Tag Archives: landfill

The Luxury of Recycling

recyle, reuse, recycling, garbage, littering, environment, environmental disasters, slums

Find your own way to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle but don’t use laziness as an excuse not to. Creative Commons: timtak flickr

Long ago I took on the recycling mindset. I didn’t want to litter, and if I’m getting rid of something that’s still usable I can’t just throw it out; I have to find a place or person where it can have more purpose. Vancouver has now had curbside recycling for a number of years. Even before that I would save up items (mostly paper) and take them to the recycling depot. But then I was a book rep and would have boxes of catalogues and order forms that would get outdated.

But when I finally came to realized how much garbarge we produced, I wanted to cut down even more on what goes into the landfill so we’re not living on a giant garbage heap. In amongst all these thoughts and growing awareness, I traveled to India. India’s population wasn’t yet a billion people but it was overcrowded and impoverished. I remember coming into Calcutta and passing fields where garbage speckled the fields. The streets of Calcutta were not just filthy. They included a dead cat, feces and other items not wanted. But much was recycled. People tore up any piece of tin or cardboard or concrete sidewalk to create shanty shacks in the mediums between the roads. It was sad and startling.

The air was so thick with diesel and pollution that a handkerchief held over my nose and mouth was black in two hours. The air garbage, recycling, pollution, Asia, culture, trash, landfillremained hazy and thick. When I walked to see the Taj Mahal at dawn the sky displayed an orangey rosey glow that was mostly pollution. Not only did the Ganges have a dead cow floating along, people doing laundry, ablutions and religious observances, it also had the ashes sifting down from the burning ghats where they cremated bodies. I made sure not to touch one drop of that river water and I already had dysentery.

When I arrived in Meghalaya, one of India’s seven tribal states, and more affluent than the general Hindu culture, I found pollution that was heartbreaking. The Khasis had a sacred grove of trees outside of Shillong. One day we drove up there, and it gave a great view of the city. But everywhere I looked there were plastic bags, bottles, straws and tetra packs. Another day we went to see some sites and then sat on a hillside by a waterfall.  We ate our lunch, which was wrapped in banana leaves and then in plastic bags (there were no neat takeout containers). After we finished the other people tossed the banana leaves and then the plastic bags. I ran around gathering up the plastic and exclaiming, You can’t do that. It’s bad.

These people are educated. They go to school and university and drive jeeps but they had no idea about environmentalism. I triedto explain that not only is it visually unappealing but unlike the banana leaf, the bag will go into the ground, poison the earth, or a cow will eat it and then when you eat part of that cow (the Khasis are not Hindus, who don’t eat cows) you could get sick from the plastic. I simplified it but I tried to impress that they shouldn’t leave garbage in the natural environment. But they also had no form of recycling.

trash, garbage, pollution, India, slums, recycling, recyle, reuse, reduce, environment

In many ways India does more of the Reuse part of the three Rs than we do. But Reduce is something that all countries need to do so that there isn’t so much garbage in the beginning. From: Indianimages.com

For much of India, it would have been fairly difficult to go up to someone and say, Don’t cut down that tree or you will have no trees at all, when that tree might be the only means for them to cook food. Seeing such destitution, filth and pollution in areas made me realize that we in North America have the luxury to recycle. It’s not that easy in a third world country where survival is your first most thought. You want shelter, security and food, and little else matters after that. In fact your full day might be taken up with finding enough food for your family. Such images fill me with despair but I try to hold out hope, from my teenage years example, that things will change for the better.

This doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It can, and when the teenage Khasis boys looked at North America and coveted the standard of living and all the trappings of popular culture that we have, then it became even more of our onus to make sure people don’t repeat the mistakes. India has rampant pollution but then Canada and the US’s shores and land are not pristine. We work at it but there is always room for improvement. You cannot deprive another society or deny them to have what you have, but you can try to show them it can be done better.  Pollution and recycling isn’t just something for some people. Every person and ever nation has to do it and India’s government could at least start the ball rolling, and maybe they have. I haven’t been there in years. One thing I know is I’ll continue to try to lead by example and I have room for improvement too.

