by Tracy Stimpson
About a month ago there was a post on the Friends of Mississippi Mills Facebook page about recycling. In the comments, people were discussing how clean the proverbial “peanut butter jar” had to be when recycling. Answers ranged from washed with soap and water to throwing out half a jar in the blue box.
This got me started on my Mississippi Mills waste journey.
I started asking everyone about their waste management practices and realized there is tons of confusion around recycling and waste management in general. It was driving me crazy not knowing the truth so I thought I would do some research on waste management. I searched every level of government, read a lot of articles and papers, watched news stories and documentaries about waste. Here’s what I discovered:
The federal position
The federal government has a site here. It’s mainly for international stuff and to show that they care about the environment. To explain the roles of each level of government in waste management, the government says:
“In Canada, all three levels of government contribute to environmental protection and have a role to play in managing hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material.
- Municipal governments establish collection, recycling, composting and disposal programs within their jurisdictions.
- Provincial and territorial governments establish measures and criteria for licensing hazardous-waste generators, carriers, and treatment facilities, in addition to controlling movements of waste within their jurisdictions.
- The federal government regulates transboundary movements of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material, in addition to negotiating international agreements related to chemicals and waste.”
And the provincial
On to the next level of government. Ontario’s page for waste management is here. Like the federal government, the province talks a lot about how they care about waste. The amusing thing is that the smallest paragraph is on “non-hazardous waste” and basically just gives a description of what it is. They also mention “The Ontario Deposit Return Program for beverage and alcohol containers”.
As a citizen of Ontario I have always been really proud of The Beer Store’s involvement with recycling. We actually wash and reuse beer bottles just like we did with pop bottles in the 70’s. With the government looking to privatizing the sale of beer, I wonder how this program will survive.
So, both the federal and provincial governments claim to care about waste management and then politely tell you to go to where work really gets done, the municipal level.
The Mississippi Mills approach
In 2012 Mississippi Mills commissioned a study of solid waste in the municipality. The outcome was the Solid Waste Management Strategy. This is a really good read as it provides a great deal of information and answers many questions. The main recommendations from the study are:
- Expand yard waste to more than twice a year (not yet implemented)
- Implement a multiyear communication strategy (implemented but can be improved)
- Adding mixed plastics to recycling (fully implemented)
- Many other recommendations including bi-weekly pick-up, organics program and a waste management professional on staff.
The municipality has a hard job. Waste management costs the citizens of Mississippi Mills over $1.5 million each year. The 2019 budget shows that waste management represents 10% of the departmental operating budget.
That’s a lot of money! The only way to decrease this cost is to lower the amount of stuff we throw away. Recycling is good but it is actually more expensive than normal waste. We need to continue recycling but that’s the last of the “R’s”. There are now actually 5 R’s. Let’s take a little look at each one:
R #1 = Refuse
Just don’t buy stuff that contains packaging. If you like bottled water, get a water cooler where you can take back the big bottles. Don’t use plastic vegetable bags, bring your own. Same with shopping bags
R#2 = Reduce
Buy in bulk when possible. Buy pop in cans as opposed to plastic as aluminum recycling is way better.
R#3 = Reuse
Beer bottles… need I say more?
R#4 = Repurpose
I’m not really strong on the understanding of this one. Maybe they are talking about composting. I have a hippie gardener friend. She can’t stop talking about the power of good composting in your garden
R#5 = Recycling
Unfortunately, this is where most of us focus our waste management activities. Society has been doing such a great job putting stuff in the recycling bins, there is currently a stockpile of material. As such, the value of this material has decreased over the years. Companies are now demanding that the material is of the best quality with very little contamination. It’s not that they can’t use dirty peanut butter jars, it just takes more work. Why bother with the extra work of manufacturing recycled plastic out of dirty plastic when there is so much clean plastic available? This is why you are asked to clean your recycling, to make it as attractive as possible so that manufacturers will buy it.
The same cannot be said for contaminated paper recycling. The grease from pizza boxes or any other oil or grease that cross contaminates paper is not good. I can never get bacon grease stains out of my tee shirts, same applies to paper. The grease leaves stains on the new paper making it unattractive. I never knew they don’t want the greasy parts of the pizza box in the recycling as I never paid that close enough attention to the literature the town put out.
Mississippi Mills has a single-sourced recycling program. That means all recyclables go into one box, no need for sorting. It has been proven you get higher participation rates with single-source. The downside is that the contamination rates are typically higher than dual source. I have been told by the town that our recovery rate with single-source in Mississippi Mills is on par with most dual-source programs. That means we are doing a pretty good job — but it can always be better.
(For those that wonder where our waste goes, it is between Moose Creek and Renfrew, Ontario. I believe normal garbage goes to Moose Creek while the recycling goes to Beauman’s in Renfrew. There are waste depots for drop off located in Beckwith and Pakenham.)
Can we do better?
So what can we do to improve things? Here are a few of my ideas:
- The most successful programs that happen in Mississippi Mills are those that were started and managed by the citizens of our great community. Just look at Augusta Street Park. It has something for everyone. The gardens are very successful and they have a large composting area. For the past 2 years, they have helped keep many pumpkins out of the waste stream as they are now displayed together for a day before being composted. Great work by all.
- Educate yourselves and others in waste management. Ask questions, talk to the town. I plan on posting waste management tips on Friends of Mississippi Mills on a regular basis. If you are a professional on composting, offer informal classes to help others
- Compost on your property if you have the space. The town has compost bins for sale at a cost price. One of the biggest contributors to the waste steam is organic waste including leaf and yard waste.
- Al Potvin accepted leaf waste for many years. He diverted a great deal of yard waste from our waste stream and provided compost for those that needed it. Al has done more than his share and is time for him to relax a bit. Step up and be the new Al if you have the land.
- If you have useful building materials as a result of a recent renovation, put it online. Someone may want it for a house or cottage.
- Most importantly, get involved. Mississippi Mills no longer has an environmental committee and I think they should. Contact your councillor and tell them you care about the world we are leaving for our children. Tell them that waste management and the environment is important and we should have a committee that can help the community. An environmental committee can help educate the public on waste matters.
I am no way an environmentalist and I am not suggesting we go way overboard and become radical. All I am saying is spend 5 minutes a day thinking of the environment and the garbage we put into this world. With container loads of plastic being transported across the world and beaches filled with washed-up garbage, I think we can all do a little more.
Would love to know what you all think? How can we do better?