (not directly on leaves of specimen plants). In winter, I pour it directly into the snow for natural winter time dilution. (Note: we take no medicines. Such chemicals could be an issue in the urine of other people.) One of our reasons for doing this is to help the outhouse pit last longer.
According to my research, it is too cold here for a composting toilet to work (outside for sure, and even with our cool interior temperatures of 50s and 60s). However, these appliances can be an option in warmer climates (above 70 degrees). We just use an outhouse with a big pit and pour lime down there occasionally, to help decomposition. When an old outhouse pit fills in, the soil above is often rich for a future garden. Rabbit manure is one of the only ones safe to apply directly to gardens without curing first. Because we live so far from any store, their fertilizer is just as important to me as their meat. Bryan collects moose pellets (almost all plant material) for smoking his honeybees into submission when he needs to do hive checks.
Plastic and glass containers
Plastic vinegar bottles are bungie corded around birch trees to catch sap in May. Gallon jugs water animals. Small glass jars save seeds, store dried herbs and spices, serve as vases for wildflowers. Tall, wide mouthed glass jars hold long nails or used gasoline to clean oil paint brushes. I have not yet used plastic and glass containers to cover seedlings planted out before the first frost, but I plan to do so this spring. Because we make our own wine and beer, we don’t have to deal with those bottles. Beer is stored in a soda keg and wine in 6 gallon glass carboys.
Toilet paper rolls become chew toys for the rabbits, protect seedlings that suffer from cut worms, or function as fire starters. My mom always used them to roll up electrical cords. Cardboard boxes are golden acquisitions. We flatten large cardboard to line rabbit and poultry nesting boxes (under straw, for extra insulation in winter), and garden underlayment for new gardens to retard weeds (less than stellar results). Strong intact ones we use as storage bins and yard debris carriers. Small ones or slim cuts from them divide items like electric cords and knives. Because we live in active earthquake country, all rows of canned (glass mason jars) foods, home remedies, and jars of home harvested honey are separated with cardboard dividers.
Because I make many condiments myself, I don’t buy salad dressings, Barbeque sauce, sauces, ketchup, jams, and jellies. This cuts down on a many jars and cans. However, I still have to buy some containers, such as tomato paste, coconut milk, and molasses that are added to my various concoctions.
We used to just haul bags of cans back to town dumpsters since Alaska is pretty bad about recycling. However, I have tried a few other uses. For a Permaculture class, I made a small rocket stove with a coffee can and five soup-sized cans. (pretty unstable). For the past two years, I became enthused about making yard art with metal cans, like humorous scarecrows, and flat art of bears, spruce hens, and owls. I paint the #10 cans brown or green and use them for storage on shelves in the greenhouse and other places. This year, I plan to punch holes in the bottom, and nail them to a few south facing banisters as planters. I hate the look of plastic pots. Let’s see if this alternative looks better or worse.
We cut these in half and perforate them for burn barrels (last about 3 years) and grey water barrels (under the cabin and shower house). I have turned some upside down as (unattractive) surfaces for water sprinklers and garden flats and tools. In inconspicuous places, like under a porch, they store miscellaneous items like extra spigots and hose ends. Other uses? I need to research or cogitate.
Food Grade Drums
Water barrels sit next to each garden and building, filled with lake water or well water, to warm before watering gardens. (A beer supply store sold us two empty 55 gallon drums (of malt) for $10 each.) Other food grade drums could be cut down and the edges smoothed or covered for large water bowls and little pools for animals if you lack a lake or pond. In warm climates, you might be able to use them to house fish or use them for aquaponic agriculture. A dozen, plastic 35 gallon drums have floated our wooden dock for a decade, even without removal when the lake freezes.
Even when we lived in a city, we did our banking online and had been vigilant about cutting down on junk mail. The worst sources were my bank (it sold our name to nine different lists!), any retail store I shopped online, my husband’s and my universities, and AAA (it was nearly impossible to stop their affiliate mails). Ask your customer service (or alumni) contacts about getting off all lists!