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The Disposable Society

Imagine a time when you either wove your own fabric from skeins of wool or cotton, maybe even carding and spinning the wool. Or perhaps you bought the bolt of cloth and made your own garments by hand, or were lucky enough to have a foot treadle sewing machine. If you could you might have bought one fine dress and it was your Sunday dress or suit, worn for years until it wore out. Any garment you had would be recycled as it fell apart, the usable pieces cut out and either made into something else or used to patch a new garment. Nothing was wasted. You wore your shoes until they fell off of you, probably having been repaired and patched as many times as possible.

If you bought (or even if you butchered yourself) part of a cow, you would use every scrap possibly, make soup from bones. Even slight old vegetables or meat that was still good would be cooked or preserved in some way as soup, stews or pickled. Dish water might be reused several times or people would bathe in the same water. Everything was used until it could not be used anymore. Baskets or carts were taken to market laden with goods, and brought back again with different items.

Just think, only one hundred years ago, this was the norm for the average person. Before the age of industrialization it was very much the way and life consisted of one of existence and keeping a roof over your head and feeding you and your loved ones. Communities worked together and spare time was time to socialize because it was rare but everyone needed some fun and leisure.

Once industrialization began, machines could make things faster and cheaper, cutting down on labor (which caused its own problems in labor of course) and soon most people did not need to know how to sew or mend, could own a couple of pairs of shoes and could buy various items easily. As we progressed past the war years, we started to enter the disposable society. Imagine the rationing of World War II when everything from food to rubber was rationed so that the front lines had enough and that equipment could be made towards the war. This would never happen today because there are numerous supply lines from various countries and shipping through various forms of transportation.

You would have an outhouse and if lucky, perhaps a newspaper or magazine, that once read from cover to cover, would be used as toilet paper. If no newspaper, you probably had buckets of leaves. Water was gathered from a pump or a well and heated on a wood stove, the wood which you chopped yourself. You would probably grow many of your own vegetables, raise a few chickens for eggs and if on a farm, you’d be butchering your own meat. Bread was made from scratch as was everything else. What surplus you had was sold for items such as plows, hoes, shoes, ribbons, fabric, treats or other food that you didn’t have, candles, lamp oil, axes, horses, cows, chickens, maybe a book if you were learned and could afford a bit extra.

If you look at your life in contrast to someone’s of a hundred years ago you will have numerous clothes, good and casual, several pairs of shoes or more, and coats for several seasons. You live in a place with many books (if you’re into books) or magazines or newspapers. You have a TV, a computer, a land or cell phone (or both) and a host of other electronic devices that make eating, sleeping, working and leisure time easier. You don’t have to make all your food from scratch or even have a garden. Vegetables and fruit are available year-long, plus exotic foods that only the elite once ate. We throw out clothes when they go out of fashion or get a bit worn. We can buy new clothes for as little as a few bucks.

Most of us don’t even need to take our basket or cart to market, though more and more people are using cloth bags. And this in itself has generated an industry of plastics so cheap that you get a bag with every purchase. The bags are disposable, like the clothes, the slightly worn shoes, a computer three years old, a car that is five years old, a book, jewellery or food in such abundance that we let it go bad. But is it truly disposable? We throw or give these things away and once out of sight, out of mind. But many of these items end up in landfills or garbage heaps or somewhere where they will take a thousand years or more to decompose.

Imagine, in a thousand years we went from the Byzantine Empire to today. Religions were born, societies fell, cultures changed. And now, we constantly waste, all of us. There are countries in the world that are too poor to waste anything, but anyone in western culture, Europe or North America wastes, no matter how good we are at recycling. So that means we all have room to improve. And if we really want to take a look at the popular carbon footprint, then it does not just mean taking the bus instead of driving, or not flying. It means buying foods that are made locally, or grown yourself. These aspects we know, but where do our clothes and our shoes, our computers and iPods come from? How much carbon is used in the manufacture of these items and the shipping of them?

I believe every person could try harder to be less wasteful, which would preserve our resources longer, and really think about that carbon footprint. Money and resources flow through us as if the sluice gates were wide open.  The carbon footprint is everywhere, not just in food or transportation. It’s not an easy solution, nor a fast one and will take years of us looking differently at everything, but maybe we can change our society from being one of disposable and consumeristic to being one of conserving and re-using.

