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In Zero Waste Canada

Bolt Across Canada : Time to Rethink

This summer we spent almost two months travelling across Canada with our Bolt Across Canada project showing it is possible even while on the move to incorporate Zero Waste actions, but also seeing some of the challenges we face in communities across Canada.

While travelling from coast to coast to coast, as we talked to hundreds of people, visiting both urban and rural communities one of the biggest outcomes of our Zero Waste journey was: We as individuals, businesses, governments and communities need to seriously focus on the first step of the Zero Waste hierarchy, RETHINK.

Rethinking is the first step in the Zero Waste Hierarchy, because only by rethinking current processes, policies, and actions, we can start to change. Rethinking means looking at current processes, policies, and actions, and finding ways to improve those systems to reduce waste.

As Canadians, we have attitudes, behaviours, systems, policies, and programs that are just not working. We have solutions that are not addressing the problem instead they are Band-Aids that temporarily mask the growing problem.

Climate change means we need to take serious actions. Results from reports like the Conference Board of Canada’s Environment 2016 ranking report or NASA’s climate change evidence show we need to be more effective.

Canada 14th among 16 peer countries when it comes to environmental performance, with only the United States and Australia doing worse.

Canadians generate about 720kg of waste per capita. Current global MSW (municipal solid waste) generation levels are approximately 1.3 billion tonnes per year, and are expected to increase to approximately 2.2 billion tonnes per year by 2025. This represents a significant increase in per capita waste generation rates, from 1.2 to 1.42 kg per person per day in the next fifteen years.

News stories continue to report illegal dumping, plastic pollution in our water systems, resource depletion, litter and an overload of stuff we don’t know what to do with.

 

In order to change, we need to RETHINK.

 

On the road while delighting in the incredible beauty of Canada, as we drove spotting fast food litter scattered on highways, communities challenged to deal with discards, communities experiencing food insecurity and economic declines, incinerators situated near food growing farm lands, and over-flowing garbage cans waiting to be whisked away somewhere, we had time do some thinking.

Here are 5 RETHINKS

1. The myth that individuals do not have power.

Individuals can make an impact, yet not everyone thinks they personally have power. Many people we talked did not believe that government will save us from climate change but they tended to look for someone else to volunteer rather than talk about what they could do.

Yet, we have met school children who have successfully lobbied local and federal government for policy change, individuals consciously adapting their lifestyles so they use less plastic, individuals organizing community members to stop incinerators and seniors starting community gardens.

We have seen the math if everyone stopped using straws and we have seen the evidence of single use coffee cups creating parallel trails along roadways.

2. Adapt to changes in how individuals generate waste.

The increasing changes in movement of individuals and eating and purchasing behaviour changes mean more products are consumed and discarded in transit. While communities may see changes in residential garbage totals and characteristics, the increasing amounts of streetscape garbage generated and litter is not being effectively
captured.

Systems need to be developed to capture these items by working with patterns of movement. It is time to require recycling, compost and waste collection systems that are readily accessible to people in transit. This may include drive-thru recycling depots on highways, and in parking facilities, reverse vending machines to capture coffee cups and beverage containers and fast food establishments financing systems to collect their product packaging.

3. The local message is not being received.

Numerous people we spoke with did not have accurate knowledge of recycling rules in their community. It was not that they did not have recycling information or that they were uninterested in the topic, instead they often seemed confused from “what they had heard”.

With news and information sources being from locations around the globe, in many cases, individuals assume what they have heard is – what is so in their communities.

Instead of generalizations, Zero Waste and waste reduction education must be specific to the community detailing opportunities and challenges. Zero Waste messaging must happen at a local level.

4. Big picture solutions are needed.

Often waste or discard management is isolated from other issues that affect our communities. We should no longer just consider managing waste but that we are conserving resources. Treating our discards as something to be removed is limiting local economic growth opportunities, reducing local resiliency and often kicking the problem down the road.

5. Addressing waste avoidance at source.

Our current systems are too often more about cleaning up the never-ending messes rather addressing the issues at the source.

While more and more communities recognize removing methane generating organics from landfills by composting, the issue of wasting food continues. Without addressing the causes of food waste in homes, transportation, farms and retail we continue to have a growing problem while we spend money to supply collection systems when we should not be discarding food.

Adopting highways and community clean up is an after the fact solution to the problem of litter. The people doing the clean-up are usually not the litterers. Litter has impacts on the environment; it would be better not to have it in the first place? We need to reduce the items being thrown away in this manner. Cleaning up plastic in the ocean and even recycling this ocean plastic does not stop the flow of plastic into the water. We need to identify the sources of the plastic and arrest the pollution.

The Zero Waste Hierarchy describes a progression of policies and strategies to support the Zero Waste system, from highest and best to lowest use of materials. We must start basing our actions on the first steps of the hierarchy. Doing better requires Rethinking.

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