Waste Reduction Week encourages us to change our behaviour

Canadians throw out far too much food, clothing, plastics, and more

It takes 2,650 litres of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt, and Canadians throw away more than 12 million tonnes of clothing and textiles every year, 95 per cent of which could be reused or recycled. Pictured is part of an interactive art installation about textile waste in Graffiti Alley of Toronto’s Fashion District created by Value Village Thift Store for "Textile Tuesday" during Waste Reduction Week, which takes place until October 21st. (Photo: Value Village / Instagram)
It takes 2,650 litres of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt, and Canadians throw away more than 12 million tonnes of clothing and textiles every year, 95 per cent of which could be reused or recycled. Pictured is part of an interactive art installation about textile waste in Graffiti Alley of Toronto’s Fashion District created by Value Village Thift Store for "Textile Tuesday" during Waste Reduction Week, which takes place until October 21st. (Photo: Value Village / Instagram)

We are what we waste, isn’t that the saying?

With global temperatures rising and landfills shrinking, we are running out of time and space for our garbage. October 15th to 21st is Waste Reduction Week, a time to reflect and educate ourselves about our own bad habits.

Many of us put out the garbage and take our blue bins to the curb and then never think about that waste again. But all that waste goes somewhere — and most of it ends up at the landfill.

“At the current rate, the Peterborough landfill facility will be filled in approximately 13 years,” says James Istchenko, Manager of Environmental Services for the City of Peterborough.

Most of our waste can be avoided if we take the time to carefully plan and to learn how we can change our habits to become less wasteful. From textiles to food waste, plastics, and electronic waste, there are many resources to help us reduce our waste footprint. Awareness is key!

Contaminated recyclables end up in the landfill

Every day during Waste Reduction Week has a different theme.
Every day during Waste Reduction Week has a different theme.

Globally, 8.3 million tonnes of plastic has been generated since the 1950s but only 23 per cent has been recovered or recycled.

Aside from eliminating or reducing our use of plastic, we can also improve our recycling rate of plastic by ensuring our recycling is clean when it enters the blue box.

Keeping our recycling clean is important for its end-of-life destination. That spoonful of yogurt or glob of sticky peanut butter left in the bottom of the container can be the difference between it being recycled, or getting redirected to the dump.

When placed in the same bin, one unrinsed jar can contaminate the other items that are perfectly good recyclables. Take an extra minute to rinse your containers before they go in the blue bin to ensure your recycling stays out of the landfill.

Unwanted clothing doesn’t belong in the garbage

Did you know that each of us throws out 82 pounds of clothes every year? Clothes can easily be mended, passed on, or donated. There are many clothing donation locations in Peterborough, including the OPIRG Free Market, located at Sadlier House, 751 George Street North.

“Each year we collect approximately 70 large recycling bins worth of reusable textiles,” says Sam MacAndrew, Coordinator of OPIRG Peterborough.

“This year, we are working towards removing the stigma around used clothing and visiting spaces such as the Free Market. We need to change our attitude towards used clothing and encourage shopping second-hand. It is not about being of a lower socioeconomic status, but rather it’s about reusing the products that already exist.”

Discarded food makes up 14 per cent of what goes into the landfill

If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest polluter, following the United States and China. At a recent event centered on local food waste, the County of Peterborough provided a local perspective on community food waste, as captured by their annual waste audits. Although their findings are a snapshot in time, the results were surprising.

For example, at the household level, one audit showed that we throw away 1.28 kilograms of wasted food each week, costing us approximately $7. That may not seem like much, but over a one-year period the average annual wasted food expense is closer to $1,500 per household. This does not include the annual cost of discarding this food with garbage pickup, which costs $382 per residence.

These items of wasted food were discovered in seven household garbages from curbside collection on one street in Peterborough County during their May 2018 waste audit. Local waste audits have determined that the Peterborough landfill takes in 5,880 tonnes, or 650 truckloads of wasted food each year. (Photo: County of Peterborough)
These items of wasted food were discovered in seven household garbages from curbside collection on one street in Peterborough County during their May 2018 waste audit. Local waste audits have determined that the Peterborough landfill takes in 5,880 tonnes, or 650 truckloads of wasted food each year. (Photo: County of Peterborough)

Of the 42,000 tonnes of waste dumped into the Peterborough landfill each year, approximately 5,880 tonnes is wasted food. That is 650 garbage truck loads of wasted food!

The value of food thrown away in the City and County each year is $30.6 million. Other than vegetable and fruit scraps, the big wasters are uneaten leftovers and plate scrapings, spoiled produce, and food past its best-before date. This is easily avoidable by making meal plans and grocery lists, buying only what you will eat, and loving your leftovers!

Waste increases carbon dioxide and contributes to climate change

Waste not only costs us money, but it contributes to climate change.

“When it comes to waste, we also need to think of carbon dioxide,” explains local author and naturalist Drew Monkman. “It too is a waste product. Simply releasing CO2 into the air is akin to littering, but because it is both invisible and odourless, we don’t see it littering the sky.

Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a special report on the impact of global warming stating that even one extra single degree of heat could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for ecosystems.

Although we may not be aware of the impacts of contaminating our recycling, or throwing out food, we are contributing to climate change.

“The impact of waste on climate change is devastating,” Monkman says.

It’s time to change our behaviour

It’s time to change our behaviour when it comes to waste.

Behaviour change can be difficult and takes time. Fortunately, there are great resources for the City of Peterborough to help us develop better habits.

If you are unsure if a product is recyclable, you can visit the City of Peterborough Waste Management site and use the What Goes Where tool to learn what is recoverable. Additionally, you can download the tool as an app, making recycling that much easier.

Visit foodinpeterborough.ca for ideas on how to reduce your household food waste. As a community, we can work together to divert waste from the landfill, prolonging it’s life.

Let’s change the predicted life of our landfill from 13 years up to 20!

For more information about Waste Reduction Week, visit wrwcanada.com. For more information, ideas, and products to help you lower your waste footprint, visit the GreenUP Store at 378 Aylmer Street North in downtown Peterborough.

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For more than 20 years, GreenUP has been central and eastern Ontario's leading organization focused on issues of environmental education, sustainability, and stewardship. GreenUP is a non-profit charity and an active community organization that offers dozens of programs and services to those living in the Peterborough & Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. GreenUP's programs focus on facilitating positive action and provide the tools to make small changes in the home or cottage that can create a large and lasting impact on our environment. You can follow GreenUP on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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