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Sustainability and A Planet Out of Whack

We are talking more and more about sustainability, as an end to our oil resources is something almost calculable by now. As our living space will decrease with population growth and demands on usable water will increase. As our landfills overflow and seep toxic gunk into the groundwater.  As our land turns to dustbowls or swamps and arable land becomes scarce, as millions of cars belch fumes into the sky.

Right now fires are sweeping across BC, again, threatening people living in cities. In Westbank/Kelowna 11,000 people have been evacuated with another 6,000 on alert. This echoes the terrible, devastatingly traumatic fires that swept through parts of Australia earlier this year. Fires so intense and vicious that they caught people as they tried to get into their cars, that burned land to a cinder killing all living things, whether plant or animal, that stood upon the land. Australia faces the collapse of its wine industry, vines grown for years either burned to a crisp or without water to keep the crops going. Their cattle industry is also in danger. A whole country and continent without enough water.

This is not a new thing. Disasters and climatic devastation have happened throughout history but the ferocity and frequency are increasing as the planet warms and suffers under the onslaught of chemicals and fumes not meant to play with nature. The change in the planet probably began with the industrial revolution, once machines were chugging blue smoke into the sky and sluicing runoff into the streams. It began with the first car. And if we think about it, that was only about a hundred years ago. A tenth of a millennium and civilization has existed for at least twenty thousand years.

Think about it. We are exponentially increasing the danger to the planet and to ourselves, and sticking our heads in the sand won’t make it go away. So just what is sustainability? Let’s look at defining it first, from Merriam Webster: 1: capable of being sustained 2 a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged <sustainable techniques> <sustainable agriculture> b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods <sustainable society> 

So that a resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. Wow. Perhaps it’s easier to look at what is not sustainable than what is. What’s left over is what we have to work with. Let’s start with the biggest resource. Our planet. It is of a finite circumference with finite water and land. The world population is at 6.7 billion. It is expected to increase to 9 billion in 2040. That’s within a lot of our lifetimes. There will be less land to live on and the more building that happens takes away from land to grow upon. Water is already an issue in many places. What will it be like in thirty years?

This means no matter how much you love children, think they’re cute, want to be surrounded by bundles of joy or your religion has said, go forth and multiply, it is just not sustainable. Everyone can take personal responsibility and for every couple have one child. That will bring our population down. It will make the planet breathe a sigh of relief and continue a bit longer. Plagues, diseases and flus won’t spread like wildfire. And yes, businesses will have to restructure from the grow grow grow buy more mentality. But we’ll survive.

What is not sustainable is manufacturing more and cheaper cars, SUVs, Hummers and every gas guzzling monster. For sustainability they should be outlawed. And we see right now the glacial progress of moving to electric cars. Governments need to move faster on this and provide incentives to get people to change. More cars plug city thoroughfares and raise costs in maintenance, accident prevention and care. Fewer cars and bigger carpool systems will lessen the strain and road rage. Electric cars, bicycles, viable and cheap public transit will help alleviate both pollution and the sucking of the world’s limited oil and metal resources. Another unsustainable depleting resource.

Manufacturing that uses water needs to be looked at, if our water is becoming limited. Healthy, interactive systems of filtration need to be used to keep our water pure and reusable. We could end up like the people in the novel Dune, having to wear suits that recycle and sweat and urine into drinkable fluids over and over because the planet is desert. Water saving devices for taps, toilets and showers must be used. Education will help stem the tide there.

Building homes and offices, making paper all work on depleting trees. The forestry industry has been made responsible for replanting for quite a few years. But you can chop down more trees in a day than will grow in  a year. it takes years to get a big tree, centuries. Ripping out too many tress not only affects flora and fauna of an ecosystem but also affects the topsoil, the nutrients and the infrastructure of the land for both stability and water.

I could go on but every person as well as every company and government must take responsibility and look at what they use and how it’s reused or discarded. Everything from food to clothing. If we don’t start now, we should have started fifty years ago. And if you truly love children, start now and look at what you can do for sustainability because there could be no tomorrow.

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Carbon Tax and Post Consumer Waste

I received my $100 carbon tax credit (govspeak calls it the Climate Action Dividend) from the BC government yesterday. Of course, they can’t just send the money but have to include some do-good hype to cover up that they’re not actually doing much that’s green. Supposedly this is a revenue neutral tax because “by law, all revenue raised by the carbon tax must be returned to individuals and businesses through reductions to other taxes.”

