An introduction of personal circumstances always seems necessary, so I’ll get that out of the way first. My husband and I, along with our three children, moved from a moderate sized Texas town of 200,000 to a small spread out community of about 1.500. That population of 1,500 lives in an area of about 40 square miles. Our location, of which Mr. Rawles would not approve, is hot and dry. We are learning new ways in all areas of our lives to make this living situation work. We and our 3 teen-aged children love our community and the new freedom that we have found here.
My husband is a man of many, many skills. A natural problem solver, he can look at most situations and fabricate some kind of solution. Whether it is plumbing, construction, economics or world politics, he sees the situation in mechanical terms. While he can find or fabricate solutions for most construction, plumbing and solar converter problems, he can’t fix the problems that we see in the political and economic world. So we do the next best thing. We prepare.
I, on the other hand, am not particularly mechanically inclined. Until I married my husband, I was a city apartment dweller with my mother and my brother. If there was a problem, we called the apartment manager. I’ve also always known the convenience of the city. Until this last move, I’ve never lived in a city or town without a university. I’ve never lived without the convenience of grocery shopping at a moment’s notice. Until I met my husband, I did not garden and I’m still not that good at it. Based on my mother’s experiences, canning was to be avoided at all costs. Growing up, my mom and I were not in the category of the worst consumers, but we did consume our share of convenience. Compared to our friends at the time, we were down-right frugal. Compared to what I know now, we had a long way to go before we could be called frugal. Of all the things that I have “given up” to live where we live, convenience is what I miss most. But, I’m not willing to move back to a town or city of any size to regain “convenience”. My husband and I are blessed that we are of one mind about the need to prepare. We don’t take that blessing for granted, either. GOD put us in this new community for a reason and we will be here until He moves us.
While I miss conveniences like “in the mood” grocery shopping, the consistent, orderly removal of trash is a mark of civilized life that I miss very much. Now, I realize that much of rural America still burns trash. Many have sloughs, or ditches that need filling and are filled with trash that cannot be burned, but I’ve never had any experience with this. I’ve never separated my trash except for a few forays into recycling. Before my husband and I moved to our current home, I could clean out the refrigerator, pick up around the yard, put the usual refuse of daily life into the trash and it was gone. I could, twice a year like clockwork, clean out my children’s closets and make piles. One pile was trash and one was given to an organization such as Goodwill and another might be given to friends. But wherever it went, it was out of my house and out of my life with immediacy that I never gave much thought. And yes, we did recycle to a degree. For whatever reason, our former town seemed to make recycling harder, not easier, so I did some, but not as much as I could have.
We arrived in our new community in December of 2010. We brought a burn barrel with us and we burned our trash and recycled what we could locally for about 3 months. We were living in a 34 foot long trailer at the time, and we had no running water, so we used paper plates and picnic type utensils and cups. We used a lot of water bottles. By March, our area had been a full year and a half without any measurable rain and some areas were suffering from fires, so our county instituted a burn ban. If you are familiar with burn bans, you know that sometimes they don’t include every type of possible fire. Sometimes it is a charcoal fire burn ban, or just fireworks, or no open-pit burning. This burn ban was all inclusive. It included welding and any type of fire whether it was grilling on a gas grill or burning trash in a barrel. So now what?? At first, I was pretty naïve about what a problem trash can be. We had no idea how long we’d be in the ban, so we started with Band-Aid solutions. My husband used the Kubota tractor to dig/push dirt and rock into a berm and we piled our bags up against that berm. By this time, we were dry camping in our shipping container house. Let me tell you, trash really piles up for 5 people in this situation. We had limited water by now, none running in the house, but hoses from a well outside. I moved us away from disposable plates, etc. to dishware and cutlery as soon as I could, but we still made a lot of trash. We quickly outgrew the berm idea and when we found our first rattlesnake with a mouse bulge, we knew that we needed a better solution. We built an enclosure out of t-posts, cattle panel and plywood for the top and moved the trash pile. What this gave us was an enclosure to contain the trash so that it wouldn’t spread out. We could throw the bags in at the top and not get too close to the pile. That was a year and half ago and I still have remnants of that pile that need to be burned. At its largest, the current trash pit was 8 x 8 x 5. It still has that basic outline, but it is no longer bulging at the seams.
