An ode to Nana’s couch

My grandmother recently passed away. She lived a very long life, filled with much love and adventure.

In the past fifteen years or so, she moved from her large single-family home into a seniors’ retirement building, then twice more into smaller, assisted-living facilities.

Each move was a challenge, especially when it came to her belongings. Furniture had to be minimized; collectibles thinned.

After my grandmother passed, we had to clean out her final apartment. We knew which pieces of furniture or nick-knacks her children and grandchildren wanted to take. We knew we wanted to donate her clothes. We knew her bed would have to be thrown away — understandably, most reuse centres are unwilling to accept beds due to potential concerns about bed bugs.

couchNow, my grandmother did have a couch. It was yellow and gold, and covered in images of large pheasants. For most of my life, it sat in her formal living room. It continued with her to each of her apartments. And now it was time to get rid of it.

After 30 odd years of use, moves, encounters with walkers, wheelchairs and wanderers, this couch was slightly worn on the arms, the cushions sagged a bit, and the yellow and gold weren’t as vibrant as they once were.

We took the couch to a reuse centre, hoping to donate it. They were unwilling to take it, saying that the wear and tear would make it unsellable.

And so we had to throw away my grandmother’s couch.

My dad and I lifted that yellow and gold couch over the rails of the waste drop-off centre and heaved the couch into the large garbage dumpster below.

To me, seeing the couch at the bottom of the garbage dumpster was one of the most lump-in-your-throat experiences associated with my grandmother’s passing.

couch2It wasn’t my favourite couch. I didn’t have any particularly strong feelings about it. It wasn’t the orange floral couch we watched movies from. It was formal and stately; not my personal style at all.

But seeing it tossed away was simply sad.

My grandmother cared a lot about the appearance of her belongings. I suspect she would have been appalled to learn her couch was considered garbage.

As we drove away from my grandmother’s old couch, I was reminded of that old phrase “you come into the world with nothing, and you leave with nothing.”

So very true. We spend a lifetime amassing stuff — furniture, clothing, books, odds and ends. But in the end, it all has to go somewhere. Someone will have to move it, store it, reuse it, dispose of it.

Clutter expert Peter Walsh says, “We believe if we let go of the object, we’ll lose the memory.” He goes on to point out, “That person wants you to be happy before they want you to hold on to all of this stuff.”

My grandmother is not a yellow and gold couch. My grandmother was an adventurer, a storyteller. My memories of her mean so much more to me than an old, discarded couch. And those memories are something I won’t ever throw away.

If you’re going through a similar situation, here are some great tips and resources:

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Waste Management in Canada: Ontario

Part of a series examining waste management programs across Canada.

Hurry Up And Wait

2013 was an interesting year for waste management in Ontario. There were big announcements, plenty of discussion, lots of planning, but ultimately, it became a year of “hurry up and wait.” 

New waste management legislation could impact Ontario's Blue Box, household hazardous waste, electronic waste, and tire recycling programs.

New waste management legislation could impact Ontario’s Blue Box, household hazardous waste, electronic waste, and tire recycling programs.

In spring 2013, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment introduced Bill 91, the proposed Waste Reduction Act, which could greatly change waste management programs in Ontario.

This was followed by three months of consultation and the bill returned to the Legislature for second reading discussion in late September. It has been there ever since.

As we start a new year we can look forward to more work on the Bill 91 file. If it does get to the committee stage, the work has only just begun, with possible amendments to be discussed and negotiated.

If an election is called in the spring, as expected, and the bill dies on the order paper, the work to improve our current system carries on.

Perhaps sensing that changes are potentially afoot, four industry stewardship plans were proposed to Waste Diversion Ontario. These plans could potentially change the way designated wastes like beverage containers (generated outside the home), paints, batteries, and fertilizers are managed in Ontario.

As to be expected, there was a lot of interest in these plans, and ultimately the deadline for these plans to be approved/disapproved had to be extended into 2014.

In Ontario, municipalities fund 50% or more of household Blue Box costs, with the manufacturers of papers and packaging funding the rest. Each year, municipalities and manufacturers (called stewards) meet to negotiate the relevant costs. In 2013, negotiations broke down, and now the process is going to arbitration. So, the funding support for Ontario’s Blue Box program in 2014 is unknown at this time.

