South Shore Breaker

Finding inspiratio­n in my garbage

- VERNON OICKLE @Saltwirene­twork Vernon Oickle, the author of 32 books, writes The View From Here column, which appears weekly in the South Shore Breaker.

Like most folks, our household produces garbage and one of my regular duties is getting that garbage ready for roadside pickup.

Our waste is collected every two weeks in the Region of Queens but sorting our garbage has become a daily routine in our household, as it is most others.

That may seem like an onerous task for some, but is it really? I know some people complain about having to sort and put out their trash, but I don't see it as a big deal. It's our garbage after all, so it's up to us to deal with it.

Furthermor­e, as the generator of the garbage, it's your responsibi­lity to do it the right way.

We pay for the service through our taxes and it's convenient for us to be able to put our waste out by the curb where someone else comes along and takes it away for proper disposal. At that point, our garbage becomes someone else's problem, but if we've done our job properly then we've reduced that burden.

In reality, taking the garbage out is a mundane chore that homeowners have to face but, honestly, I really don't mind doing it.

In fact, my garbage recently inspired me to reflect on how much things have changed over the course of the past 50 years when it comes to garbage pickup.

Perhaps it was the observatio­n of Earth Day a few weeks ago on April 22 that actually prompted me to write about this topic, but when you think of it, our garbage disposal has come a long ways over the past half a century.

Things really have changed from when I was a youngster. For example, when I was a kid I remember large, open garbage dumps filled beyond capacity with anything you can imagine, from household waste to industrial and commercial garbage, to auto parts and discarded household appliances. You name it, I'm sure you'd have found it in the town dump.

I also remember the open incinerato­rs that burned all the garbage and spewed the toxic fumes and smoke into the atmosphere, causing

God knows what health hazards to anyone unfortunat­e enough to be near the fallout zone.

But it is the images from the large open dumps, overflowin­g with bags and bags of garbage and other items too gross to even imagine as flocks of seagulls gathered around to scrounge for whatever morsel they could uncover, that stick in my memory.

The images were one thing but the smells … well don't even go there. These dumps were common all across the province.

It really was a disgusting mess, and these dumps were a major blight on our otherwise pristine (mostly) landscape.

Thankfully, though, over time and through much government interventi­on and countless millions of dollars, these open pit dumps have all but been eradicated, replaced by expensive, yet necessary, more environmen­tallyfrien­dly landfills.

It goes without saying that the optimum solution would be to have no landfills whatsoever, but as long as humans produce garbage these facilities will be needed and since we live in a throwaway society that generates billions of tons of garbage every year, landfills aren't going away any time soon.

So proper management of our garbage is a must. However, I do believe we've made progress over the past five decades, especially when it comes to trash diversion and better control over our waste stream. I remember when I was a kid every piece of household garbage went into the black garbage bag and then made its way to its final destinatio­n — the dump.

And when I say everything went into the garbage bag,

I really do mean everything from paper and cardboard, to tin cans and bottles, to food waste and whatever else you can image.

Where I grew up, our garbage was picked up once a week and it would be normal for us — like everyone else in the neighbourh­ood — to produce two or three or maybe even more, bags of garbage during every cycle. It really was disgusting and cringe worthy.

Today's younger generation would rightfully be offended if only they realized how badly we abused the environmen­t back then, but anyone who lived before the age of recycling will understand exactly what I'm saying.

Thankfully, things are different today and my recent trip to the curb with my trash just reinforced that reality.

Nowadays, the actual waste we produce in our household fills less than, on average, a third of a black bag and that's every two weeks. Oftentimes, it's less than that.

It really is amazing when you think about how greatly we've reduced the flow of garbage to our landfills when compared to what we were doing 50 years ago. We can do better, but we got to our present state through society's commitment to improving our environmen­t and through mandatory recycling.

As I stated earlier, I grew up in a time when every type of item went into the black bag. Today, however, we sort everything at its source, which means we have blue bags for all recyclable­s such as paper, bottles, plastic and cans. We also have green recycling bins for all organic wastes, which, compared to what people did years ago with this type of waste, really is a huge improvemen­t.

Recycling has become so engrained in our society that it is difficult to believe that we've only been doing it for 30 years.

In fact, the Municipali­ty of Lunenburg was a North American leader in getting the ball rolling on recycling by implementi­ng mandatory waste sorting at the source (homes and businesses) at a time when there was still a great deal of resistance and pushback to such a thing, so kudos to them for their council's vision and leadership.

Today, of course, we sort everything and it is through that effort that we've taken large steps to diverting the amount of waste that goes into landfills, but there are still many obstacles to overcome, including the need to find more land and create new landfills as existing ones become filled to capacity and must be closed down.

There's also the challenge of finding markets for our reclaimed materials and then there is the challenge of dealing with illegal dumps, which, for the life of me, I don't understand.

Why would anyone go through the aggravatio­n of taking their garbage down an old dirt road and leaving it there when there are more convenient ways of disposing of your trash — like taking it to the curb for pick up! It really does boggle the mind.

I also know that even with all of our success, we can all still do a better job at sorting and recycling, but we have made great strides in recent decades. In fact, the percentage of people who don't recycle is pretty low so keep up the good work everyone.

But, despite these issues, we've come a long way in dealing with our home-based garbage.

Gone are the days when homeowners would stand at their back door and toss their garbage in their own dumps in their backyard (yes, people actually did this and you can find remnants of these dumps all over the countrysid­e) to a modern system of recycling and diversion.

Is there room for improvemen­t in these systems? Yes, for sure, but we are doing a far sight better job today in dealing with our garbage than we were 50 years ago, or at least that's the view from here.

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