The enclosed pamphlet is not high-end glossy so that’s good. It’s an 8×12.25″ piece of paper, folded into fours and double sided (French on one side, English on the other). It sports four-colour printing, which is always expensive. Were the colours needed to print the pictures of a child holding a plant, two people walking in a forest or the person’s head with thought balloons of a light bulb, lawnmower and a running shoe, or would two colour have done as well? I lookied closely for the recycling logo. There is none but it says this at the bottom:

By using 40% post consumer recycled paper for this project we saved… 262 trees, 10,780 kilograms of solid waste, 98,978 litres of water, 34, 105 kilowatt hours of electricity, 19,595 kilograms of greenhouse gases, 50 cubic metres of landfill space.

Saved? Hmm.

Let’s see…only 40% post consumer paper when many other magazines and publications use 60-100%? But maybe it wasn’t good enough for printing four colour. There is no mention of using vegetable based inks. And let’s look closer at this “SAVING” aspect. The Liberal government sent a cheque to every man, woman and child living in BC. That’s approximately 4, 428,000 people as of April 1. How many trees, water and kilowatts of electricity were used for this propaganda? How much landfill and greenhouse gases were created in printing this?

The carbon tax is for all forms of fuel including propane, oil, gas, diesel and natural gas. Yet if you look at the smartchoicesbc site it says there’s a tax on natural gas but then it says there’s a PST exemption for natural gas. WTF?

Content… we must look at content because it has an important message, doesn’t it? Oh and it’s from the Minister of Finance, not the Minister of the Environment. Well we are talking about money and what you can save but aren’t we really talking about lowering greenhouse gases? It does list six things you can do, four of which apply to homeowners, one for car owners and one for anyone who wants to buy compact fluorescent light bulbs.

I’ve been trying to get my landlord to put in better weather stripping. I already have the light bulbs so will I see more of this neutral revenue in my taxes right away? I don’t think so. It’ll be averaged out. A real climate action dividend for me would have been the government saving the money by not adding this mostly inane pamphlet, but taking the “saved” costs and lowering the price of public transit. That would really help me. As it goes, $100 doesn’t cover a two-zone transit pass for even one month.

And really, did the government need to send out a brochure to give us some simple examples of “Climate Smart Action” when most people will toss the cheques in their bank accounts and spend it on whatever comes next, either bills or that next tank of gas?

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Plastic: Recycle or Ban

Vancouver has recently been debating whether to ban plastic shopping bags or not. I was of a mixed mind. After all, if all plastic bags are banned, what do we put our garbage in? I also try to use cloth bags but forget about half the time. Still, I’m sure if there were no plastic bags tomorrow, I would have enough bags for garbage for over a year.

Plastic bags have only been around fifty years or so and they are already a major problem for landfills. But landfill would not be that much of a problem if in fact our garbage was only organic and biodegradable. I would bet that studies will show that plastic water bottles are also contributing largely to the problem. Many North American cities now have recycling programs to filter out paper, glass, tin and plastics so that they are not sitting for hundreds of years in landfills. It’s not a policed system (much) so it takes people’s participation to really work. And not all cities have recycling, which in this day and age, is a sin.

I had a theory that when I use plastic bags for garbage it makes more sense to leave organic waste in than to filter it out because it would help compost the plastic. In theory I was right, but I found out a couple of things that counteract this. Many landfills are lined with clay and other materials to retain seepage of dangerous chemicals. As well, a layer or dirt may be pushed over the garbage to keep down the odor. That’s good for containing the problem but organic waste only breaks down if it has the right amount of bacteria, light and oxygen. Burying the garbage restricts the ability of UV radiation and air needed to break down even a lettuce leaf.

One bacteria that breaks down some types of plastic is Pseudomonas in a process called
bioremediation. Plastic is man-made from petroleum based hydrocarbons and polyethylene (there are other materials as well). The hydrocarbons in the plastic serve as food for the bacteria but there is a question of how long it can take to break down, and what toxic residue is left behind.

The plastic bags that many of us use in many countries are not always discarded safely, nor are they reused. I mentioned an incident in India in my “Not Throwing in with the Crowd: Litter” article. https://colleenanderson.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=76  Plastics in ground and sea get into the water and the soil, slowly poisoning it and affecting all life forms. They can also kill an animal that accidentally eats the plastic, mistaking it for food. And many animals are ensnared by plastic, trapping or injuring them until they expire.