MWA logoAnd still, under all these legislative and planning pressures, Ontario municipalities continue to make great strides by recycling, composting and diverting waste from landfill. Many municipalities are working on enhancing waste diversion in multi-residential buildings, and composting programs continue to grow across the province.

This coming year will undoubtedly be equally interesting, as we’ll see what happens to Bill 91, the proposed industry stewardship plans, and the results of Blue Box funding arbitration, and how these could impact waste management in Ontario.

About this guest blogger:

Ben Bennett, Guest Blogger

Ben Bennett, Guest Blogger

Ben Bennett is the Executive Director of the Municipal Waste Association, a network of Ontario municipal waste management professionals, based in Guelph. He has been involved in municipal waste management for 25 years.

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Reuse Centres in Halton Region: Upper Credit Humane Society Thrift Shop

Part of a series about the charitable reuse centres operating in Halton Region.

Waste audits have shown 7% of the materials found in Halton’s residential garbage stream are textile materials that could be salvaged through reuse centres. This number may not seem like a lot, but if each of the more than 180,000 households in Halton were to reduce their garbage by 7%, it could significantly extend the lifespan of our landfill!

The Upper Credit Humane Society Thrift Shop, which is operated by the Upper Credit Humane Society, is a not-for-profit organization in Georgetown dedicated to supporting the initiatives of its Humane Society by raising funds and awareness.

I had the opportunity to meet with Wendy Jones, who is one of the lead volunteers at the thrift shop, to discuss the operations at the thrift shop and how it benefits the humane society.

LP: Tell me a bit about the Upper Credit Humane Society.

WJ:  The Upper Credit Humane Society is a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to providing medical treatment and loving care to pets while they are in search of a new home. Animals that arrive at the shelter are either strays or surrendered. It is our policy to ensure animals are in the best health they can be prior to being offered for adoption. We ensure all pets are spayed/neutered, have all of their shots, and are micro-chiped. It is an unfortunate reality that some pets arrive at the humane society requiring much more attention. We ensure that any illnesses are fixed and surgeries are completed prior to adoption.

Our facility is quite small; we have room for 12 dogs, as well as two cat rooms, and an intake room where we assess our newcomers.

The Humane Society runs solely off of funds raised through various donations, fundraisers and events, and profits earned from the Thrift Shop.

LP: How many animals would you say come through the shelter annually? How many are adopted each year?

355 animals found homes in 2013 through the Upper Credit Humane Society!

355 animals found homes in 2013 through the Upper Credit Humane Society!

WJ: In 2013, 355 pets were adopted from the Upper Credit Humane Society! Our adoption process is quite thorough. Residents who are interested in adopting a pet fill out an application and undergo an interview process. They then have a ‘meet and greet’ with the pet they are interested in adopting. We ask that the whole family comes to the meet and greet, and any other household pets come as well. It is sad, but many of these animals have undergone a great deal of stress and pain prior to arriving at our shelter, so we are very thorough with prospective families to ensure that they and the pet in question are a good match for each other.

LP: When did the reuse program start?

WJ: The reuse program began seven years ago in an effort to raise funds to help maintain and operate the Upper Credit Humane Society. Originally, the reuse centre operated out of the shelter in Erin but moved to our current location in Georgetown shortly after, as we needed more room for the animals.

The reuse program has received an overwhelming amount of support from the community. The reuse centre is run solely by volunteers, who have put a great deal of work into ensuring the shop runs smoothly.

LP: What kind of materials do you accept?

WJ: We accept books, games, puzzles, clothes, household items, pottery, and even furniture! Our store is rather small, but if we can fit donated items that are in good condition, then we fit it. If residents are ever curious about whether we accept certain items for donation, they can always call us prior to coming by.

LP: Do you ever receive materials that the Thrift Shop doesn’t need? If so, what happens with those materials?

WJ: Yes, we do sometimes receive materials that we cannot resell, but we do our best to ensure that it can be reused. We forward any items that we cannot accept to other local reuse centres who do accept them. We ensure that very little goes to waste.

LP: How are the materials processed when donated?