Plain paper can be composted or used in lasagna gardening techniques, but I tend to use it for other purposes. The rabbits like to tear it up, particularly for their nesting boxes. Envelopes, newsprint, and other paper and cardboard serve as tinder for fires in seasons when we don’t keep them hot 24/7. Ash from clean paper can be spread in the garden.
For our remote location, it is logical for us to buy bulk items, like 50 lb bags (some paper, many plastic) of flour, sugar, and animal feed. This reduces some trash but there is quite a bit that we need to burn. This includes all that plastic packaging surrounding just about everything one buys in the U.S (what a wasteful contrast to packaging in many other countries). Benzene-derived (plastic) trash is burned in a burn barrel, and that ash is stored in a beat up metal row boat at the back of our property and never mixed into the gardens.
Like many people, I bring my own shopping bags to stores. At home, I store produce in loose cotton mesh bags, hanging them on cup hooks in cool nooks of the cabin. When I deplete the contents of a bag, I move it to the plane for our next trip to town. Smaller, fine mesh bags are used to make a gallon of tea at a time, with herbs I dried the prior summer.
Old gasoline is stored in small quantities in wide-mouthed bottles, which we use for cleaning oil-based paintbrushes. Old oil can be used to coat metal and wooden tools in the autumn.
We burned a lot of the little bits and pieces but repurpose the following:
Log ends function as side tables, benches, footrests, and steps to shallow porches. Eight of them elevate the stored freight sled skis so the sled is easier to dig out in winter. A neighbor took a bunch of our spruce ends to prop up his summer guest cabins, which were shifting and leaning from ice heaves and snow weight on the roofs. Bryan slices log ends into thin rounds (less than 3 inches) as stepping stones in the strawberry garden and as a firm walkway in the muddy spring greenhouse.
2” thick polystyrene insulation is cut as a winter toilet seat (the air holes make it temperature neutral) and as insulation for our solar/wind batteries and bee hives.
Wooden pallets don’t last a long time outside, but I have used them as shallow steps here and there. Mostly they form a season’s floor layer in the wood corral so that the bottom logs won’t freeze to the ground.
2 x 4s: Exterior bear bars across shed doors, banisters, tie downs for the plane (dropped down an augured hole in the lake ice with nylon ropes knotted through the boards below and the wings’ D rings above).
1 x 2s and 1 x 4s: Lips for food storage shelves (because we live in earthquake country).
Planks: There is no such thing as too much storage. We install shelves everywhere we can, using plywood or planks as the intended weight dictates. Dead space below windows become low bookcases. Others dangle from ropes or chains attached to cup hooks in south facing windows for seedlings in March. Planks milled from trees create, expand, or replace boards in decks, stairs, docks.
Plywood bear shutters cover all first floor windows when we leave. Panels stapled with slippery plastic keeps ski plane skis from freezing to the snow or ice below. One shelf above the outhouse door (inside) stores lightweight paper goods. Some rectangles serve as useful trays inside and outside of doors for hands full of items that need to transfer in or out. Other rectangles function as movable solids on the metal grid surface in my greenhouse. We laid out 4 x 8 plywood sheets above the horizontal rafters in two high buildings to increase storage for relatively light, infrequently needed items, like suitcases full of travel clothes, boxes of warranties, camping equipment, insulation materials and extra tarps.
Sawdust: Blueberries are the only plants I know that actually like sawdust. Otherwise, I mix the shavings with straw and leaves for mulch.
Living as we do, I have become acutely aware of “my inputs and my outputs.” Reducing store purchases in favor of homemade products made a big dent in trash. So did creative problem solving that figured out ways to repurpose “trash” on hand. I bet that with a bit of ingenuity, anyone living anywhere can figure out a few steps that can save them money and trash disposal at the same time.