New Perspectives: A Senior Moment – “THAT’S JUST GARBAGE!”

No, this is not a timely rant against officials who determined that the Olympic Women’s Soccer Final would be ultimately decided by penalty kicks, not a sudden death goal (even if Canada did beat Sweden.) And my header is unrelated to the plethora of promises politicians will be pontificating pre-election.

No, I am writing about my household garbage. Our local supermarket recently stopped using plastic grocery bags which I had been conscientiously recycling to hold my daily household garbage under the sink. The store has switched to packing groceries in environmentally-friendly, brown paper bags or preferably in my reusable cloth ones. I must quickly add that I am certainly a long-time friend of the environment: recycling, composting, choosing purchases that are not wrapped in three unnecessary layers of rigid plastic. In fact, back in the 1970s, my wife and I were founding members of a group called Peterborough Environment People.

Before recycling efforts across Ontario became sophisticated, with city-run blue box pickups and factory sorting of their bi-monthly collections, Saturday mornings saw many conscientious citizens bringing their own used glass in cardboard boxes to a central warehouse in Peterborough. Volunteers would dump the contents into huge metal bins. Others would be standing on top of this growing pile, wearing protective goggles and smashing the discarded glass with improvised tools: heavy, flat pieces of iron attached to long poles. I can still smell the intoxicating fragrance of liquor dregs from almost-empty bottles being shattered beneath my safety-booted feet.

Five decades later, I now struggle with an ethical dilemma: what to do now with soggy household waste which can be neither recycled nor composted, but would surely fall through the bottom of those afore-mentioned thin, brown paper bags? I could simply shop where stores still offer plastic bags but their days are numbered as the Federal Government continues its move toward abolishing all single-use plastics. I could buy a box of small, kitchen garbage bags designed for the sole purpose of waste disposal, but these are still larger and twice as thick as my old recycled grocery bags, doubling the weight of plastic dumped in land-fill sites. Not a solution for me.

The other option is to store a large,74 litre, green and smelly garbage bag in my kitchen all week, but that is not attractive. Neither is it practical to run out to the garage after every meal to scrape leftovers into that big plastic container.

Plastic bagging at grocery check-outs began across North America in 1979-80. I have been searching my memory, trying to recall what shoppers did before plastic bags, back in those proverbial “good old days.”

I first remembered that household garbage was never a problem on the farm. Our faithful dogs consumed meat bones and most table scraps. Pigs got the rest, stirred in huge cauldrons and mixed with water, sour milk and stale bread freely retrieved from bakeries. When I wasn’t busily stirring up the pot (a metaphor for my later philosophy of life?) I was frantically spraying ubiquitous, pesky clouds of flies with DDT. Many of them dropped—like flies— into the cauldron, adding protein and a dose of poison to Porky’s meal. Cans and other non-consumables were dumped and buried in a pit far away from the farm house. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. Paper was routinely burned in a big wire-covered metal barrel.

The memory search then turned to my earlier childhood years living in town. In the era before plastic grocery bags, I think our parents just dumped household trash straight into an old dented metal garbage can on the back porch. But surely, this would not be appreciated these hot August days by my hardworking friends from the local Works Department. Reluctantly, I may have to resort to getting a pup, a pig and a pit for household trash. My new pets will take care of most of the daily organic garbage. And when my snowbird neighbours finally return to Florida post-Covid, I could dig a hole in their backyard, dump my other non-recyclables there all winter long, while being courteous enough to cover the pile with dirt before their Spring return.

Better garbage solutions are welcomed and obviously much needed.