For many of us, we cannot remember life without the Blue Box. Recycling is second nature to us now, but there once was a time in Halton, and throughout Ontario, that environmentally-aware residents had to go that extra mile to do the right thing.
Madeline (Maddie) Lavender is one such resident, a trailblazer with a zest for life, who at 84 years young, has accomplished a great deal and is still extremely active in her community.
Among the numerous accomplishments in her life, in the early 1970s, Maddie was a leading member of the Citizens’ Committee for Pollution Control (CCPC), a group established during the development of the Town (incorporated as a City in 1974) of Burlington’s recycling program — a recycling program that was way ahead of its time. The program was the result of hard work, dedication and enthusiasm for our planet.
Before Maddie became involved with CCPC she had read an article about Roberta Golightly, another Burlington resident with the drive to start recycling. Roberta was worried and frustrated because it seemed there was little, if anything, a single individual could do to fix environmental problems.
Roberta decided the “loss of resources buried in garbage dumps” was something she could take some action on. Roberta researched and found markets for materials she thought could be recycled. Most of the recycling markets were found in Hamilton. She found markets for tin, glass, aluminum, cardboard and newspaper.
Roberta worked on obtaining a supply of this material to send to the recycling markets. With some help from her friends, she canvassed local Burlington neighbourhoods to ask if they would participate in a two-week trial to separate these recyclable items from their waste. The trial was so successful that they decided to carry on the project, and Roberta used her own garage as the neighbourhood recycling depot.
Roberta’s efforts gained media attention, and the project was beginning to grow beyond her garage; this is when Maddie joined the recycling mission. Maddie called Roberta to inquire about CCPC, she was immediately asked to become part of the organization’s Executive Committee. Turns out, the Executive Committee was three people! Soon enough, Maddie was getting media attention for her involvement.
The recycling program was expanding, residents across Burlington were transforming their garages into recycling depots and using their station wagons and VW vans to transport the recyclables to the markets. It was time to get Town Council involved; the municipality needed to start supporting waste separation and recycling.
CCPC continued discussions with Council while also creating newsletters, conducting research, developing an information centre, providing education kits for schools, presenting at public meetings and working with municipal and provincial governments to run a recycling pilot project.
The Town of Burlington gave the group a house on Brant Street where collected material from the neighbourhood could be sorted and stored. “Members of the group started bringing their children to the recycling centre to help sort the material,” recalled Maddie, laughing.
Eventually the Town had other plans for the Brant Street location so the recycling centre was moved to a barn that was north of Highway 5 (Dundas Street). The program gained awareness, so residents started bringing their material straight to the centre, while the group collected material from schools and churches.
The pilot project the Town and the group had been advocating for was approved. The pilot had a $20,000 budget and would include 1,000 Burlington residents. The pilot ran from August 1971 to February 1972, with the objective to determine whether Ontario municipalities could establish recycling programs as a way to solve waste issues. Without the CCPC, this study would not have occurred and who knows what our recycling program would look like today!?
“Effective action is possible by one individual, as long as you believe in what you are doing and you work hard at it,” stated Maddie. “Simply thinking about something is not enough; one must think about it and then do something about it!”
If you know something about this particular recycling movement, or about the recycling history of Halton, please let us know! We’d love to hear your brave and creative stories about recycling, waste diversion or reduction.