Sally Oakes and her year’s worth of trash collection

Southeast resident Sally Oakes decided to collect her garbage for one year just to see what it would amount to. Exactly how much does one person dump into the landfill and other waste recycling stations?

What spurred her on to make an exact calculation was a trip to one of Metro’s Transfer stations where mounds of stuff is thrown away.

Oakes is unique in that she ended up with 44 paper bags full – and only three of them were real trash. The rest was recycleable.

“I was inspired by the documentary, No Impact Man,” Oakes said. It is the story of a Manhattan-based family who abandon their high consumption 5th Avenue lifestyle to live a year without making an environmental impact. “I just wanted to try it for a year too,” she said.

Oakes is a grant-writer by profession and her office is part of her home. She has adhered to a philosophy of voluntary simplicity for quite a while.

Her house is small, around 680 sq. ft. with a large backyard with her garden, a shed and her strawbale bedroom she built with a little help from some friends. It’s a lovely dwelling.

“After deciding to monitor my garbage, I became more aware of my choices when I went shopping,” she said.

Using the bulk section in grocery stores to replenish her pantry, she cooks from scratch when eating at home. She doesn’t do take out and she composts all of her wet garbage.

Her garden is still producing chard and it won’t be long before other food starts growing that Oakes will prepare and eat.

“The only thing I haven’t been able to give up that is not recyclable, is my packaged soba noodles,” she said.

Oakes discourages excess stuff in her house by using the guideline of something-in, something-out. She has a comfortable home that’s aesthetic without being austere–so the adage seems to work. Installing larger windows and building a covered porch off the kitchen adds light and makes the space more expansive.

Awareness of the environment and her impact on it has been a consideration in Sally Oakes’ life for a long time. She is comfortable with her choices and doesn’t seem to be lacking anything.

Her garbage experiment provides a simple example of how one person can make a difference. It would be interesting to know what the average person’s garbage would amount to on a yearly basis.

Portland’s new recycling system is having an impact on the amount of garbage generated by each household. The biweekly trash pick-up makes us all more aware of what’s going to the landfill.

Oakes’ experiment is a good reminder that we can change the world with one choice at a time.