The good, the bad and the smelly

Evidence from garbage strike is we still have long way to go in conservation quest
(Originally written July 17 by Kris Scheuer for Town Crier.)

Conservation and consumption.
There’s both good news and a shocking reality check when it comes to how much we conserve and consume in Toronto.
We are becoming more aware of ways we can cut back on our use of everything from energy to plastic bags.
But on the other hand, the garbage strike that hit the city at midnight June 22 made it oh so obvious that we are still producing far too much waste.
While it’s true that as the clock struck midnight, it had been two weeks since the last regularly scheduled garbage pickup for some folks, there were already reports of people illegally dumping waste in parks like Christie Pits on day 1 of the strike.
I didn’t personally see waste piled up when I was at the park at Christie and Bloor that day, but I do vividly recall hundreds upon hundreds of black trash bags dumped in the “pit” during the 2002 garbage strike. The stench was incredible.
One of the sites on the list — you guessed it — Christie Pits which was filled to capacity in only 11 days.
Worst of all, no city staff would be emptying these temporary local dumps until the strike’s end.On June 25, in an effort to curb illegal dumping, the city announced 19 sites where businesses and residents could drop their trash until the end of this latest strike.

I can see how some would get frustrated with the strike and not want to hold on to their garbage. Trash pickup is a city service they pay for, after all.
But I think we need to look beyond those we pay to deal with our waste and examine why we produce so much garbage in the first place.
I sincerely believe we’ve come a long way from the days when we had garbage pickup twice a week and recycled nothing. Torontonians are now diverting, on average, 44 percent of waste from landfill.
Even so, there’s no way around the need for us to look at ways to reduce how much we consume and thus throw out. One way is to seek out fewer disposable products in favour of more reusable options, like using cloth bags over plastic ones.
A few years ago, I started carrying cloth bags. But there are times when I don’t have enough of the reusable bags on me or the ones I do have are already full. In situations like that, I have on occasion taken a plastic bag out of convenience.
I figure I use an average of between six and 12 plastic bags a year, clear plastic food bags not included (I reuse these to collect store-bought produce).
In June, I was determined to report that I didn’t take a single five-cent plastic bag. I’m quite happy to say that I’ve been successful in my quest — though twice I could have folded but stubbornly did not.
I hit my first potential snag on June 11 when I bought a 4-litre bag of milk. The night before, I’d used a cloth bag for groceries and forgot to put it back in my work bag. To avoid taking a plastic bag, I emptied my work sack of the vinyl lunch bag, making room for the milk.
On June 21, I was carrying a full gym bag and a lone cloth bag containing groceries and some new clothes, but I still needed to buy some ingredients for a dinner I had planned the next night. Rather than take a plastic bag, I made room for more produce in my reusable sack through a little rearranging.
I am far from perfect in my quest to do better, but I realize it starts with being conscious of the choices I make each day.
Here’s an update on Toronto Hydro’s Count Me in Campaign to encourage energy conservation by pitting each of the city’s 44 wards against each other to determine which is the greenest of them all.
As of July 17, Scarborough East’s Ward 44 was in the lead with 91 participants and 623 kilowatts of energy saved. Locally Ward 31 is in 25th place with 91 participants saving 215 kilowatts and Ward 29 is in 31th place with 66 participants saving 183 kilowatts.
The contest started May 18 and concludes at the end of August. The winning ward gets an energy retrofit of a public building.
Check www.countmeintoronto.ca to register for free or for updates.
And please send me an email at kscheuer@ mytowncrier.ca if you have comments on the city strike, plastic bag use, energy conservation or have your own tips to share with readers.

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