The Three Rs

Nope, that's not reading. ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, but reduce, reuse, recycle. Pardon me while I get on a soapbox.

A few weeks ago, I was at a meeting of the local Neighborhood Association (I am the rep for my building) and one of items on the agenda was a presentation by the city's Solid Waste Management Department to provide information about the city's new initiatives to reduce and divert garbage and the three Rs have been much on my mind since.

Earlier this year, my friend Andrew and his family went to somewhere in the southern United States - North and South Carolina? Florida? The details are vague to me. However, he told me something stunning and it has stayed with me since: wherever this mystery location was, there were no public recycling containers. Only garbage cans. And just imagining throwing things that can be recycled - pop cans, water bottles, newspapers and magazines - into the garbage makes my insides cringe and scream Nooooooooooooo!! Recycling has been around for a long time here in Toronto, has been a presence on the streets with the 3-in-1 waste containers for bottles and cans, paper and nom-recyclable things and after all these years, it’s entrenched in my psyche. But it still cringes and moans noooooooo! when hearing that every day, 70 trucks leave Toronto with garbage for landfill somewhere and every year, the city spends almost $200 million to collect and transport garbage. That’s an insane amount of garbage and that’s just in my city.

In the past few years, the push to reduce garbage and increase recycling and composting has picked up speed hereabouts, hence the City presentations to the public (lots of interesting information here). It was incredibly exciting and since that meeting, I've become positively en fuego with recycling zeal (a somewhat disparaging alternative term could be The Recycling Nazi, but we'll skip over that). Yes, it's quite possible that I need to get out more, but stay with me. The target is 70% waste diversion by 2010 and this is going to be accomplished by increasing recycling and composting bin distribution, until every household and apartment building in the city have the tools to divert the 70% of their waste that is recyclable and organic. Garbage containers will be provided, as well, with users being charged depending on the size of bin they take (i.e., by how much garbage they generate). As our taxes are being used to fund the garbage disposal system, if you get the smallest bin, you actually get money back every month - talk about incentive! In the presentation, they also talked about large items, such as electronics and furniture. One mattress takes up 1 yd.³ in a landfill and that doesn't sound too bad. Until you realize that in the city of Toronto, every year a million mattresses go into landfills. 1,000,000 yd.³. I don't know exactly how big that is, but it sounds very, very big and multiplied by however many years your soul can handle thinking of, it’s overwhelming. And that’s just mattresses. So the city’s working on recycling components of larger garbage items and who can’t like the sound of that?

Sometime last year, I posted about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - a huge mound of plastic the size of a minor continent somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, so big that there is six times more plastic than plankton in the middle of the Pacific. There’s plastic everywhere in our society and it ends up either in landfills (or parks or forests, etc.) where it takes up to a thousand years (!) to decompose (after having killed wildlife first) or in the ocean, where it eventually moseys on over to the rest of its colleagues in the GPGP. A very short excursion into Google and Google images about the GPGP is enough to turn your hair white overnight - I found one organization that has hours’ worth of reading about our not-so-great impact on the natural world and their section on plastic alone made me want to curl up in a corner, sucking my thumb. I keep wondering why they haven't invented biodegradable plastic yet - I would certainly be willing to pay more for that, because ever since I read about the GPGP, I ache when I throw out plastic (it occurred to me to revisit Google and apparently, biodegradable plastic bags are indeed available, e.g., here. ‘Scuse me while I get out my credit card). But there's research out there and just last week, there was an article in the paper about to a 17-year-old student from Waterloo, Ontario who's invented a composting system for plastic. The world is changing and that's a good thing.

We only have one earth and it’s suffering. Suffering so much that when I look at the Tinks, I wonder what their earth will look like. We treat our planet as if it’s endlessly renewable, instead of a fragile, precariously balanced eco-system. We forget that we don’t own it – we’ve inherited it from our parents and will pass it on to our children. Don’t we owe it to future generations to take care of it? There's a rule of civilized human beings who get to borrow a friend's car, cottage or house and that is to leave it the way you found it. We have used the earth as our garbage can for too long – isn’t it time to leave it at the very least the way we found it, maybe even a bit cleaner?