A little ahead, but so far behind

Michael Johansen
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The first item was the easiest: one plastic pop bottle. Where to? Recycling, of course. Into the blue box with it.

How about the cap? That’s for the garbage, surely. Not a bit of it — it follows the bottle. OK — pop, juice, beer, liquor and water bottles, but not milk. No way they take used milk bottles — oh, but they do.

Newspaper? Don’t even have to think about it: in the box. Notepaper, too. And wrapping paper, writing paper, envelopes, pamphlets, even glossy magazines. It all gets recycled one way or another — as do cardboard boxes of all sizes.

Empty a plastic margarine tub — the tub and lid go into the blue box together. Empty a plastic mayonnaise jar and it follows, as does the glass relish jar and the squeezable mustard and ketchup bottles.

The clear plastic wrappings from around the cheese and the hotdogs, they go for recycling, too. As well, the blue box takes the big fragile plastic containers that hold pastries and croissants, as well as the styrofoam trays that hold different meat products.

Can’t finish the hotdog? (Or the potato salad, the ham and cheese sandwich, the all-dressed pizza, the steak, the corn on the cob, the pie, the rice pilaf, the lasagna, the stuffed olives, the barbecued shrimp, or any other kind of food you might imagine not eating in its entirety?) It goes to recycling as well. The garbage is no place for compostable organic matter — not with so many householders planting their own vegetable gardens. The only thing: it doesn’t go into the old blue box. There’s a new green one just for that kind of stuff.

About the only things still treated as garbage (that is, in the town of St-Etienne-de-Lévis, Que., which may be taken as representative of municipalities in the province) are unpleasant items like used tissues, wet paper towels, plastic film wrap and the once ubiquitous single-use shopping bags. Fortunately, while some of that stuff will continue to be produced unabated (at least until someone cures the common cold), the use of plastic shopping bags has dropped dramatically.

Ontario’s the same — not only in cities like Ottawa, but also in rural areas where people live in isolated residences. Recycling has become easier as more and more restrictions are lifted on what can be saved and how it should be sorted.

Some wasteful disposal of valuable metals, plastics, glass, paper and organic matter is still tolerated, but in other jurisdictions (like on Prince Edward Island) householders must use clear garbage bags to hold their trash (instead of dark green or black ones) so that the collectors can see there’s nothing reusable mixed in.

All these Canadian municipalities are following the examples of jurisdictions that are years ahead of them in implementing successful recycling programs — like the one in the small German city of Dessau (definitely representative of the whole country) where all of a household’s cast-away stuff is tossed unwashed and unsorted into the same clear bag, but none of it ever sees a dump — everything is somehow reused or recycled.

A successful recycling program requires three conditions: citizens prepared to change their garbage-disposal habits, a municipality able to divert recyclables from the garbage stream, and a higher level of government willing to support and co-ordinate local efforts.

Frustratingly, although these conditions exist all across Canada, they seem woefully lacking in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In the upper Lake Melville region, for instance, a single private company buys a limited range of beverage containers (paying less than the consumer’s deposit), but as the depot has long been open only three days per week, most bottles just get tossed into the big unlined dump by the Goose River, along with all the other valuable materials that other jurisdictions know enough to save.

Effective change will require a government in St. John’s that’s prepared to take an active role in setting up a comprehensive province-wide recycling program of all materials — not one that cares so little it only seems content to spend all the bottle deposit money on uselessly storing used car tires.


Michael Johansen is a writer

living in Labrador.

Geographic location: St-Etienne-de-Lévis, Ontario, Ottawa Newfoundland and Labrador Prince Edward Island Dessau Canada Lake Melville Goose River

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