Image credit: RocketJim54 (Creative Commons)
When I took up the rural green life (elitist or not), there was an inevitable trade-off between bee keeping, large-scale composting, mushroom growing, keeping chickens and other 'sustainable' pursuits, versus the increased transportation footprint that comes of having drive to your nearest store. I even have to get in the car to haul my own trash to the dump these days—but that part's not all bad, from an environmental perspective at least. I've been pondering the environmental benefits of hauling your own trash of late. For one thing, short of a pay-as-you-throw fee for trash collection, there's no greater feedback mechanism to encourage waste reduction than knowing you'll be the one squeezing it all into the car, or onto the back of your truck. I'm actually amazed how long we can go between visits, and how much we can cram into our station wagon—sometimes making the journey only once every other month or so.
Above all, hauling your own trash is the perfect incentive for composting, cutting food waste, and feeding scraps to the chickens (or local wildlife). Nobody wants heaps of stinking garbage sitting around your property and attracting vermin, but once you take the organic waste out of your trash - it's amazing how little smell there is, and how small you can compact your trash.
Of course there is a flip side to this argument—because hauling your own trash also means hauling your own recycling, and once you're dealing with a car full of trash cans, it can be hard to cram in your separated cans, bottles and paper too. It also goes without saying that the impact of everyone driving to the dump, versus the efficiencies of centralized garbage collection negates any of the environmental benefits outlined above.
So is hauling your own trash green? Almost certainly not. But it does teach us some important things about being green—namely that direct and immediate feedback mechanisms have a much greater impact on our behavior than any amount of abstract preaching or education. Whether it be adding fuel economy gauges to every car, or putting a price on carbon, the only way to create lasting environmental change is to internalize the impacts of our actions.
It's amazing what you think about on the way to the dump.