Saturday, October 18, 2014

Waste Not; Want Not (a true cliche if there ever was one)

It is a sad day for me. After a long fight for survival and several surgeries (with green embroidery thread and shoe goo), my beloved hiking sandals are no longer able to go on. They have been my constant companion for just shy of two years and, while I know our time together was relatively short, they took me to places of enchantment and challenge, of mud and rock, of… well, to paraphrase Neruda: silence, water, hope; struggle, iron, and volcanoes. My sandals were my passport to adventure. However, life goes on regardless of losing that which we love.

A somewhat inglorious ending but off to the dump they go …

This eulogy brings to mind a CBC radio show I listened to last week: What a Waste. Hosted by Torah Kachur, a PhD molecular biologist from the University of Alberta, it played once a week throughout the summer. Click here to listen to the recorded podcasts or go to the main page and click on any of the icons for a pictographic summary of specific waste issues, fascinating (if not disturbing) facts, and possible solutions.

Did you know, for example, that:

  • On average, humans produce up to 2 liters of urine and 2 pounds of feces every day
  • More people have a cell phone than a toilet
  • E-waste makes up 1% of the landfill but accounts for 70% of the toxic chemicals in them including dioxin, lead, mercury and polybrominated biphenyls
  • More than 1/3 of the food produced in Canada is wasted
  • A person needs between 20-50L a day for washing, cooking and cleaning; Canadians use, on average, 329L per day

Also check out What a Waste’s special labour day broadcast, Waste Warriors. Listen to how one teacher got her middle school students to collect their waste (over the course of a day) into a plastic bag to increase awareness of what they toss; how an Ontario family recycles all their grey water into flush water for the toilet, thereby reducing the waste of drinking water; and where you can find fix-it cafes where people are taught how to repair their electronic items rather than throwing them away.

Which brings me back to my sandals. While it’s doubtful I can recycle these treasures I can, perhaps, reuse some of the structural elements, like the nylon straps and the plastic do-hickies that guided those straps, for some other repair or beautfication. 

My hiking shorts, a continual work-in-progress, might just be needing what once seemed lost. 

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Fears We Can Live Without

Before heading out to my father’s a few weeks ago to help him navigate the shores of healing, I went into fear. It was based on some rather irrational projections of the future but, nevertheless, they manifested their way into even more irrational thoughts of the present. One of the biggest? I wouldn’t be able to write.

You see, I was planning on spending three days at his house. He doesn’t have a computer. I do not have a portable laptop. How would I organize my ideas?

It took me a few minutes but I finally started laughing. Fifteen years earlier I had the same thought, albeit somewhat transposed. I was in university bemoaning the time spent in writing essays by hand then transcribing them onto the computer. I could not imagine how I would ever be able to type a creative thought without first having written it down in ink. 

Then I looked to my bookshelf. How did Homer write the Illiad? How did Shakespeare compose his plays, and Goethe create my most beloved Faust without a keyboard in hand? Sojourner Truth didn’t even know how to write but most certainly composed poetry and prose that inspired both feminists and abolitionists. And, to counter another fear, that I would have no time while caring for my father, JK Rowling certainly didn’t do so badly while raising a son as a single mom. I packed my bags with pen in hand.

It can be quite entertaining and certainly illuminating to really look at the things you feel you cannot live without. I’ve heard people complain with total sincerity that their income is insufficient for a budget already on apron strings only to drive home from work (on an established bus line) to watch pay-for TV. Or the ones that declare organic food to be too expensive but will line up for hours to buy the latest and greatest in electronic gadgets. I once thought I had to have a certain brand of expensive tea to make it through the day.

These thoughts came into my mind after reading a CBC article highlighting Vancouver mayoral candidate, Kirk LaPointe, promise to provide more free parking.

Vancouverites are paying too much at parking meters, according to NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe. … LaPointe says the current rules punish many, including people who must get around by car for work or health reasons, small businesses whose customers include drivers, and parents with young children who bring strollers and other supplies on outings with them. ...Gregor [Robertson] and the Vision machine don’t accept the fact that sometimes driving is the only option for many people.

And what, pray tell, did we once do, not so long ago, without a car, even two cars, in every household? Driving is a convenience and an advantage to those who can afford it but is never the “only option”. This is especially true in Vancouver where we have buses that accommodate strollers and wheelchairs, bike lanes and, when driving seems a necessity, affordable car co-ops. And, as a bonus, the latter doesn’t pay for parking.

But driving isn't the only issue here. As George Montbiot writes:

Economic growth in a country whose primary and secondary needs have already been met means developing ever more useless stuff to meet ever fainter desires.

For example, a vague desire to amuse friends and colleagues (especially through the Secret Santa nonsense) commissions the consumption of thousands of tonnes of metal and plastic, often confected into complex electronic novelties: toys for adults. They might provoke a snigger or two, then they are dumped in a cupboard. After a few weeks, scarcely used, they find their way into landfill.

We have to stop this limited thinking that suggests we are helpless without modern conveniences. Our seemingly endless needs, our apparent mindless consumption, and our supposed “only options” are destroying the planet.

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