Wow! One Bag of Trash in 26 Months

 

shawn williamson
Shawn Williamson explaining how to slash your trash

By Stephen Leahy

On Aug. 10, Shawn Williamson put out his family’s first bag of trash in 26 months. That’s right, 26 months and just one bag of trash for Williamson, his wife, Monica, and their 7-year-old daughter Alyssa.

The Brooklin family recycles, reuses or composts 99.3 per cent of their waste, Williamson calculates. “It’s easier and cheaper,” says the management consultant, who specializes in environmental challenges.

“In my office, there’s a container for compostable materials, one for paper and a small one for garbage.” Asked what’s in the garbage container, Williamson says “cut-up credit cards, old pens, some plastic wrapping … I empty it every four or five months.”

There are only two other small garbage containers in the home. But there are plenty for recycling, composting and a couple of large containers destined for the Goodwill donation centre.

Driving by, no one would guess this is a near-zero-waste home. Williamson insists they don’t have a Spartan lifestyle. In fact, he feels a bit sorry for the rest of us: “If you’re putting out three bags of garbage, you’re wasting an awful lot of time and money.”

It all starts at the store, especially the grocery store. Buying pre-packaged and ready-made food not only creates a lot of trash, it is much more expensive and less nutritious than buying fresh. The Williamsons hit the supermarket once a week with their 12-year-old green plastic baskets and preprinted shopping list, with the weekly essentials listed to make shopping more efficient and eliminate impulse buying.

“We still buy things like potato chips occasionally, and those bags can’t be recycled.”

They also buy in bulk. Toilet paper comes from an office-supply outlet in a giant box that barely fits in the car. Staples such as rice come in 50-pound bags. The house is outfitted with more shelving than most homes but Williamson insists it doesn’t look like a warehouse.

“Try eating only fresh for a few weeks and you’ll see a health improvement . . . you’ll feel better,” Williamson says.

When the family does order takeout, they bring their own plastic containers. “We bring the big ones and the take-out places tend to fill them up for the same price.” Most of this is just common sense on how to be more efficient, and Williamson believes it has saved his family hundreds of hours.

“Just take a few seconds once a week to think about how to do something better and do it.” Before you know it, you will be living better, saving money and maybe losing a bit of weight, says Williamson.

Nearly all food waste and organic matter goes into a back-yard composter, to be turned into rich top soil for the vegetable garden. Williamson says he gets a bit of a workout digging in the compost and he finds it very relaxing. And it beats driving to the gym.

“It’s really all about living better, living simpler and living smarter.”

Incineration vs. diversion

The Williamsons live in Durham Region, where 60 per cent of residential waste is now being diverted from the landfills in Michigan, where much of Ontario’s waste has been going for the past decade. But Durham and York regions are proceeding with plans to build a $230-million garbage incinerator in south Courtice, near Lake Ontario. To operate efficiently, the natural-gas-powered furnaces will need to be fed thousands of tonnes of garbage around the clock. That will take the emphasis off waste reduction and the need to improve recycling programs, says Shawn Williamson, whose family diverts 99.3 per cent of its household waste.

“The simple solution to Ontario’s perennial garbage problem is not to create any waste,” he says. “We saw a big change by converting all our garbage cans throughout the house into recycling bins and putting a tiny container for garbage inside.”

Ontario’s overall waste diversion rate has risen from 21 per cent in 1992 to about 44 per cent. Toronto’s diversion rate was 45 per cent last year, far short of its target of 70 per cent. San Francisco and Los Angeles are already at 70 per cent. More than half of Toronto’s households are in townhouses and high-rise apartments or condos, where recycling and composting must be taken down to basement bins and the diversion rate is a paltry 15 per cent

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First published in The Toronto Star October 21, 2011

Oceans Filled with Plastic Trash – Changing Marine Ecology

Tiny bits of plastic now found throughout the world’s oceans

Ban single-use plastic: bags, bottles, cups etc, scientists say

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 10, 2012 (IPS)

Plastic trash is altering the very ecology of the world’s oceans. Insects called “sea skaters”, a relative of pond water striders, are now laying their eggs on the abundant fingernail-sized pieces of plastic floating in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean instead of relying on a passing seabird feather or bit of driftwood.

With an average of 10 bits of plastic per cubic metre of seawater, there are now plenty of places for sea skaters to lay eggs in a remote region known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, 1,500 kilometres west of North America. Not surprisingly, egg densities have soared, a new study has found.

“We’re seeing changes in this marine insect that can be directly attributed to the plastic,” says Miriam Goldstein, study co-author and graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

This is the first proof that plastics in the open ocean are affecting marine invertebrates (animals without a backbone), which will have consequences for the entire marine food web.

“We simply don’t have the data to know what those consequences will be. It is a very remote region of the ocean, hard to get to and expensive to conduct research,” Goldstein told IPS.

The North Pacific Gyre is one of five large systems of rotating currents in the world’s oceans. It has become better known in recent years as theGreat Pacific Garbage Patch”. It has at least 100 times more plastic today than it did in 1972, according to the study published this week in the journal Biology Letters.

“There were no hard surfaces before in the North Pacific Gyre other than the occasional feather and piece of wood,” says Miriam Goldstein, study co-author and a graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

“The ocean looks pretty normal out there in the gyre. There is no floating island of trash as some people imagine,” Goldstein told IPS. Continue reading

Trashing the Oceans: 3 to 6 X More Trash Than Plankton – ‘Using Oceans as Universal Sewer’ — Cousteau

This is a repost from last year. Sad to see  little progress on this issue. — Stephen

“There is no reason for delay. Governments and industry need to take action and people have to stop pointing fingers at each other and get on with it.”

California nearly became the first U.S. state to ban plastic bags, but a multi-million-dollar lobby effort by industry killed the proposed legislation

By Stephen Leahy

HONOLULU, Hawaii, U.S., Mar 28, 2011 (IPS)

Every day, billions of plastic bags and bottles are discarded, and every day, millions of these become plastic pollution, fouling the oceans and endangering marine life.

No one wants this, but there is wide disagreement about how to stop it.

“Every time I stick my nose in the water, I am shocked. I see less and less fish and more and more garbage,” said Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the legendary marine ecologist Jacques Cousteau, who has spent four decades making documentaries and educating people about the oceans.

Please throw something in the tip jar before reading on. This is how I make my living.

On trips to the remote and uninhabited northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Cousteau found miles and miles of plastic bottles, cigarette lighters, television tubes, spray cans, broken toys, and thousands of other pieces of plastic on the beaches and thousands of tonnes of derelict fishing nets in the reefs.

“We are using the oceans as a universal sewer,” he told some 440 participants from the plastics manufacturing, food and beverage sectors, environmental organisations, scientists and policy-makers from over 35 countries at the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, which ended Mar. 25. Continue reading