Modern capitalism encourages consumption at levels previously unimaginable which has led to an inconvenient byproduct: the globalization of waste. High levels of consumption means more waste in our system, and with the gift-giving holiday next month we’re going to see a lot of wasteful purchases. This year think about what gifts to give that don’t contribute to a landfill, indeed take some time to think about how your local municipality deals with waste created throughout the year. It turns out that in Canada we have a lot to learn form other places.
It’s time to rethink how we approach waste management in Canada beyond just saying reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Hird tells a story about a research project at Queen’s University, run by one of her grad students, Cassandra Kuyvenhoven, who tracked materials put into blue bins at Queen’s to see where they ended up. “While the system seemed functional and neat on the surface,” says Hird, “It certainly wasn’t that behind the scenes.” Kuyvenhoven found, for example, that when recyclable Styrofoam left Queen’s it was loaded onto trucks and taken to Toronto, where it was compacted chemically then trucked to Montreal where it was put on ships that took it to China, where it eventually ended up in landfill. “We might as well have landfilled it here,” says Hird, “and saved the tons of carbon that went into the atmosphere getting it to China.”
Electronics equipment made its slow way from the university’s loading docks to landfills in India and Mexico.
“When people think their stuff is being recycled, it clears their conscience, no matter what is actually happening beyond the blue box,” says Hird. “Our research shows that when their conscience is clear they tend to consume more than ever. Since Canadians started recycling in earnest maybe 30 years ago, consumerism in this country has done nothing but climb.”