Another problem that we encountered in our situation was recycling. In our area of the country, we have about 8 months of glorious weather. We can be hot during the day, but the nights cool down significantly. We have 4 months during the summer when the heat is constant and a real challenge. So most people live here during the 8 winter months and leave for the 4 summer months. We don’t have many of our services, like recycling, during the summer. And if we store recyclables during the summer and hit the recycling trailer with it when it reopens in the fall, it is too much for them to handle all at once. Our closest town is 80 miles away and they have recycling services. We do bag our recyclables, which at the moment, is mostly aluminum cans and metal food cans. We have bags of them, but in order to get them to town, we’d have to take the diesel pickup rather than the more fuel efficient sedan. So we haven’t done this yet. But, at some point, we’ll have to. It isn’t a good solution to the problem, but we’ll do what we have to do.
A third problem that I have found is finding a home for things that I no longer use or things that no longer work and are not considered trash. What do you do with the laptop power cord that will no longer charge the computer? What do you do with the items that you thought would be useful in your new home, but are not? Thrift stores: We have a couple, but they really are overrun with stuff. They consistently ask residents not to drop off any more things until they can clear out merchandise. Garage Sale/Flea Market: also an option, but most people are looking to get rid of stuff, not buy it. Also the organized flea market is only available in the winter months. Free cycle: Our nearest town is 80 miles away and most people won’t drive this far to get it, but it could happen. Recycle/Re-purpose: seeing an item’s potential outside of its normal use is not one of my gifts. I rarely think outside of the box, so this is a skill that I need to develop and if you have stuff like I do, you need to develop it too. Store items for Barter: Yes, but storage is a very big issue. We downsized our home considerably and I gave away about 2/3 of what we owned before we made the move. But what I didn’t count on was how much room prep stores and food stores actually take. We had only just gotten started with our preparations before we decided to move. So before I store something that someone else may need someday, I’d like to get my own stuff organized and stored properly. Beyond re-purposing and storing for barter, the only solution that I can think of for items like this is to bury them. The solution before burying it is not to buy it in the first place. I wish I’d seen that one coming.
The initial strict burn ban lasted a full year and we are still under a partial burn ban that prohibits some types of trash burning. At the moment, we can burn trash in a barrel if it is enclosed. We put our burn barrel in our first outdoor shower that we had constructed out of cut-out shipping container walls. In our small community, one business built a metal structure out of roofing tin. On the roof he installed two whirligigs for exhaust. We don’t know what he used for air intakes, but it couldn’t be that hard to figure out. We are saving that idea for future use. Anyway, with our small enclosure and our burn barrel, we can burn our current trash and we are making some in-roads into the stored trash.
As I read survival articles and literature, I don’t find much space given to the disposal of trash. I’ve shared our experiences, now I’d like to share some insights. Not so much solutions because there is only one solution that I see. I’d rather let you see some of the issues and then tailor your own solutions. As I’ve hinted above, the three options for dealing with trash are: burn it, bury it, or recycle/re-purpose it. But, the ultimate solution to the trash problem for those of us who prepare for more desperate times is to plan for it. In a grid down or TEOTWAWKI situation where security is paramount, what are you going to do with your trash? Just so we are clear, I am not talking about a natural disaster where you can see that normal services will resume sometime in the future. I am talking about a grid down situation where you are completely on your own. In this situation, your decisions might need to include OPSEC, medical concerns, hygiene, and environmental pollution. Critter control, future sewage needs, and the logistics of being out and about around your retreat need to be addressed. In order to plan for this, you’ve got to look at what preparations you’ve got in place. You need to look at your location. What food/pantry store do you have in place? What are your security needs? What are your sewage plans? Identify your biggest trash challenge. Is it diapers or paper plates? Is it tin cans or plastic water bottles? You can deal with it as long as you’ve identified the challenge and the solution ahead of time and then planned for it.
