Confronting Climate Change through Waste Reduction
This week is National Waste Reduction Week. Many of us associate climate change and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) with the burning of fossil fuels or the release of methane into the environment from industry etc. Many of us wonder, “What can I do to reduce GHG emissions?” We may be unable to afford a new electric car or convert our homes from oil to electric heating but there are plenty of things we can do to reduce our impact. For starters, we can reduce household waste that actually contributes to GHG emissions and the rapid global warming the Earth is experiencing. Did you know that in 2014 Canada produced over 25 million tons of waste, with 64% sent to the landfills. Emissions from Canadian landfills cover 20% of our country’s methane emission, a gas that significantly contributes to climate change. We wonder what the statistics are now in 2021, being that Canada currently has over 10,000 landfills sites and how many petroleum drive cars this would equate to. (In the US in 2019, waste in the landfill produced GHG equivalent to 21 million gas cars driven for a year!)
So, let’s break down those numbers; in terms of household waste, different elements may come to mind such as food scraps, paper, clothing, furniture, plastics, electronics and more. Food waste alone contributes to 2.2 million tons of edible food being wasted every year in Canada as 63% of Canadians throw away perfectly edible food. The environmental toll is that the more food that ends up in landfills, the more GHG emissions are added to the environment. Reducing food waste by composting can lessen our impact on the environment. A simple ice cream bucket can serve as a composter. If you don’t have a garden, food waste can be dropped off at the Travel Information Centre every Wednesday from 4:30 to 5:30 pm. Local farmers Jamie MacLeod and Trisha Cordes will take any food waste (including meat) even if not composted. For a small donation, they will do a pickup. They can be reached on Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org
When it comes to paper waste, think about how many times you may have put paper in the garbage instead of the recycling bin. Paper waste, which is estimated to be 85 million tons in Canada, contributes to 40% of all landfill volume. Not only does this add CO2 to the environment due to the transportation of the paper waste to landfills, it also means the landfills that contain them need to expand to keep up. This increases our taxes!
Now some of us may try to recycle our used clothing and furniture by participating in our town’s local Curbside Swap, which is a great way to reduce the amount of unnecessary household waste that ends up in our dump. You can join the Facebook Page SLKT- Curbside Swap for more information on the Swap. Another way to reduce clothing ending up in a landfill is by dropping off good used clothing at the hostel, Out of the Cold Shelter, or the women’s shelter. The Salvation Army will take good used clothing on Tuesday or Saturdays between 10 and 4. (NOTE: The Salvation Army cannot take couches, large appliances, microwaves, TVs, baby cribs, and can only sell clothing in good shape. So please do not take this stuff to them as it will end up at the expense of the charities they support.) The more clothing and furniture that end up in landfills, the more the landfills must expand and the more GHG emissions are emitted to our planet. Clothing, furniture, and other textile materials can take over 200 years to decompose.
Another big contributor to landfills is plastic. Everywhere you turn you can find single-use plastic cluttering your kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and living room. Plastics are usually made from petroleum products which have devastating impacts on our climate. Many plastics such as those used in packaging are not recyclable. Only those with the numbers 1-7 are recyclable, and even then, some companies lack the ability to process them. So, when possible, reduce your plastic contribution to the landfill by opting out of single-use plastic cutlery, plates and bags and instead use more sustainable materials and items that can be reused in your home or recycled.
One final element that needs to be addressed is the amount of electronic waste that ends up in landfills. While we might think that electronics are saving the planet by going paperless, electronic devices are producing a substantial amount of toxic waste. Unless properly disposed of, electronic devices such as computers, printers, TVs, tablets, laptops, and cellphones rot away in landfills on a massive scale. Instead of adding to GHG emissions through your technology, your devices can be dropped off free of charge at the Hidden Lake Landfill site where a company specializing in electronic recycling picks it up. Batteries can also be dropped off at the Public Works office anytime.
So, what will happen to the manufacturing industry if there is drastic reduction in production? First, companies will begin to make products that last, can be repaired or recycled. There will be a growth in the businesses where someone fixes stuff. New industries will emerge where waste is put to good use (such as heating homes). Someone who cannot afford expensive household items will benefit from your gift to the thrift shop or curbside swap. You will save money on garbage and replacement costs. Protecting our environment is a Win-Win-Win proposition. We all benefit.
Submitted by: The Sioux Lookout Municipal Environment Committee