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July 18th, 2002

This Is Trash

The sad reality of garbage and cities

 
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Toronto stinks. Or at least it has since June 26, when the 6800 City of Toronto Outside Workers went on strike . This means that, until union and employer agree on a new contract, garbage collectors will be picketing the city instead of picking up its trash.

This isn’t good. Torontonians toss nearly one million metric tonnes of garbage each year and, unless local businesses and residents pay for private removal, much of it will be rotting on sidewalks for the next few weeks. Needless to say, no one’s impressed. July in Toronto means heat and smog ; if the trash stays put, World Youth Day pilgrims might have to wrestle rats for a seat in the shade.

Is recycling still cool?
One million metric tonnes of garbage per year! That’s the equivalent of junking 21 Titanics every 365 days! And much of this is dumped in landfills where, in theory, it should decompose but doesn’t. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency , it can take hundreds of years for a plastic pop bottle to break down . And anyone who has been to the local dump lately knows that there are more than just pop bottles sitting atop the heap.

Which begs the question: what are we doing? Environmentalism used to be trendier?the anti-globalism of its day?but it’s no longer so cool to recycle paper or bring your own bags to the grocery store. For many people, the blue box is just one more thing to drag down the driveway. Which is awful. It has often been said that we only have one earth. The good folks of Toronto have taken this to heart and are rapidly using it up.

Elevators and blue boxes
To be fair, it’s not so easy to be environmentally friendly in the city. During my youth in the suburbs, recycling was just part of the day to day. There was always a composter in the backyard and there was never a tee shirt that didn’t become a rag.

In the city, however, recycling seems foreign. In my first apartment, all garbage was garbage. Cans mixed with banana peels and the kitty litter from the cat next door. It was simple but stupid and, no doubt, continues.

Now, I live in another apartment, in another city. There are recycling bins out back, by the parking lot, but garbage chutes on every floor. My husband and I have a recycling box but, when we’re tired, it’s tough to walk it down the stairs, through the building, and across the yard. Our garbage, also, is full of food: carrot peelings, onionskins, apple cores. We mused about creating a kitchen composter . Then we worried: wouldn’t it smell?

Hold your nose
Not unlike Toronto, now into its second week of stink. According to the mayor, the strike could be a long one so Torontonians should prepare. The suggestions: double bag your trash; don’t put it outside. It’s a surface solution, no proposed community composters or enhanced urban recycling?ensuring a decidedly rotten future.

 
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The Author : Sue Birnie
Sue Birnie writes from Ontario in Canada.
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