Indiana man generated virtually no trash over past 5 years

Dressed in one of his usual tie-dye T-shirts, Tom Barmes stands on his porch and waves as a sanitation crew picks up trash from his neighbors.

Posted: May 9, 2021 12:27 PM

ELWOOD, Ind. (AP) — Dressed in one of his usual tie-dye T-shirts, Tom Barmes stands on his porch and waves as a sanitation crew picks up trash from his neighbors.

Much like nearly every Friday for the past five years, the crew bypasses Barmes’ house. That’s because the 66-year-old Elwood native runs a zero-waste home where everything gets recycled, reduced or reused.

“I recycle or reuse everything possible I can,” he said.

According to Elwood Street Commission Dave Jones, who oversees the city’s trash pickup program, between 13 and 15 tons of trash is collected daily from homes and businesses.

Recycling since the 1970s, Barmes, who didn’t own a motorized vehicle until he was well into his 20s, has served on the Madison County Recycling Task Force.

“It kind of came gradually because it started out with pop cans and stuff like that,” he said.

Unlike many people who may have one waste can for trash and another for recycling, Barmes goes several steps further, even separating the items he is recycling into several containers in a center he keeps in his “man cave,” the Grateful Garage, as he calls it. There, it’s separated into aluminum, glass, metal, cardboard and plastic.

“I don’t have a trash can in my house,” he said. “The grandkids don’t even ask anymore where it is.”

Barmes, who also is the sort to use a reel or electric lawnmower, passed out seedlings for Arbor Day, flies an Earth flag in front of his home and delivers what he collects to Elwood’s recycling center every couple of weeks.

“It’s just down the street from where I live, so it’s very easy for me to do my recycling,” he said. “Sometimes, I put stuff in my backpack and ride down there on my bicycle.”

One of the biggest offenders when it comes to reducing a carbon footprint, Barmes said, is extruded polystyrene foam, which sometimes goes by the brand name Styrofoam.

“If you’re a meat eater, most of your meat is wrapped in Styrofoam, and you can’t recycle it,” he said. But he has been able to find stores where meats are wrapped in paper.

“I keep an eye on what things are packaged in,” he said. “If I can’t recycle it, I don’t buy it. I feel things are way over-packaged these days. The packaging costs more than the item that’s in it.”

The only exception, Barmes said, was last year after an extended illness for which he needed some medical devices that came packaged in foam, something he was unable to avoid.

There also was a time 16 years ago when he was doing a floor-to-ceiling renovation that very little recycling took place, Barmes said.

“While we were fixing it up, I couldn’t recycle,” he said.

The father of three and grandfather of eight said they and the neighborhood kids knew better than to bring foam cups into the house.

“The rule was if they brought a Ricker’s pop in a Styrofoam cup, it had to leave with them,” he said. “Even neighbor kids would bring trash bags with glass bottles to my house to drop them off so I could recycle them.”

Though they may not be as diligent about recycling as their father, his three adult children know the drill when they come for their frequent visits, Barmes said.

“If there are any diapers to be changed, the diapers go with them when they leave,” he said.

Needless to say, Barmes also composts food waste he throws into a spinner behind his garage.

“It collects the liquid, too, so you have stuff that’s better than Miracle-Gro. It’s like liquid gold for the plants,” he said.

Once active in getting his Elwood neighbors to recycle, Barmes said he once again would like to take up that civic crusade and encourage more residents to follow his lead

Elwood Mayor Todd Jones knows firsthand about Barmes’ recycling efforts and said he’s impressed.

“I had the pleasure of spending some time at Tom’s home, and while there he showed me all the different things he was doing to leave a lighter footprint on our planet,” he said. “I am so thankful for Tom’s effort and grateful he is a citizen of Elwood.”

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