Disposing of garbage here in Pisac is a unique experience in observation and an opportunity to learn that refuse doesn’t just magically disappear. There is no faraway, out of sight and out of mind dump. We’re all on our own in this matter as there is no garbage man. To have to deal on my own with every bit of waste that’s generated in our household is a humbling and ultimately, a very mindful, experience.

Surprisingly, it’s really not that difficult, nor time consuming to deal with the trash – it just means cultivating some new habits. First, realize that every single little item that we bring into the house eventually must leave by our own hands in the most efficient and sustainable method possible – that includes dish sponges, plastic bags, containers of all types, kitchen scraps and used toilet paper.

Our trash area, not including the bathrooms, is separated into three small buckets. We don’t have the need to purchase trash bags because we simply use the multitude of plastic bags we acquire from daily living. We do try to carry groceries home in our backpacks and elect to not carry things in bags whenever possible. Most of the time I remember to carry a little Tupperware container when dining out for after dinner scraps and to-go food. We try to be mindful and use as few plastic bottles as possible. Glass bottles are either recyclable or in some cases, you leave a deposit for them at the store and when you  bring the bottle back, the store gives your deposit back and returns the bottle to the factory. That’s how it was when I was a kid in the states, too bad it’s no longer that way.

We separate our waste as it’s generated into a compost bucket, a paper bucket and a tiny trash bin in the kitchen. Leftovers, bones and meat we don’t eat is saved for the dogs. Every bathroom in our house as well as the rest of Peru has another tiny trash bin. The sewer systems here cannot handle paper; you must put all used paper in the trash bin.

The rest is pretty easy. There’s a hole in the backyard for the compost. I know there is an art to composting – that oil, spoiled dairy products and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting about isn’t supposed to go in the compost hole, but we really don’t worry about that out here. Nature takes care of all that – there are numerous dogs who continually visit and clean out much of what goes into the hole. The paper gets burned either as kindling in the fireplace or the outdoor fire pit.

We keep a three liter plastic bottle in the kitchen with a wooden stick next to it. We press small, clean plastic bags into the large bottle with the stick. (We learned through trial and error that dirty plastic bags will turn the bottle into a moldy maggot factory.) Once the bottle is full and solid with compressed bags, we put the cap back on and give it to a local builder who will use it as building material. Anything else that is leftover that cannot be disposed of in any of the aforementioned ways goes in the tiny trash bin. Once a week, along with our ‘doody-paper’ trash, we bundle it all up and take it down to the dump. The dump itself is an eye-opening experience.

The Pisac dump is located on the river and adjacent riverbank, just beyond our line of sight behind the curve of the nearest mountain, only about 1/4 of a kilometer past our house. The free-roaming pigs love it! There are always about ten of them happily rooting around. The wind whips up the scattered trash and carries plastic bags up to the vegetation in the mountain and the surrounding fences, where they get stuck. I was completely disgusted the first time my friend Jeff took me to the dump.

“The plastic bags!” I said, horrified, wanting to cry.

“Ah,” Jeff sighed. “I’ve learned to view them as infinite little prayer flags, whipping around in the wind.”

So, that’s what I do.