The kitchen was complete: bleached walnut cabinetry in place, cream crackle tile grouted, stone sink installed upon which a rare African granite was cut and laid; glass floors were polished along with stainless appliances. And while the last cabinet bin pull was being screwed in, Dorinda waltzed into her new kitchen, unpacked her groceries and went to toss out the bag. After frantically pulling open every cabinet door, drawer and slide, she discovered she had forgotten to design a decent trash bin. Underneath her sink, attached to the swinging cabinet door, was a flimsy wire contraption with a tiny plastic bag glommed onto it. The story Dorinda related to me, and the subsequent angst that the lack of trash forethought caused, taught me an invaluable lesson about a less than glamorous subject.Here on the East End, where trash collectors are a rare sight and dumps are nearing extinction, the art of recycling practically requires a master’s degree in allocating space to the storage, separation and disposal of gourmet detritus, and household trash has become an essential element in design of a good kitchen. As much as I try to keep my carbon footprint light, my consumer packaging to a minimum and my water bottle intake to multiple refills, I still become astonished every time I carry out the trash. And as recycling becomes ever more specific, as more consumer product containers find their niche recycling uses (including the future of composting), the separation of those items may require additional storage areas in order to efficiently save time when these containers are taken to the dump or picked up by companies that specialize in various recyclables. The days of trash compactors that squashed everything and mesmerized roaches, mice and other forms of indelicate vermin have neared their final hours. Garbage disposals, though useful for filling one’s cesspool quickly (and grinding up my mother’s silver spoons), can be avoided if one employs a small compost heap in the corner of one’s yard (no animal byproducts, by the way—vegetable and carbohydrates only!).
I suggest carving out at least one 24-inch-wide under-the-counter space for kitchen recyclables and utilizing the full 34-inch-tall space. View this space as one large pull-out in which you place two very tall trash cans that both clear the counter and also allow you to utilize normal-sized trash bags (13 gallons) that fit neatly around these trash containers which are lightweight and can be easily removed, emptied, and washed out. For East Hampton, for example, rinsed cans and plastics may go into one container and glass in another. As a result, these trash receptacles can go for a week in most households without emptying. Near my sink, I have an attractive cookie jar with a lid in which I place my compostables—emptying it every two days into the outdoor composter. Below the sink, the non-recyclables I need to discard go into a door-mounted metal can lined in plastic, which is emptied every two days.
I have a large brimmed bowl above my recycling center which functions as a repository for newspapers, magazines and catalogs that I have perused, or may still peruse, but eventually will hit the dump.
My pull-out space was designed with four tall plastic kitchen trash baskets that easily fit under the counter and get hosed out periodically. Bottles and glass go in the back (because it moves out infrequently), and the others are for cardboard and paper, plastics and metals and one for non-recyclable waste (which goes out twice a week).
Nick Bryan and Jeri Wellman, good recycling citizens (they have adopted streets and sponsored their street cleaning), have additionally designated a closet in their home where they harbor their recyclables not accepted by the East End dump. Since solid, rigid plastics (anything but film or foam), milk containers, toys, plastic stackable chairs, etc., are not recycled in East Hampton, the Bryan/Wellman closet houses these items until they make the drive back to New York City in their Prius.
Bridget Anderson, Deputy Commissioner for Recycling and Sustainability for the NYC Department of Sanitation, suggests that homeowners actually take into consideration how much of each kind of waste one might generate. For instance, you might not actually need much non-recyclable storage, but as a wine drinker generating lots of empty bottles, your glass recycling container may need to be larger than the others. Ms. Anderson, in a niche, has placed an attractive three-tiered laundry basket system which she lines with plastic bags. The largest, on the bottom, is for her milk cartons, etc., because her family consumes lots of gallon cartons, and the smallest top tier is for the plastics because she doesn’t accumulate very much.
Quite bullish on the sustainable future of recycling, Deputy Commissioner Anderson reveals, “There are more markets for those recyclables which are a desirable regenerative commodity. There is a huge wave of political support for reducing our carbon impact, eliminating climate change and producing a second life for the trash we generate. It simply no longer makes sense to haul our trash across the country to be buried in a landfill where it will sit and possibly not rot, or worse yet, be dumped into our oceans.”
The clever designer and homeowner now designs not only a comfortable and beautiful home, but also considers, within the art of living, a design for the distribution and ecological disposal of one’s trash. There are so many possibilities.