Rumble Pie #2|
AS PART of our commitment to greatly reduce the amount of waste that we produce, Green Apple has begun to research the various options available to us. This may have started out as a simple search on the web for recycling companies in the Greater Toronto Area, but it has morphed and mushroomed into something else entirely: a mission to pinpoint the final resting places of materials that we don't want in our own backyards; to investigate the social and political implications of the modern waste-management industries; and ultimately, to understand the so-called Story of Stuff, and how we might radically reposition ourselves in that storyline.
ONE OF THE recycling projects that Green Apple is proud to have initiated two years ago is our Freecycling Program. At the beginning of a job -- with our clients' consent, of course -- we put an ad up on Craig's List or one of the other freecycling forums, letting the general public know that they can come to the customer's house at a mutually convenient day and time to extract the existing materials. The financial advantage for our customers is that we offer them a discount on their bill for the amount that it would have cost for our own workers to have removed the materials.
THEN, AS WE near the end of a job and it becomes apparent that there will be a small amount of stone, brick, or other building material that we won't be able to put to use on another project, we take it to the curb and put a sign on it, letting the neighbours know that they can come pick up the product. The only conditions are that they collect the entire quantity and that they clean up after themselves. It usually doesn't take much longer than about twenty-four hours for eco- and cash-conscious to come round the house and have the whole load of left-overs hauled off.
WHILE Craig's List is primarily a classifieds forum where users either offer goods and services for payment, or offer payment for goods and services, Freecycle is exactly what its name implies: an online network of more than six million local trash-to-treasurers that facilitate efficient exchange without any expectation of financial compensation. Changing the world one gift at a time is their living motto. From the Freecycle FAQ: Our mission is to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.
BY RELYING upon one another to find proud new owners for our embarrassing old junk, we assert that it is our own responsibility to find workable solutions. Instead of professionalizing the problem and passing the buck on to big government or big business, state actors that do not have roots in our communities and therefore are not similarly motivated to look out for our welfare, we insist on organizing locally. And by working with one another, we are strengthening the bonds of neighbourliness and increasing trust -- the exact factors that pre-determine the likelihood that a community will be able to successfully mobilize to protect its own environmental interests.
BUT IN RECENT YEARS, the original founder of the official Freecycle network has upset some of the more than four thousand Freecycle communities worldwide, by accepting a quarter of a million American dollars' worth of corporate support from Waste Management, Inc., the largest waste-hauling firm on the continent, and a permanent fixture on the Forbes 500 list of the richest companies in the USA. WMI expanded into the Greater Toronto Area in 1972 and now operates over three dozen facilities and subsidiaries in Southern Ontario. But why would rank-and-file Freecyclists bristle at the idea of getting a helping hand from big brother?
A COUPLE OF HOURS of sophomoric surfing on the internet turned up the dirt on Waste Management. As far back as 1991, GreenPeace published an investigative report on WMI entitled ďAn Encyclopedia of Environmental Crimes & Other Misdeeds'. Here at home, after Premier Mike Harris scrapped provincial environmental protection legislation in 1996, it was WMI that tried to take Toronto's trash to Adams Mine, which would have leached untold quantities of contaminants into the groundwater that we drink from. When I called their corporate offices to ask for the transparent truth about their trash or provide me with an independent audit, I was rebuffed.
IT'S A LOT EASIER to just leaf through the yellow pages, pick up a phone, and make the call to any one of literally hundreds of recycling service providers in the Greater Toronto Area. But we don't feel in good conscience that we can just pass the buck down the pipeline without knowing the gritty details of where our trash is being taken to. So until such time that we can verify the final resting place of our waste, we will insist on investigating all of our options. And in the meantime, instead of subcontracting our recycling out to others, we will continue to freecycle our surplus, keeping as much as possible out of the landfills.