Editorial: Better garbage attitude needed

Attitudes about garbage have evolved considerably since those golden years when the City of Victoria barged its garbage out to sea and dumped it in the water. While governments have long since realized you can’t dump garbage just anywhere, that realization hasn’t dawned on everyone.

Langford has seen a huge spike in people using city garbage cans for household waste. A month-long study of the problem found 88 of 156 public trash cans contained household garbage, and 76 of those were overflowing, with bags of household garbage heaped up beside or on top of the receptacles.

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While the public trash cans were not intended for household use, Langford has no bylaw prohibiting depositing residential garbage in public receptacles. Making it illegal seems the obvious thing to do, but that won’t make the problem go away. Every municipality in the region (perhaps even in the country) must wrestle with the issue of illegal dumping.

That’s on top of the already-weighty problem of what to do with solid wastes we all generate.

In times past, where humans gathered, they simply tossed their waste aside, creating middens to delight modern archeologists. Sifting through those ancient trash heaps reveals much about the habits and diets of the people who deposited the garbage.

One of the things revealed by modern middens is that we are wasteful, tremendously wasteful. The Conference Board of Canada has published statistics on per-capita generation of municipal waste in 17 countries, and Canada comes dead last. That is, we produce more waste than the other countries on the list — 777 kilograms per person in 2008, twice as much as the best performer, Japan.

British Columbians can feel a little virtuous as they come well below the national rate, producing 570 kilograms of garbage per person in 2012, and Capital Regional District residents are entitled to be downright smug, generating only 395 kilograms of garbage per person, on par with Japan.

But it’s still too much. And too much is still dumped illegally or, as in the case of Langford, improperly. As rules for disposal and recycling become more stringent, irresponsible people seeking to avoid dumping fees or the inconvenience of sorting waste will follow the line of least resistance. That’s why we see public trash cans overflowing, couches dumped along forest roads and thrift-shop donation bins overloaded with useless materials.

The rules are generally working. Recycling and composting initiatives are decreasing the amount of garbage dumped in the Hartland landfill. Sorting household waste is becoming a way of life for most. Occasional visits from a bylaw-enforcement officer might help others bring their attitudes in tune with the times.

But the best way to resolve the waste problem is not to create it in the first place. Better shopping and food-preparation habits can greatly reduce kitchen waste. We can advocate for less packaging on the things we buy. We can use our appliances and entertainment gadgets longer, be less eager to buy the latest and snazziest.

The result will be beneficial to household and municipal budgets, and will ease the strain on the environment.

Perhaps, then, future archeologists will dig through our middens and marvel at our frugality.

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