I think most people consider burning trash to be the best alternative in most situations. So does your location support that decision? Do you live in a rural area? I can imagine scenarios where you could burn trash in a city, but that means things are pretty bad. In a rural area, you may not want anyone to know that you are still in place. Smoke can be dealt with to a degree, but you’d be hard pressed to burn trash on a regular basis and cover up the smoke smell. As for environmental concerns, there are not that many. You just don’t want to burn toxic stuff that will foul your air. For example, we have blue foam boards that we’ve used in construction. I don’t burn these. I believe we do need to make some accommodation for the environment. We won’t have the EPA breathing down our necks, but we should take care of the land and air that will take care of us. Some things don’t burn. You will have to deal with ashes and charred debris. Have you got somewhere to dispose of that? You can’t burn aerosol cans or batteries, so you will have to have some alternative plans for them.
You can bury your trash. We live in an area where the landscape will not recover from this type of intrusion. You’d see our pit, the tracks from the Kubota tractor, our car tire tracks, whatever, for 100 years. That is more of an environmental impact than we’d like to make right now and it isn’t very secure, but it remains an option for us long term. For one thing, we have enough land to do it and we have earth moving equipment. I’ve read articles that recommend you have shovels or hand tools to bury your trash. I’m telling you, from experience, a shovel will not be much help long term when confronted with mounds of bagged trash. You are going to be digging a very large hole. If you have the equipment to dig a large hole, do you have the parts and experience to maintain and repair the equipment? You may have ditches or sloughs that run through your property. If you dump your trash in these and then plant native grasses in and around the refuse, this could help with erosion problems. My in-laws do this and have corrected some erosion issues on their farm land. But, my mother-in-law is very diligent about moving grass clumps into the dump area. Again, this is not an option for us, but you need to evaluate your own landscape. You also have to consider the environmental impact of burying as well. Again, we may not need to be as obsessive as the EPA has become, but we don’t want our rivers to burn either. Consider rain runoff before you choose a spot to dig. Consider where your well is located; consider winds, critters and future land use before you dig.
You can recycle your trash. I’m not talking about municipal recycling programs because in this scenario, there would be no municipal recycling programs. I’m talking about home-grown, common sense recycling. What can I do with the water bottles or water jugs that I’ve stored and that are now empty? What can I do with all of the #10 cans as they are used? I’ve seen a chicken shed roof that was “shingled” with tin can lids and the walls reinforced with flattened cans. Walls can be built with cans and filled with dirt; bottles cans be used for windows, etc., but that is only if you still need structures around your retreat. Some items from your pantry might be done away with entirely. I found a washable “paper” towel pattern online, and let’s face it ladies, washable pads from Naturally Cozy just makes sense, doesn’t it? While there are few op/sec or medical/hygiene issues with recycling, there are logistical issues. Where are you going to store used items like used tin food cans or the #10 cans that we all love so much? Have you got storage for used items? There comes a point where you just cannot use another #10 can to store nuts/bolts/thread/yarn/seed packs/ etc. Then what? Think about diversifying your food and pantry storage as you rotate. I used some of my dehydrated vegetables to make soup mixes. I repackaged them in Mylar bags which store flat and can be reused until they are too small and at that point, they aren’t much trash. I also put some mixes into gallon glass jars. I don’t recommend this if you are not rotating your storage. There are literally thousands of recycle ideas on the internet. You just have to look for them. Look at your storage, see what you have the most of and then go hunt up some ideas. Plan ahead for what you’ll need and what may be used as barter (think glass jars—you cannot have too many!)
There is no one size fits all solution to trash in a grid down TEOTWAWKI scenario except to plan, plan, and plan. There are as many solutions to the trash problem as there are retreat solutions. Don’t put this off, however. You may visit your retreat often. You may practice bugging out. But, if after the weekend is over, you haul your trash to the Dumpster in town, or burn it at your retreat without thought or worry, then you haven’t done all of your homework. Trash will be a big problem for you if you don’t plan for its disposal ahead of time. For most of us, trash disposal is one of those things that we regularly take for granted. Don’t.