Back in the 1970s, I was just a kid when I first started hearing about acid rain, holes in the ozone layer, air pollution, light pollution, noise pollution, water pollution and runaway litter. I was well into my twenties – back in the 1980s – when folks started really seriously talking about the importance of recycling. And I must have been in my forties before I actually received – from my municipality – a Blue Bin for my glass, plastic and paper. For years, I had been bringing my recycling to the scant industrial-sized recycle bins that, with a bit of diligent searching, could be located in my city. I was ecstatic to finally have a Blue Bin in my own yard.
Born at the tail-end of the Baby-Boomer generation, I had an advantage when it came to recycling: my parents – born at the tail-end of the Great Depression, recycled everything; saved everything; made a very real attempt to fix everything before – gasp – giving up and throwing it into the garbage. When my mother and my Step-Father moved out of their home a few years ago, my sister and I found jars upon jars; often boxes upon boxes; of old elastics, rusty nails, motor parts, those metal twist-ties for bread bags that they don’t even make anymore, old magazines, broken handles (that might work on something else), odd bits of furniture, clothing dating back to the 80s (“You never know when it’ll come back in style, honey”), old picture frames with the glass missing… My parents’ generation grew up poor and they didn’t throw anything away lightly.
I was proud, sometime in my late twenties, to start a paper-recycling program at my office that still continues to this day, over three decades later. At the time, I wrote an impassioned letter to our Director General explaining how it would benefit our work space – not to mention the environment – and promising that I would take full responsibility for getting it organised and running. I still have that letter – which came back to me with a brief but cheery note scrawled at the bottom: ‘Sure, why not? Go for it, Patti!’ Another colleague, inspired by my achievement, ensured that ever after, the only envelopes that left our building would be made from 100% recycled paper.
Looking back on the things I have accomplished in this lifetime; times when I made a tangible difference; I have always considered starting that work-place recycling program one of my greatest achievements.
Being a recycler before recycling was really a ‘thing’ was also something I was very proud of. All these years later, however, I see that receiving my own personal Blue Bin just made it so much easier for me – and everyone else, it seems – to ignore the increasing amounts of plastic that ever-so-surreptitiously came into our household over the ensuing decades, covering everything from toiletries, to children’s toys, to almost every single thing we ate (even, on one memorable occasion – a bunch of bananas!). For so many years, that Blue Bin lulled me into a false sense of ‘doing something’. Even as I – and everyone else – continued to add our waste to a system that didn’t much care where the recycling went, as long as it didn’t stay in our yard.
When I recently opened my eyes and my ears – when I started researching in earnest and realised with horror that perhaps only 5% of what I have been putting in my Blue Bin actually gets recycled, I decided that it was time for me to get creative. My country, I have learned, has a dismal record when it comes to recycling: one of the worst in the world, in fact. The news has been full, lately, of reports from countries that are fed up with Canada’s garbage and have rightfully begun sending it back. Facebook is full of horrific pictures of waterfowl, turtles and whales quite literally drowning in the waste we have heedlessly stopped thinking about as soon as it left our yards.
And sometime in the last year or so, just like that twenty-something-year-old version of myself who wanted to make a difference in her workplace, I became impassioned again.
In the last five months, I finally realised a dream I had had for many years and started composting all of our kitchen waste (tumbler system – no smell!! Thanks SO much Rory/ aguycalledbloke…). And for five months, I did a ruthless inventory as I saved every single piece of single-use, non-recyclable plastic – no matter how small – that came into our house. I started seeking out every alternative solution I could find for reusing or recycling each item. I joined two ‘Zero Waste’ groups on Facebook. I sought out places where I can purchase food in bulk. I am currently experimenting with alternative materials for plastic such as beeswax wraps. I joined the Green Party of Canada. I joined the local Campaign Committee of the same Green Party for our upcoming federal elections. I started annoying a great number of my Facebook friends with posts about the climate crisis, the Green Party and that horror we all know as single-use plastic.
Going Green; going Zero Waste – is a work in progress, of course, and I am trying to be methodical by changing one habit at a time. Baby steps: slow but sure wins the race.
Because I intend to succeed.
We are still using our Blue Bin but it is never full, anymore, when the middle of the month signals the time to put it to the curb. And our big black garbage can that we used to put to the curb – full to overflowing – once a week? Well, we don’t need that for garbage anymore. Instead, I am using it to store my brown (dry) compost. I inherited a sturdy little kitchen garbage can from Mom when she moved and we are using that as our outside garbage can… which we only have to put to the curb every two – sometimes three – weeks.
With the exception of raising my children, I do not recall ever being so proud of an achievement.
I haven’t saved the world. But I am finally doing everything I can to make a difference.
Twenty-something ‘me’ would be so proud of the person I am becoming…
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com