Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 28, 2002
Reduce before you recycle
Don't make waste in the first place
By SUSAN ELSTON
For the last several weeks, I've been helping my husband Brian clean out our garage. The plan is to clear out enough stuff so that we can actually park our cars inside this winter.
It's a lofty goal. A few years ago when my father-in-law died, Brian inherited most of his tools and other stuff that had accumulated in his dad's basement. The job of sorting it all out was an emotional one, and before Brian could finish, we started renovating our house, which meant dumping more stuff in the garage.
All of this would explain why we're still a good month away from actually using our garage for its intended purpose.
One of the biggest problems that we have in sorting everything out is that we don't want to simply throw out what we no longer need or want.
Paper and cardboard have to be recycled, used motor oil, batteries and old paints have to be taken to the hazardous waste depot, and anything that could be re-used by someone else has to have a new home.
The process is an exhausting one. It's also contradictory to how the world currently works. We live in a disposable society. North Americans represent eight per cent of the world's population, and yet we generate 55 per cent of the world's garbage. Canadians top the list as the most wasteful people on Earth.
Unfortunately, this is the least effective way to reduce our garbage. Our most recent figures indicate that Ontarians are only recycling or composting about 26 per cent of the residential waste stream. The problem is that recycling is the third R of waste management. Reduction and reuse have to come first.
But as Brian and I have discovered, consciously reducing and reusing are time-consuming activities, and time is perhaps the most valuable commodity that we have.
The solution is to move away from managing our waste once we've made it and stop making it in the first place. This will require no less than a fundamental shift in how our society and our economy work. Our entire system is based on the ever-increasing need for new consumer items. Corporations spend billions of dollars every year promoting new products. As the British newspaper The Guardian so accurately explained, "Advertisers help us to answer needs we never knew we had."
Perhaps the most glaring example of this market fabrication is the development of infant formula. Since the beginning of time, women have been producing the perfect food for their babies. It costs nothing, creates no waste and provides infants with the ideal balance of nutrients. Despite this, formula companies have developed a product that generates billions of dollars in revenues annually.
The result is that the United Nations and World Health Organization estimate that over one million babies die every year because they are not breastfed. Millions more are put at risk of developing everything from asthma and diabetes to ear infections, high blood pressure and chronic obesity. And yet, whether or not a woman breast feeds is considered an issue of consumer choice.
The formula industry is just one example of how basic human needs have been turned into marketing opportunities. The fast food and soft drink industries have taken our fundamental need for sustenance and turned it into multi-billion dollar, multinational corporations like McDonalds and Coca-Cola. These companies drive our economic engine selling products that we don't need while creating a whole mess of garbage in the process. It is interesting to note that of the top 10 U.S. corporations, none sells products that we cannot live without.
Which leads me back to our garage. What we need is a warm, dry place to keep the cars we already have so they don't have to be replaced in a few years. Brian needs a clear workbench to fix - rather than replace - things when they are broken. Reduce primary consumption, repair and reuse what we already have and finally recycle what we truly no longer need.
Now there's a plan that won't cost the Earth.
Recommended websites:Oct. 21 to 27 is Waste Reduction Week in Canada. Visit The Waste Reduction Week Canada website at www.wrwcanada.com for great ideas and activities on how you can reduce your waste. Educators are invited to download the Waste Reduction Week handbook (PDF format) for classroom and community use. The Recycling Council of Alberta is a partner in Waste Reduction Week Its website is www.recycle.ab.ca. For more information about breastfeeding, visit www.infactcanada.ca.
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