This heartbreaking slideshow was sent to me by a friend. Just click on it to see the effects of plastic bags. If you don’t believe the statistics, the pictures alone should encourage us all to try harder.  thedangersofplasticbags After seeing this and doing a bit of research, I’m now wholeheartedly for banning plastic bags. There are ways of making garbage removal/composting work without the bags or with using other recycled materials that won’t redirect the burden onto trees for paper bags.

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_12751.cfm

http://www.reusablebags.com/facts.php?id=2

http://www.rcbc.bc.ca/index.htm

 

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Go Green

I have already mentioned how I wouldn’t litter even as a teenager, and what I think of Sam Sullivan’s “eco-density” movement (another word for cramming people into smaller spaces). Along the way of my own greening I started to look at what I could do to lessen my impact. Like most people there is even more I can do.

At one point I was a book rep and had many book samples as well as reams of catalogues and order forms. Blue boxes had not quite made it into every household. Instead of loading up the garbage cans with all the paper, I would take loads to the Kent St. station, the only place in Vancouver that would take material for recycling. They had bins for paper, glass, plastic, tin and electronic equipment such as toasters or fridges. Unless you were bringing large containers or items it was free to dump and the Kent St. depot is still there.

I started cleaning my sinks and tub with baking soda as it was less harmful than using chemical cleansers. I look for biodegradable detergents for laundry and I try to buy make-up that’s not tested on animals. Though the nasty stuff in the makeup that isn’t good for humans is something I still need to research.

I also try not to buy anything that’s overpackaged. However, that’s difficult because small items are often packaged in a box that’s packaged in a molded, plastic blister pack. I understand the reasoning for this, which includes marketing–making the piece more visible on the shelf, and as an anti-theft deterrent–make it big and bulky. But buying something like a box with 24 snack-size bags of chips, crackers, cheese, whatever wrapped in plastic is a sign of convenience, or laziness, and not environmentally sound. Consider that you can always buy a bulk bag or box of the same product and portion the sizes out into reusable containers.

When I have a party I keep extra plastic cups but I have bags set up for people to put their bottles and used cups into. I recycle and wash the plastic glasses until they crack. I haven’t had to buy plastic cups in years. I don’t use paper napkins but have cloth napkins. I don’t use plastic utensils but wash my metal ones, and the same for plates. I don’t use paper towels but have rags for spills. I do however, use toilet paper. 🙂

I’m not so good at composting. Lee Valley has these nice stainless steel composting buckets and I’ll need to get one of those. Anyone who has kept any sort of vegetable scraps in a bucket knows they stain, but the smell of decomposing organic matter smells just like an outhouse, so the container needs to be sealed. I keep all my used batteries in a plastic bag and when there are enough of them I take them to Ikea. I hear London Drugs also has battery recycling as well as other depots.

I’ve just finished painting my bedroom and will have several empty paint tins. I wasn’t sure where to take them, a paint depot or to the garbage? Although empty there is still paint residue. They’re no longer allowed to be in the blue boxes and the hardware/paint stores don’t necessarily take them back. Likewise, painting has caused me to purge other items. I have a working fax/printer and a scanner that I refuse to throw into the landfill. Besides, one can now be fined for putting these things in the garbage. So I clicked on the Recycling Council of BC’s website. They have a host of information on where to take all sorts of items, as wells as ways to lessen our environmental footprint. http://www.rcbc.bc.ca/index.htm

Many cities may have something similar for recycling and information on programs. If they don’t, public encouragement can get them there. The RCBC’s website also has the Waste-o-Meter. Like places I’ve seen that show the number of species going extinct by the day, this shows how much we’re tossing in the landfill and it’s frightening.

A year ago the greater Vancouver area suffered a strike, which included garbage collectors. Between my landlords and me, we managed to keep the garbage down to the large plastic bin for over a month. My garbage amounted to one small bag every two-three weeks. Hopefully I can still improve on that. I encourage everyone else to try a little harder. I’ve always said, If necessity was the mother of invention, then laziness was the father. I’ve had too many people tell me they didn’t recycle because they couldn’t be bothered. It’s too bad we treat our world with such disregard.

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