Two very different stories about garbage showed up in my news feed recently -- presenting starkly different pictures of the trash habits of Canadians.
"Canadians piling up more garbage than ever" read the first headline.
The story beneath it was that Canadian households generated seven per cent more trash in 2012 than they did in 2004. In fact, we produce more trash per capita than anyone else in the world -- about 780 kilograms per year for every man, woman and child. Yuck.
The reason? It seems we can't get enough of convenient, disposable products that are either unrecyclable or uncompostable in the first place, or are such a mix of materials that they are impossible to separate and therefore impossible to recycle or compost.
Two major culprits:
- Single-serving coffee containers: they make great coffee, but they produce so much impossible-to-separate trash that the man who invented the K-cup now regrets having created it
- Those new types of resealable plastic bags that stand up in supermarket display cases; impossible to recycle because they are an inseparable mish-mash of materials
And another harsh reality is that we're not very committed recyclers. Sadly, a quick peek into almost any garbage bag or trash bin will confirm that. And a quick tally I recently did on recycling day around my own community was disheartening: less than half the households had blue boxes out.
The second story was much more inspiring. It profiled two B.C. women, Katelin Leblond and Tara Smith-Arnsdorf, who are on a mission to reduce their families' trash.
They diligently recycle and compost; avoid single-use products like plastic grocery bags and paper towels; and don't purchase things that come with excessive or wasteful packaging.
And how are they doing? Both households have gotten rid of their garbage cans and use a 1.5-litre jar to hold what little waste they produce -- and they haven't had to empty their jars in six months. They're sharing their tips and experiences on their website, Pare Down.
A happy middle
Admittedly, Katelin and Tara are pretty hardcore: they even make their own cleaning materials (saving a lot of money); shop at used goods stores and keep a set of utensils in their car glovebox so they don't need to use disposables when eating out. It's safe to guess that not everyone is ready for that kind of commitment.
- Think waste minimization when you shop: rethink whether you really need a product before you put it into your shopping cart; choose products that have the least packaging and whose packaging is 100 per cent recyclable; consider buying bulk when that's an option; keep cloth grocery bags in your trunk and commit to using them every time. (Do a quick survey the next time you're at a checkout and you'll see how terribly we've backslid on this one simple thing.)
- Become a committed recycler: not just of beverage containers and paper, but of metals, hard plastic, soft plastic and whatever else is accepted by your local programs. And why stop there? With a little research, you should be able to find a home for old electronics, dead batteries (like Call2Recycle) and used clothing and household goods (like Value Village, Hospice or Habitat for Humanity).
- Compost everything possible: veggie trimmings, food scraps, used tissues and paper towels and anything organic. The bonus: great fertilizer for your garden. If it's not convenient for you to compost, you can probably find a neighbour who'd be glad to get your organics for their compost heap and garden.
If you need more inspiration, consider this: Europe's official target is that 90 per cent of all waste be kept out of landfills by 2030. (A side benefit: with so much recycling, landfills designed to last 20 years would actually last 200.)
Zero waste? Okay, maybe that's a stretch. But being the worst waste generators on the planet? Surely, fellow Canadians, that's a title we need to shake -- so let's get started.
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People often forget the first two steps in the reduce, reuse and recycle aphorism, but they are extremely important. Try to be mindful of sustainability before you get to the recycling bin. For instance, if you like drinking bottled water, try a BPA-free hard plastic bottle instead of buying a case of disposable ones. Can’t forgo the convenience of disposable? Fill your bottles up a few times before recycling them, or reuse them for a cool project around the house. According to the EPA, Americans throw away about 28 billion bottles and jars every year, meaning 28 billion art project materials are wasted instead of reused!
Another way to reuse is to buy second-hand products, or things already made out of recycled materials. The Mother Nature Network has a list of great buys made from recycled paper here. Want to save both money and waste? Check out nearby garage sales and thrift stores for cheap, unique goods.
If you are due for a cellphone upgrade or eyeing the newest computer model, recycle your old piece of machinery instead of letting it sit around. In fact, you can recycle a whole slew of things that sometimes just sit around the house!. Check out tips for recycling electronics here, and click on this link for creative and charitable ways to recycle your household goods.
Getting into the habit of recycling is a great thing, but sometimes items just can’t be reused. Check out this list of recycling no-nos from the Mother Nature Network.
Sometimes laziness gets in the way of recycling, but with minimal effort you can make a huge difference. The Today Show has some great tips for the passive recycler, including using a power strip to save energy, ditching your magazine subscription for a digital version, and swapping out old DVDs and books for new ones.
Sometimes, the best way to recycle is to barter, swap and share. According to DoSomething.org's Teri Bennett, swapping is a growing movement online, with lots of different options for recycling your belongings. Check out her tips on renting, sharing and borrowing here.
If the promise of a cleaner Earth is not enough to motivate you, recycling can also make a pretty penny. According to How Stuff Works, you can get paid for recycling cans, electronics, ink cartridges and more!
Things like Christmas trees and Halloween pumpkins are great for holiday spirit, but often go to waste after the holiday ends. How Stuff Works has some great ideas for recycling Christmas trees, and Earth911 has some tips on improving a pumpkin's post-Jack-o-lantern life.
Some beautiful and creative art projects can come from recycled materials. Martha Stewart has some great ideas for turning your trash into treasure. You can also check out Environmental Graffiti's collection of interesting recycled art, or look at the largest sculpture ever made from recycled materials (according to Guinness) for some personal inspiration.
The internet makes a lot of things easier these days, including recycling. Planet Save has a list of websites that aid in recycling and bartering, such as Freecycle.com, Selling Bin and Recycle Bank.
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