May. 07, 2008 - Issue #655: Trash Talk
An Edmonton consumer’s guide to reducing your garbage
Edmonton may be a national leader in dealing with its waste, but
Edmontonians are also leaders in creating the stuff. The average Edmonton
household produces over 800 kilograms of non-recyclable waste each year,
including organic materials like yard and food wastes, which make up 60 per
cent of total residential garbage. While Edmonton has pioneered better
options than just tossing it into a big hole or burning it, stopping
garbage before it gets created is the best way to deal with the problem. As
Annie Leonard explains in The Story of Stuff, for every can of garbage that
goes to the curb, industry created 70 garbage cans of waste during the
manufacturing process, so reducing the amount of garbage you produce can
have a big environmental impact.
In the long-term, meaningful waste reduction means challenging the culture of over-consumption and disposability, but for people looking for some immediate ways they as consumers can reduce the amount of garbage they produce, here’s a reminder about a few things you can do, which you might remember from elementary school.
Buy less There’s a reason the first one of those Rs stands for reduce. Not buying that gizmo or doodad is the surest way to ensure another one doesn’t get made, eliminating the raw materials, energy and waste that goes into making it and getting it to you.
Buy bulk According to Environment Canada, packaging makes up about half of Canada’s garbage by volume and one-third by weight. Buying products in bulk reduces this incredible amount of single-use plastic, cardboard and paper that you don’t even want.
have become conditioned, largely since the end of WWII, to accept the
notion of single-use disposables as normal. While the centuries-long
lifespan of plastic is an environmental problem, it also means that plastic
containers—along with more environmentally benign materials like
glass—can be reused over and over again by refilling them at places
like Earth’s General Store (see below) which offer refills for
everyday products like cleaning and laundry supplies.
Buy second-hand Reusing products in their manufactured form rather than reconstituting them by recycling conserves material and energy, as well as the labour and cultural value that went into making them. From stores like Goodwill and Value Village to the freecycle.org network, which has over 3000 members in Edmonton, to that dumpster behind the store for the truly committed, turning one person’s trash into another’s treasure is easy.
While we’ve been hearing such basic advice for decades, Deborah Robb,
the manager at Earth’s General Store (upstairs at 10832 Whyte Ave),
which sells a wide range of eco-friendly products, says many people who
come into the store aren’t ready to make major changes in their
consumption yet, but they’re still looking for ways to reduce their
“Some of those kinds of steps I think people actually aren’t
ready for,” she explains. “That’s still too much of a
impact on their lifestyle, so to speak. They still want to be able to do
what they do, but do what they do better. So for them, there’s a
whole bunch of new products, ironically, to cut down on waste.”
Here are a few Robb recommends to help consumers take a small bite out of their personal waste stream.
Klean Canteen The bisphenol A issue has put the kibosh on the popularity of Nalgene water bottles, but rather than switching to expensive (and rather pointless) bottled water, go with safe stainless steel Klean Canteen bottles (range of sizes, $21 average).
Planetary Design Reusable Go Mug 130 billion disposable paper cups are consumed annually in North America, each being used for about 15 minutes. Bring your own mug instead, and if you’re worried about pouring hot liquid into plastic, pick up a stainless steel Planetary Design Reusable Go Mug (range of sizes, $25 average).
Fast food solutions While fast food is convenient, it also produces a lot of needless waste. The solution? Reusables like the To-Go Ware cloth-wrapped bamboo utensil set of chopsticks, knife, fork and spoon ($23) or reusable stainless-steel food carriers like the compartmented Zebra Thailand ($18.95) or the totally leak-proof Sanctus Mundo ($19.95).
Reuseable bags Switching to reusable bags is an easy way to absolve yourself of any part of the 413 tonnes of plastic bags the city collects annually (2006 numbers). A range of options are available from simple, durable heavy-duty cloth bags ($9) to compact options like the Chico Bag ($6.50), which folds into an attached pouch, and even has a carabiner.
Produce bags While there’s an argument that plastic shopping bags are often reused, the same can hardly be said for those thin, useless bags you use to put your apples or peppers in for the 10 minute trip home. Instead, buy a pack of reusable mesh produce bags (10 bags for $2.75).
The keeper Besides being linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome, tampons also result in a tremendous amount of pollution and waste in their production and disposal. Enter The Keeper ($50), a “wildly popular” reusable latex menstrual cup that lasts up to a decade.
Cloth diapers Canadians go through 1.6 billion disposable diapers annually, and use 75.5 million pounds of paper to make them. Options are either diaper services or buying your own reusable cloth diapers ($10.50), reusable diaper covers ($13) or an all-in-one like the Bum Genius ($24).
Toothbrushes It’s just a little stick of plastic, but all those toothbrushes can add up to a lot of waste. If you listen to your dentist you’ll go through four toothbrushes a year, meaning the number tossed out annually in Canada likely tops 100 million. Eco-DenT toothbrushes ($4.75) have replaceable heads ($4.75 for three) so you don’t have to throw out the whole thing when you need a new brush to keep your pearly whites shining. V
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