A Victorian whodunnit

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, January 2013

26,000 tonnes of garbage vanishes.

You know the holidays are over when the resulting glut of garbage appears at the curb in the dying days of December. How quickly the sparkle of special foods and beautifully packaged gifts is reduced to a sodden mass of organic and inert trash. The sight of it all is tarnishing somehow, as depressive as stumbling upon a dirty dumpster and furtive cluster of smoking employees at the back door of your favourite restaurant. There’s no getting around the messiness of being human, but really, does it have to be this self-indulgent? 

To be fair, the recycling boxes also bulge at this time of year, and in our region alone the CRD’s recycling initiatives annually divert from the Hartland landfill some 26,000 tonnes of what once passed for garbage. That’s a mountain of material funnelled back to the manufacturing industry, thereby sparing—at least in part—real mountains and other valuable natural resources.

The first generation of recycling stalwarts—paper, cardboard, tin, glass and plastic—form the bulk of that volume, but many more materials have been added to the list; so many, in fact, that the CRD has developed a nifty one-stop recycling website called Myrecyclopedia. Claiming that most of what we throw away is too valuable to be considered garbage in this day and age, the website offers an alphabetized list of more than 150 common household products and materials that can now be turned in for recycling. Simply click on an item to find out how and where it can be recycled, and why it should stay out of the landfill. 

By clicking on “mirrors” for example, I discover that a mirror contains both aluminium and silver, neither of which should ever go into a landfill. (Nor should any glass, which will take centuries to degrade.) Broken mirrors, it turns out, can be dropped off at Ellice Recycle on David Street. Myrecyclopedia.ca provides both the company’s phone number and website link for easy access to business hours, location and fee schedule.

Last fall I used Myrecyclopedia to help clear away the mound of stuff we collected after a particularly robust yard and garage cleanup. Just about everything turned out to be recyclable: A single trip to the Hartland Recycling Facility got rid of our 20-year old lawnmower, aging (empty) barbeque propane tank and several pieces of scrap metal, all at no charge. (In fact, any item that is more than 80 percent metal is now banned from the landfill. That includes old fry pans, bicycles and microwave ovens, the latter of which has become a lamentably disposable product in recent years.)

At the same time we dropped off two automotive batteries, a 10-year-collection of spent household batteries, a few used oil filters, empty motor oil jugs and an ancient, half-full bottle of pet flea medication, again at no charge. The only item for which I paid a nominal six-dollar fee was the large bag of assorted styrofoam collected over the years, and I stuffed that into whatever space was left in the car. Getting rid of it all in one cathartic trip was well worth the drive to Hartland.

But you don’t have to go all that way to recycle your non-blue-box items. Myrecyclopedia cross-references between its ever-expanding list of recyclables and its inventory of several dozen recycling depots around town. That makes it easy to find out that six local facilities will accept your old strings of Christmas lights. If you found a new cell phone under the tree, Myrecyclopedia will give you several options for getting rid of your old one. If Santa brought a new power tool, Myrecyclopedia has all the details for recycling your old one—as well as your malfunctioning electric toothbrush, treadmill and 300 other electrical products.

Reducing the amount of waste we produce in the first place will always be the single best way to protect our fragile island environment. But recycling is an essential concurrent strategy and in our region it’s become a whole lot easier in the last few years, so much so that by next Christmas it could be considered gauche to trolley a careless heap of garbage to the curb. Surely that would make Santa proud.

Writer Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic’s books include People in Transition: Reflections on Becoming Canadian, Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup, and Pier 21: The Gateway that Changed Canada.