WJ: When donations are brought to the Upper Credit Humane Society, everything is weighed and recorded, then sorted, appraised, and brought out into the store. We occasionally receive specialty items. These items are placed into our auction which residents have the opportunity to bid on. It is a great way to showcase some of the gems that come into our store, and a fun way to engage our shoppers!

LP: How does the reuse program benefit the humane society?

WJ: All of the proceeds from the thrift shop aid in covering the operating expenses of the Upper Credit Humane Society. The funds help cover utility bills, staff wages at the shelter, and animal control. The proceeds also help keep the animals fed and healthy. This may involve specialty diets, micro-chipping, or surgeries. The reuse program plays a large factor in the successful operation of our humane society.

Stop by the Upper Credit Humane Society for some great finds and to support a wonderful cause!

Stop by the Upper Credit Humane Society Thrift Shop for some great finds and to support a wonderful cause!

LP: How can residents get involved or help?

WJ: Donations are always greatly appreciated — they are the foundation of our shop! Residents can also support our initiatives by shopping at the thrift shop.

A great way for residents to get involved is to volunteer! We are always looking for friendly people to join our team here at the thrift shop, and at the humane society itself. There are a lot of opportunities; we are always looking for helping hands.

We have a number of events that we host to raise awareness and support for our efforts at the humane society.

Residents can find more information about our programs and initiatives by visiting our website or Facebook page

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Waste Management in Canada: Manitoba

Part of a series examining waste management programs across Canada.

Keeping up with the Joneses

Manitoba is an interesting creature. Winnipeg is at least 10 hours from another major city (Calgary) and at least a day’s drive from Vancouver or Toronto. Secluded and cold. But Winnipeggers are a hearty bunch.

Being so isolated, we are often a bit behind other large cities and do not have access to recycling markets. Manitoba recycles just over half of all beverage containers, and that number is steadily growing with increased recycling receptacles being distributed all over the province. Manitoba already has many facilities to recycle electronics, batteries, and toxic chemicals. However, there are a lot of items that aren’t accepted for recycling at all or in many locations. Styrofoam is difficult for any province or municipality to recycle, and is one of those items that needs to be replaced with an alternative that can be composted (mushroom packaging?) or its use discontinued.

GreenActionCentreThere is great room for growth in actual recycling. Often recycling is seen as taking one item and down cycling it into another, which will then just be thrown out (plastic bottles to toothbrushes, for example). More emphasis needs to be placed on waste reduction before recycling. Green Action Centre works with municipal and provincial governments to affect policy change that matters. We have advocated for a curb-side organic waste pick up program in the City of Winnipeg and more recently, we were involved in Bio Solid Waste Management consultations.

Green Action Centre offers a Master Composter Program

Green Action Centre also focuses on changing consumer behaviours. Reducing the amount of waste by informing consumers about their options, the strength of their voice and the benefits of voting with their dollars is an important priority for us. Reaching young Manitobans in Northern Communities is also a goal we have for 2014. Often waste generation can be tied into better food choices, and that can be a challenge in remote Northern Communities.

Manitoba’s Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program currently being developed adheres to the “polluter pays” principle by shifting the waste management burden from taxpayers to producers and consumers. Winnipeg’s landfill is also implementing 4 R depots to increase diversion rates of household waste. Residents can drop off material that they no longer have a use for, isn’t accepted at existing recycling facilities but could be recycled, reused, composted, or resold.

About this guest blogger:

Amanda Kinden, Guest Blogger

Amanda Kinden, Guest Blogger

Amanda Kinden graduated from University of Winnipeg with an Environmental Studies/Geography degree and holds a business diploma from Red River College.  She is the Living Green Living Well Coordinator at Green Action Centre. Amanda loves cooking and filling the bellies of her co-workers with delicious baked goods.

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Online shopping — is it good for the environment?

shopping enter keyOnline shopping has gained a lot of momentum over the last few years, as retailers of all sorts move toward making it more convenient for consumers to shop. What doesn’t sound appealing about shopping in your pajamas, out of the comfort of your own home, any time of day? You get to avoid getting ready, driving to the malls, searching for a parking spot, the crowds, standing in line, etc. Sounds good — right?

You can virtually buy anything you want online, from groceries and clothing to electronics and furniture. You name it — it can be delivered to your front door. So as the world embraces online shopping we should consider this activity’s impact on the environment.

