by Theresa Peluso  

My last two columns explained how various individuals and organizations in Mississippi Mills and Carleton Place are trying to improve our environment. Here’s what two exceptional people in Ontario are doing. Perhaps their actions will inspire us to do even better?

   A few months ago I contacted Ray Millar, mayor of Tiny Township in Simcoe County, to find out how Mississippi Mills could improve its current waste diversion rate of 27%. You see, Simcoe County had achieved a waste diversion rate of 57% in 2009, ranking them second in waste diversion among 217 Ontario municipalities. The reply I got from Mr. Millar was absolutely inspiring. Here’s what he wrote:

Thanks very much for contacting me with your concerns and inquiring about our waste management successes here in Simcoe County. We are very pleased with what we have been able to accomplish but much remains to be done.

I think it is fair to say that we owe a great deal of credit to our County staff who have had to meet this challenge head on, often in the face of significant opposition from the public. That said, it is the participation of our citizens in the waste management program that has allowed us to reach the diversion levels we have….

On a more personal level, I firmly believe that the solution to our waste management challenges, here and abroad, can only be found through adoption of a zero waste approach. Simply put, we have to do everything we can to stop creating so much waste in the first instance. Waste, in my mind represents a failure in product design. All products should be designed in such a way that the elements used to produce those products could be reused or recycled rather than disposed of by way of landfill or thermal reduction. As a society we cannot go on consuming the earth’s finite resources at our current rate. That rate of consumption is absolutely unsustainable!

What can I say? Think of the gift Mr. Millar is giving our children in using his position of authority to do his utmost to bequeath them a clean world. If only all our politicians would do likewise!

Another inspiring example is Robyn Hamlyn, a 13 year-old Grade 8 student from Kingston. She is concerned about the real threat of an imminent global water shortage, and has been campaigning throughout Ontario to get as many municipalities as possible to declare that access to clean water is a human right. Soon after convincing councillors in her hometown to sign on, she wrote to 50 Ontario mayors, and visited several of them during last month’s school break. Ajax immediately agreed, and other municipalities have invited her to speak to their councils. According to Ms. Hamlyn, “Because Canada is a water-rich country, we tend to take our water for granted, and we use up water faster than it can be replenished through natural systems. Just around the Great Lakes, we pump almost 3.2 trillion litres of water every day, (and) 7.6 billion litres do not get returned. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.” In other words, because of the potential scarcity of water, we all have to remember that it’s a precious resource, and use only what we need.

   Even though in 2010 the United Nations explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation, the Canadian government has voted against this right since it was first proposed in 2002. Last month Canada was singled out by the UN rapporteur as one of a few states “that have persistently opposed recognition of the rights to water and sanitation at the international level over the last decade”. In fact, the Harper government has encouraged water privatization by committing public money destined for water infrastructure to promoting P3s (“P3” stands for “public-private partnership”). In Britain where this arrangement has been tried, it has been found that many programs ran way over budget, and have not resulted in effective use of taxpayer money.) Not only that, but the bottled water industry sells water for huge profits. Do we want businesses to decide who can or cannot access such an essential right? Should water be made a source of profit to a few people, when it is provided freely by Nature?

   There are such huge threats to our environment, especially man-made global warming, scarcity of resources (including essential ones like water and food), and increasing pollution, that we need many, many more heroes like Mr. Millar and Ms. Hamlyn to stand up for the health of our planet and a viable future for all who inhabit it. So how about it, residents of Mississippi Mills and Carleton Place? We can be heroes too! As the old Chinese proverb states: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step”.