How much trash do you throw out in a typical week? If you’re like most Americans, it’s probably quite a lot. According to 2013 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s web archive, every American throws away nearly 3 pounds of trash per day.
Francois Moretto, a French teacher who lives in the western Maine town of Carrabassett Valley, is definitely not like most Americans. When Moretto changes his trash bag, he writes the date on it in permanent marker before putting it in the trash can. Then he waits. Five months, even six months can go by before the next time he has to take the trash out.
“It’s just a simple effort of being conscious,” he said. His goal is to minimize his personal trash generation. “Before things enter your home, ask yourself what’s going to happen with this. Is the weight of the product less than its packaging? You have to ask yourself, what am I going to do with all this packaging? Where will it go? Will it sit somewhere for hundreds of years?”
Moretto began asking himself these kinds of questions years ago. He first became aware of pollution as a child living in Chicago, when he watched the famous 1971 Keep America Beautiful television ad that featured the “Crying Indian,” who wept to see the way people were thoughtlessly littering the country. Then he noticed the environment around him in the city, which was smoggy and dirty, and compared it to cities in Europe, where he would go to visit family members living overseas.
“I was taken aback by how clean it was in Germany,” Moretto said. “Why can’t it be like this everywhere?”
As an adult, he lived for a time in California, where he got in the habit of rinsing out food trash before putting it in the garbage so it wouldn’t attract ants. When he moved to western Maine, he continued that habit — though ants are not such a big problem here — and decided to start composting his food waste outside.
“I stopped putting food in my trash can. That was a huge help,” Moretto said. “Then I realized that most of the trash is recyclable. Why not be conscious of what I buy, so I don’t have to recycle so much?”
And that is what he has strived to do. He puts food in the compost and puts paper trash and cardboard in his kindling pile. Inside his current trash bag, which he began to fill up on Oct. 23, he said there is mostly just plain cellophane from plastic food wrappers that cannot be recycled. When he goes grocery shopping, he keeps to the perimeter of his local Hannaford, purchasing mostly fresh, whole foods and avoiding the interior aisles with their packaged, processed items. He doesn’t purchase meat in styrofoam trays, instead heading to the counter and asking the butcher to wrap meat in paper.
Moretto recycles containers made of glass, metal and the kind of plastic that is accepted at the local recycling depot. But he also strives to find creative ways to reuse things that have come into his house. For instance, he turns empty yogurt containers into seed starters, and drills holes into the bottoms of the tall plastic kitty litter containers and uses them to grow lettuce on his deck.
“Thin plastics — that’s all that goes into my trash,” he said. “People are like, ‘it’s too much work.’ It’s actually less work. I only take my trash out once every five months.”
His interest in trash doesn’t stop in his own kitchen. Moretto helps every year with the springtime cleanup of Route 27, done before the Sugarloaf Marathon, and also has started a cleanup day at Mount Abram High School in Salem, where he works. Last spring, on the first-ever high school cleanup day, 40 kids volunteered to scour school property to find and dispose of litter.
“By the end of an hour, we had found 15 bags of trash, 12 bags of recyclables, 13 tires and lots of metal parts,” he said. “I couldn’t believe … how much was hiding in the woods around the perimeter of the school.”
Moretto can’t seem to help himself from spotting trash everywhere he goes, and then stopping to pick it up to dispose of properly. He’s especially concerned about plastic getting into the pristine Carrabassett River, which runs for quite a ways alongside Route 27, and from there making its way into the oceans.
“They say that by 2050, there will be more pounds of plastic than fish in the ocean,” he said. “In 50 years, we have devastated this earth with our consumption of plastics.”
And so even though Moretto generates only a small amount of trash himself, the trunk of his car is full of other people’s litter that he then disposes of properly.
“I’ve been doing this for myself. I’m not doing this for any kind of glory or medal or a pat on a back,” he said. “I love this area. And when I go to work, I don’t want to stare at your PBR [cans] you threw out the window. I’ll pick it up, because I’m sick of seeing it. I’d rather see beauty than your trash.”
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