By not driving your car to the store to make your purchase, you are reducing air pollution. However the delivery of the item to your home will generate emissions, especially if items are being shipped from long distances. There are also air pollution emissions if you need to return an item to the online retailer.

Online shopping can result in a lot of packaging waste. Consumers end up with cardboard boxes of varying sizes, plastic bubble wrap, Styrofoam and other packaging waste.

Mail packagingTry to be a savvy recycler, not just a savvy shopper. Cardboard boxes, paper, cards, catalogues, all go in the Blue Box. It is also important to collapse, bundle and tie your cardboard boxes into bundles 3 feet by 3 feet by 1 foot. This size makes it easier for the collector to safely place inside the recycling truck.

Remember bubble wrap and Styrofoam goes in the garbage. Some local retailers take back Styrofoam peanuts.

Whether you decide to shop online or in store, remember to reduce, reuse and recycle!

About this guest blogger:

Sanida Aljic, Guest Blogger

Sanida Aljic, Guest Blogger

I’m Sanida Aljic and I’m a Waste Management Works Clerk for Halton Region. I provide customer service support to residents. I’ve been exposed to all areas of waste management including collection operations, planning and landfill operations. My curiosity is tested daily, as I learn something new, exciting and interesting here every day. So, remember to separate your waste, because waste is more than just waste.

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Waste Management in Canada: Yukon Territory

Part of a series examining waste management programs across Canada.

Zero Waste Starts Now

Raven Recycling is the premier recycling centre in the Yukon. We are a non-profit social enterprise and all the money we make goes back into education and recycling activities.

RavenRecyclingBefore 1989, there was no organized recycling in the Yukon, so a group of volunteers got together as a recycling committee and three years later, the Raven Recycling Society was formed and things really got going. Over the years we’ve taken on more staff and expanded our operations. Raven is not just a recycle center; we also educate people about recycling as well, through tours, presentations and a monthly newsletter.

One of the most common questions we are asked about is the transport issue. Being so far north, we have to ship all our recycling down south. They ask, “Isn’t it more wasteful of energy to ship everything for recycling, than to just make new product?” The simple answer is “no it isn’t.” Even with the long distances we have to contend with, it’s still up to 94% more energy efficient to recycle than to make it from scratch.

We do work with the municipal and territorial governments regarding waste management, but unlike other parts of the country, the collection and processing of recycling is currently not taxpayer funded.

There is no city-wide Blue Box program in the capital of Whitehorse. We rely on people to bring their recycling to a depot; however businesses in Whitehorse pay to have paper and cardboard picked up for recycling. Beverage containers have refunds payable at the depot, like other provinces, so there is an incentive for people to come here and drop off all their recycling at the same time. Recent upgrades to our collection system have enabled us to make it even easier for people to recycle as we ask for less sorting. Making recycling easier is one of the ways we try to increase the recycling rate.

Raven Recycling's "Smurf"

Raven Recycling’s “Smurf”

The past year has been an exciting one for us. After celebrating our 20th anniversary and the 2012 arrival of our small MRF (material recovery facility) or “Smurf” as we call it, we have now added another string to our bow by accepting Styrofoam for recycling for the first time.

2013 also saw us partner with government departments, the City of Whitehorse and various organizations to form Zero Waste Yukon. Our aim is to have zero waste in the Yukon by 2040. Whitehorse is aiming to have 50% waste diversion by 2015. One of the ways to reach those targets is the City’s new controlled waste classification on cardboard which will mean higher fees to put it in the landfill. We’re doing our part by helping to increasing our cardboard collection throughout the city.

Zero Waste is a challenge, but by working together with our partners, we are certain we can achieve it by 2040. A Zero Waste Yukon will not only be better for us, but will be something for the rest of Canada to aim for once they see it can be done.

