|Where does your garbage go?|
|Written by Shehnaz Toorawa|
|Friday, 07 May 2010 15:41|
Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, said, "The world is green and beautiful and God has appointed you as His stewards over it. He sees how you acquit yourselves..." (Muslim)
In trying to be God’s stewards on earth, many of us plant trees, turn off lights and install energy-efficient appliances. Yet how often do we consider what we put in our garbage? Where does it end up? What impact does it have?
Our garbage footprint
Ontario residents, institutions and industries produce 12.4 million tonnes of garbage a year—equal to the weight of 80,000 fully loaded Boeing 707 jetliners.
More shocking is that for every garbage can you put on the curb, 71 garbage cans of waste were produced by industries to make the stuff in that one garbage can.
Consider the gold ring on your finger—its creation produced 20 tonnes of mine waste.
Much of the garbage we produce, we can’t recycle, either because it contains too many toxics or it is designed not to be recyclable. Juice packs, for example, contain layers of metal, paper and plastic, all mixed together, and can’t be separated for true recycling.
Ontario faces a looming garbage crisis as its landfills reach capacity in about 20 years. Only three million tonnes of Ontario’s garbage becomes recycled goods, while about six million tonnes sits in Canadian dumps. Another four million tonnes of waste travels via trucks annually from Ontario to Michigan, where the government would rather not accept it.
A toxic dump
The quality of our garbage poses a graver problem than quantity. Our landfill sites leak toxins into groundwater—the same water that eventually pours from our taps.
A styrofoam package from your leftovers, contains styrene, benzene and HCFCs, chemicals known to deplete the ozone and harm human health. Styrofoam will never decompose because it’s not biodegradable. The manufacture of a napkin from old growth forest, which takes millions of years to grow back, produces dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known to humans, along with other chemicals linked to developmental defects and cancer. A cell phone, whose average life expectancy is 18 months, leaks lead—a neurotoxin that causes brain and kidney damage.
Over 100,000 synthetic chemicals contaminate our products and only a handful of them are tested for human health impact. None are tested for synergistic health impact, when they interact with other chemicals. Even the pillows we sleep on for eight hours each night contain BFRs (brominated flame retardants), which make them fireproof, but are extremely toxic and linked to intellectual defects.
Yet we continue to buy stuff with toxins in it and throw it out. Our culture of disposable consumerism demands the convenience of bottled water, take out coffee and plastic bags, regardless of the cost to environment or health.
The consumer trap
In North America we consume 30 per cent of the world’s resources and produce 30 per cent of its waste. We buy as if our earth’s resources are limitless. Yet, if everyone on earth consumed at our rate we would need 4 planets2.
We rarely witness the impacts of our consumerism. Thanks to media and advertisements, we see the shopping part of the materials economy but are blind to the extraction, production and disposal, which happen outside our view2.
Sadly, 99 per cent of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, and transport, we throw within six months of purchase. Much of the stuff we buy is carefully “designed for the dump.” Industries design stuff to become useless as quickly as possible so we throw it out and buy ‘a new one’. Plastic bags and coffee cups are obvious examples, but even mops, cameras, and barbeques are now “disposable”.
We even trash items that are not ‘disposable’ and still useful because they don’t look up-to-date or new. The fashion industry is a prime example of a system that produces stuff to be thrown out when ‘the style changes’. Electronic gadgets like computers and cell phones upgrade each year so the consumer can throw out their perfectly good old one and buy a new one that looks like everyone else’s.
All this shopping despite that fact that the more we own, the less time we have for the things that really make us happy, like family, friends, worship, and leisure. God correctly describes our materialistic society in the Quran, “The mutual rivalry for piling up (the good things of this world) diverts you (from the more serious things) until you visit the graves.” (Ch.102, v.1-2)
So what can we do to solve this problem? Here are six tips to reduce your garbage footprint:
1) Reduce what you buy
“We have been completely drilled into thinking of recycling as the solution to this problem of packaging," says Heather Marshall of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. "It is not. Recycling is the last thing you would do before you throw it away. What we really have to do is teach the hierarchy of the `Three Rs'; we must reduce first, then reuse and, finally, recycle."
Before you purchase a new item, stop and think whether you really need it. The less you buy, the less garbage you produce.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, “The best livelihood is the bare minimum.” (Ahmad)
2) Encourage producers to take responsibility for their products -- Waste is not inevitable. It is the product of bad design. Waste can be eliminated when the producer takes responsibility for creating products with the environment in mind. Write to companies and demand that they create products less toxic to the environment and health.
3) Choose less packaging—Avoid products with more than one layer of packaging. Buy in bulk containers and avoid kid-size boxes and individually wrapped servings.
4) Avoid products with high levels of toxins—products made with lots of synthetic chemicals are toxic to your health while you use them and toxic for the water, air and soil when dumped in a landfill or burned in an incinerator.
5) Shop for durability—cheap dollar store toys and accessories generally break in one or two uses and waste all the energy and resources that went into their production. Avoid disposables or items made for one time use, such as plastic cutlery, foil baking pans, plastic razors and disposable diapers
6) Compost – Divert organics from the landfill and into the soil where they become natural fertilizers.
We can reduce our garbage footprint without a major sacrifice in convenience. God tells us in the Quran, “Then (on the day of judgment) you will certainly be questioned about all the favours you enjoyed.” (Ch. 102, v. 8)
Are we ready to account for everything we consume—how it was made, how we bought it, how we used it, how we shared it, and how we disposed of it?
Shehnaz Toorawa is a teacher and freelance writer based in Toronto.