What I learned from city strike

We produce too much garbage, litter and packaging
I am doing my own waste audit to see how I can improve
By Kris Scheuer
(Column originally published in Town Crier Aug. 4)

Something stinks in the “state” of Toronto and it’s not just the garbage strike.
As a city hall reporter and lifelong Torontonian, here is my trash talk on garbage, litter and my top observations during the nearly six week labour unrest.
Number 1: we produce way too much waste, folks.
We deposited a total of 25,000 tonnes of waste in 26 temporary, neighbourhood garbage dumps, Geoff Rathbone, head of solid waste management told reporters on July 30.
Let’s think about that for a sec. The dumps opened June 25, some of them, such as Christie Pits, closed a mere 11 days later because they were at capacity. The amount of garbage we threw out at these dumps doesn’t even include the tonnes thrown out at seven waste transfer stations. Secondly, I am saddened and appalled at the amount of illegal dumping that occurred during the 39-day labour disruption. The strike started at midnight the morning of June 22 and that same day people were already dumping trash at Christie Pits park.
On July 14, I wrote a story about the mess on St. Clair Ave. West and I counted 198 bags of trash illegally dumped between Dufferin and Bathurst Sts. This was not an isolated problem. The city issued 328 fines and over 6,800 warnings for illegal dumping, Rathbone said back on July 15. Tickets cost offenders $305 a pop.
Third, my pet peeve of litter. The city, with taxpayer’s money, spends $20 million a year picking up litter and emptying trash cans on the street. I see discarded coffee cups and pop cans on my walk into the office, in parks, on beaches, lining street gutters.
I concede that one of the reasons people litter is because trash cans are full or they can’t find one conveniently located along their route. That should change soon. Starting last year, the city is increasing the garbage bins from 4,000 to 12,000 over the next two decades. And of course, during the strike there street bins were taped shut and those that were accessible were overflowing because they were not being emptied. Nonetheless, I cringe every time I see someone casually toss a cigarette package or pop can on the ground as if someone will magically move behind them with a bag and broom to sweep it up. Surely it’s possible for all of us to hold onto items until we reach our homes, work or an available receptacle?
Looking to the post-strike future brings me to my fourth point.
Let me say that it is not our faults alone that we produce so much waste. I think Toronto does a fairly good job of accepting a wide variety of items in the blue and green bins to divert them from landfill.
After all, we can throw diapers and animal waste in the green bin along with food scraps, paper towels and tissues. And we can toss everything from plastic retail bags and polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) to cans, bottles, yogurt tubs, cardboard, paper and frozen juice containers in the blue bin. However, there’s some manufacturer’s packaging the city currently doesn’t recycle.
I would love to see the clear plastic packaging that houses blueberries, cherry tomatoes or eggs added to the blue box and the city is working on that. Some environmentalists, including Beach resident Karen Buck, a member of  Citizens for a Safe Environment have suggested to me that we have an extended producer responsibility. This means the producer of the packaging takes 100 percent responsibility for disposing of the packaging for their products.
Some consumers are simply leaving unwanted packaging at stores so that the seller, who may put pressure on the manufacturer to produce less packaging, has to deal with disposal.
And finally, I am going to make a pledge to do my own waste audit in August of what I throw out and where I can do a better job of cutting back on my own wasteful habits. I will report back to you in September.
If you have suggestions, please email me at kscheuer@ mytowncrier.ca.

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