Want Not, Waste Not
by Beth Yim
I’d like to say that worms eat all my garbage and that my weekly household waste could fit into a small ice cream bucket. Unfortunately, like most Canadians, my family creates a lot of garbage. Some we compost, most we recycle. But when garbage day comes along, we still take a bin full of plastic, Styrofoam, waxed paper and miscellaneous waste to the curb.
On average, each Canadian produces 2.7 kg of waste a day. So far this year, British Columbians have generated over 1,400,000 tonnes of garbage. That’s enough to make you stop reading and turn the page to cleaner topics!
The challenge with all this waste is what happens to it after it leaves our homes. It would be okay if it all stayed contained in small landfills, but it doesn’t. A good example is plastic bags. They can be found stuck in trees, floating around the ocean, inside fish and other wildlife and drifting down city streets. Unfortunately, those same bags will be around for up to 1,000 years.
To address this proliferation of plastic and the expanding landfills, one family I know switched to cloth bags for all their shopping, buys in bulk using reusable paper or cloth bags, has smaller garbage bins, uses compostable collection bags and has started a composting system that generates nutrient-dense dirt in only three months. They’ve cut back on the amount of garbage they take to the curb by approximately one half.
The challenge for this family and others like them is that it isn’t just the obvious waste, such as plastic bags, that needs reducing. Things like obsolete electronic equipment, fashions that go out of style with the seasons and unread junk mail piling up in the mail box need to be considered as well.
According to Environment Canada, Canadians produce 140,000 tonnes of electronic waste each year (that’s the equivalent of 28,000 adult African elephants). That includes cell phones, computer equipment, PDAs, televisions, small appliances and stereos. Parts can be reused, but without a nationwide recycling program, most electronics end up in the landfills. To address this problem, Brian Tobin, a Nanaimo man, has created his own business around rebuilding used computers. He recycles what he can, upgrades where he needs to and sells the refurbished computers. But Tobin is only one individual—he alone can’t stop the tide of junk electronics.
The fashion industry presents another waste problem. Globalization has provided us with a cheap supply of clothing, so cheap that many consumers consider it disposable. There’s even a term for it: “fast fashion.”
In Canada, textile waste accounts for four per cent of materials in landfills. On average, 80 per cent of that material is still wearable. If we took all the textiles thrown into landfills in Canada in a one-year period, we could build a solid structure as wide and tall as the Skydome three times over. The answer to “fast fashion” may be hard for Canadians to hear, especially parents with kids who want the latest “Miley” or “Hilary” wear.
Recycling old clothes and textiles is a start. Every year, 75,000 tonnes of textiles are recycled into raw materials for furniture, cars, paper and other items. That’s a lot of waste staying out of the landfill. The most important way of reducing textile waste, though, is through changing the fashion-conscious to the earth-conscious. Instead of buying new clothes each season, why not re-style last season’s to make your own fashion statement—a statement that says you want to be part of the climate protection solution.
Not all waste challenges involve large items. On any given day my family receives at least two pieces of junk mail in our mail box, some days it’s as many as five. The advertisements are usually for items we’ll never use, such as homes for sale and fast food deals.
Canada Post isn’t going to stop delivering this junk mail any time soon either. In 2006, revenue from junk mail topped $339 million, a sizeable chunk of income. According to www.reddotcampaign.ca, an organization focused on informing Canadians on how to stop junk mail, the rate of return for businesses on this type of marketing is only two per cent, with 98 per cent of the flyers or brochures ending up as waste. That also translates to a 98 per cent waste of resources and energy used in the production of the flyers.
If that seems like too much waste to you, you can visit the red dot website, print out and sign a release letter and then mail it to the post office. You can go a step further by giving a copy of the letter to the mail carrier and by taping the letter to your mail box or slot. Not only will you be free from having to wade through stacks of junk mail, but you will also put out a smaller bag of recycled paper.
Though the United States generates most of the world’s garbage (despite having only six per cent of the world’s population), Canada isn’t far behind. Not only do we need to reduce our waste, but we also need to reduce our need for creating waste. That means changing our consuming behaviour.
Reassessing waste is a must if we are to implement lasting and sustainable changes that protect our climate and planet. We need to consider how much waste we are producing and if there are areas where we can reduce what we throw out and how much we consume. Our planet is undergoing some dramatic and ominous changes. If we are to create a sustainable future for our children we need to change our habits and attitude around waste. Once that happens, not only will we want not, but we will also waste not.What you can do
1. Recycle your old textiles. Find out more at www.textilerecycle.org
2. Stop junk mail delivery. Check out www.reddotcampaign.ca
3. Recycle old electronics. To find out more, visit www.ec.gc.ca/envirozine/english/issues/33/feature1_e.cfm
, or to contact Brian Tobin about recycling your computer call (250) 739-1053.
4. Keep up on recycling information for Vancouver Island at www.recyclexchange.com
5. Learn some basic steps to reducing garbage at www.nrdc.org/cities/recycling/gsteps.asp
7. Find out why plastic bags are so bad at www.cbc.ca/news/background/environment/shoppingbags.html
.Beth Yim lives in Nanaimo with her husband and two children. She is dedicated to creating a sustainable future for her children and educating individuals in healthy lifestyle choices. Visit www.agelesswarrior.com.