About this guest blogger:

Danny Lewis, Guest Blogger

Danny Lewis, Guest Blogger

Danny Lewis, Raven’s Education Coordinator, has been working with Raven Recycling for 7 years. Prior to this position he worked as an owner/operator of another recycling company in Whitehorse for 11 years. He has a background in Early Childhood Education and has been working with foster children and special needs adults since a child. He has traveled the globe and, after experiencing the waste creation and disposal methods of many cultures around the world, he decided to try and help educate people on the importance of reducing their waste footprint and learning not only to recycle what they have,  but produce less in the first place. He admits that he is not a shining example of recycling behaviour and knows he has a long way to go on being a Zero Waste citizen of this planet. Still, he strives towards improving his lifestyle and surroundings through recycling, while showing others that it is possible, and how it can be done.

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Travelogue – South Korea

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting South Korea. Whenever I visit a foreign country, I can’t help but notice their waste bins; it’s a side-effect of working in the industry. While my friends take pictures of the Gyeongbokgung Palace, I’m looking at the recycling and garbage bins around it.

Disposal Station at Costco

Waste disposal station at Costco in South Korea

My first waste disposal encounter, in Korea, was at a Costco. A familiar place to Canadians, except for the many fish, dried fish, and onions available to purchase, but that’s a whole different story. I was surprised and intrigued by the way Costco’s cafeteria sorted its waste. First, food was placed on reusable plastic plates with reusable utensils, and paper cups. After devouring delicious pizza, I approached the disposal station. I was amazed by all the compartments: food waste went in one, liquid in another, and paper cups and plastic each had their own compartment too. Around the corner there were garbage cans for garbage. The sorting practices at the Costco in South Korea left me impressed and excited for what else I would find.

Disposal Station in McDonalds

Waste disposal Station at McDonald’s in South Korea

McDonalds and other fast food restaurants had similar waste sorting systems, where waste was sorted into more categories than just garbage and recyclables.

One evening I went to see The Hobbit at the local movie theatre and ordered popcorn. In Korea there are three flavours of movie theatre popcorn: butter, cheese and sweet. Naturally I had to try cheese and sweet. Upon exiting the theatre, two employees stood collecting waste and sorting leftover pop, popcorn, cups, and bottles away from garbage. You simply hand the waste to staff or place it on the counter and they sort it properly.

While I had learned a lot about waste disposal in restaurants, I still wanted to investigate home waste management practices. The lifestyle in South Korea is much different than here in Canada, with a very high percentage of the population living in apartments and multi-residential buildings. It was very rare to see a single-family home and even rarer to see a home with a yard. Due to an extremely high population, space is a hot commodity.

But during my visit, I did not see a single dumpster! Instead I learned garbage is on a pay-per-use bag system. Residents purchase their grocery store bags, which can then be used for disposal, but there are also bags available for purchase too. Garbage bags are placed out between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m., with lamp posts and signs being common piling areas.

Similar to Halton Region, residents in South Korea sort their waste into three categories: food waste, recyclables and garbage. Recycling must be separated from garbage, but they don’t have Blue Boxes in South Korea. Instead, residents are to place recyclables in a reusable clear vinyl bag. Residents place their reusable bag of recyclables at a lamp post or sign, and then collect the empty bag the next day.

Recyclables and waste waiting to be collected

Recyclables and waste waiting to be collected

In Deagu (a city of 4 million people), food waste is placed in a small bucket and placed out to the curb any day but Sunday. In Halton, our food waste is turned into compost. In Deagu food waste is used to feed livestock. Because of this, items such as meat, bones, shells, and pits cannot be placed with food waste. Other Korean municipalities have different collection systems. In Seoul, you pay by weight for food waste. Machines that look like ATMs are found in neighborhoods. You simply swipe your card, place your food waste on the scale, and are billed accordingly. This new system is aimed at reducing food waste by 40%.

Initially you might think requiring residents to pay for food waste disposal would cause residents to place it in garbage bags. However, heavy enforcement seems to prevent this. For example if you don’t sort your waste properly, your neighbour can call in and report you. If recyclables or food waste is found in the garbage bag, the “offender” can be fined. Half the fine then goes to the neighbour who called in!

Throughout my stay, I came to realize that South Korea places a heavy emphasis on proper waste disposal. At every restaurant you must sort food waste, recyclables and garbage. Is this something that should be promoted more in Canada?

In 2009, South Korea’s residents recycled 61% of waste and 85% of industrial waste. To compare, in Ontario, 37% of residential waste is diverted and only 13% of industrial waste is diverted.

What have you learned from other countries as you’ve travelled?

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