“And Man created the plastic bag and the tin and aluminum can and the cellophane wrapper and the paper plate, and this was good because Man could then take his automobile and buy all his food in one place and He could save that which was good to eat in the refrigerator and throw away that which had no further use. And soon the earth was covered with plastic bags and aluminum cans and paper plates and disposable bottles and there was nowhere to sit down or walk, and Man shook his head and cried: ‘look at this godawful mess.’”
— Art Buchwald (1925-2007),
American columnist and humourist
I remember a time and place before the dawn of Tupperware parties and Ziploc bags and disposable diapers and single-serving microwavable dinners.
A time when you made your own bread and kept it in a plastic bag that had had a prior use. Heck, my mother used to rinse out plastic bread bags and hang them on the line to be reused again and again until they practically disintegrated.
Groceries were brought home in cardboard boxes, and cheese came in huge wheels from which you bought a hunk wrapped in waxed paper — it was not pre-sliced or shredded or individually wrapped as stringable lunch snacks.
Ice cream containers found new life as berrypicking containers or boat-bailers or clothespin holders, and diapers were cotton or flannel — used, rinsed, washed, bleached and used again and again.
Smokers didn’t flick their used-up Bic lighters into the garbage in those days — they carried sturdy Zippos that they refilled with lighter fluid and changed the flints when they needed to.
Meat came in waxed paper wrapped in brown paper and tied up with unbleached string. There were no styrofoam trays to clutter up the landfill. People often had an old oil drum in their backyard for burning small amounts of garbage, but there was a lot less of it then.
Clothes got handed down to younger siblings or cousins, and even the bathwater was reused when I was a girl and there were a lot of people in one house vying for a limited supply of hot water. That notion may make some people wrinkle their noses in disgust, but it was actually a bonus to use your older sister’s bathwater, since she was the one who had the lovely bath salts and bubble bath and soap.
Which is perhaps why I’ve taken to curbside recycling with a vengeance.
Hooked on the program
In our house the joke is, don’t stay still for too long or you could end up in one of the blue recycling bags down in the laundry room.
Of course, not every community has a recycling program, and a lot of folks who’d love to divert trash from the landfill have no choice but to keep throwing it out. But for those of us with access to curbside recycling, it’s an eye-opening experience.
My husband and I are constantly amazed at how much stuff we used to throw out. We’ve been composting and recycling newsprint and beverage containers for years, but now there are so many other things we can rescue from the trash: receipts, envelopes, cereal boxes, old bills and phone books, shampoo bottles, milk cartons and dog food tins. Even our dryer lint gets tossed outside as nesting material for the birds, thanks to a handy tip from a contact at city hall.
Our goal when the program started was to limit ourselves to one bag of garbage a week and we’ve succeeded. Every second week, we have two bulging bags of recyclables and one deflated-looking bag of trash sitting on the sidewalk. Imagine the difference one household can make to the landfill in one year.
And people are jumping on the bandwagon.
The manager of waste management for the City of St. John’s, Jason Sinyard, said city staff hit the streets every day before the collection trucks arrive, to try to get a sense of how many households are participating. Based on their assessments, he figures the rate is somewhere between 50 and 70 per cent.
“For the most part … it’s been well-received,” Sinyard said of the program. “Retailers found it hard, at first, to keep up with the demand for blue (recycling) bags … which really speaks well to the level of interest in participation.”
Sinyard said while it’s hard to say if the recycling program will ever pay for itself given the volatile nature of the markets for recyclables, there are big-picture benefits that offset the costs.
“It’s not just the straight economics of selling recyclables,” he said. “It’s extending the life of your landfill, and less use of natural resources and using recycled materials instead.”
If you can recycle and haven’t been, it might be a worthy resolution as you get set to ring in 2011.
Remember, those empty bubbly bottles have plenty of life left in them yet and, thanks to you, so will the landfill.
Happy New Year!
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s
story editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.