The past few days have been remarkably mild, considering it is still January. Snow drops are budding and daffodils are emerging from the recently thawed ground. Spring beckons.We have been enjoying the gradually lengthening days; going for pleasant walks in the forest, starting on one or two outdoor projects. C. just finished building a new bridge over the creek. The last one disintegrated with old age and the ravages of the flooding stream last autumn.
Yesterday I took the garden fork up to the vegetable garden to dig up the last of the overwintered parsnips, filling a five gallon bucket with lovely, cream-coloured roots. We had some for supper last night, par-boiled and then roasted with a bit of butter, salt and pepper, in a tightly covered glass baking dish, alongside a brace of grilled black tail deer chops – truly delicious!
Lately I have been thinking a lot about cycles, seasonal, life-cycles and so on; the old making way for the new. All the trashy talk reverberating over the airwaves these past few months, has got me thinking about garbage and what to do about it. One thought leads to another and I find myself wanting to talk about the way we deal with our trash on the island. The main point being that here on the island there is no curbside pick-up. Here we must deal with our own waste from beginning to end.
The other morning, listening to the CBC radio, I heard a story about the mega-multinational corporation Unilever making moves to reduce the amount of packaging sold with some of its products. This is being done in order to cut costs. As always, it seems, the bottom line is front and centre and trumps all sensible reasoning. Of course we didn’t ask for all the damn packaging material in the first place, though we have been paying for it all along in more ways than one. If things continue as they have done for the past 40 or 50 years, in spite of the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) we humans will be drowning in our own garbage. This may happen in any case, as it seems most of the human race is bent on destroying this poor old planet, all for the sake of the bottom line, reasonable or not.
I have friends who recently confessed to taking a box-cutter with them to Costco when they go to that monstrous store to do their shopping. Before leaving the parking lot, while loading their purchases into their vehicle, they cut away all the unnecessary packaging material, placing it back in the cart to be dealt with by Costco, refusing to bring that rubbish home. I plan to adopt this practise myself. Think about it. If every consumer on the planet left the bulk of the packaging material behind, retailers might get the drift, and with luck would pass the news onto the manufacturers: the average customer is not interested in all the bloody rubbish generated by the weekly, or monthly, shopping expedition!
At home we separate our waste. We keep a 3 gallon bucket (that once contained laundry soap powder) under the kitchen sink. Into this go all the fruit and vegetable scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells and the like. If it is a particularly edible bucketful, it gets dumped first into the chicken coop, to be scraped up later and added to the compost pile for use in the garden. To avoid a malodorous compost heap, I do not put meat or food scraps into the mix. After being used, along with the bones, to make a stock for soup, any meaty scraps will go to the cats or the chickens. The spent bones go into the fire, or are buried under one of the many flowering shrubs that surround our yard.
In this part of the world we pay a deposit on beverage containers. Glass wine bottles, plastic juice jugs and aluminum drink cans, once emptied and rinsed, are returned to the bottle depot on the next island or in town where the deposit is refunded. We store these clean, empty drink containers in a designated area under the house (dubbed the Recycle Centre) until we have a big enough load to take to town, once or twice a year. The cash refund is enough to buy our lunch and help pay for the trip to town.
We don’t use very many tinned items in our kitchen, those we do use get a quick wash and perhaps a quick squish in order to reduce their bulk. Glass, plastic food containers and other food wrapping materials are also washed in order to keep them from stinking to high heaven and to discourage the mice. The containers are recyclable, so they too go into our home Recycle Centre, where they are stored until they can be taken to town. Clean plastic food wrap (think cheese) goes into the actual garbage along with any other unrecyclable materials to await our annual trip to the town dump.
Plain paper packaging is either recycled or, along with old newspapers, used as fire starter in the wood stove that heats our home. Cardboard boxes that may have been used to carry groceries home, are reused to carry the recyclables and returnables back to town, then flattened and recycled as well. I keep the best boxes for use in the autumn, when harvesting the apples and vegetables. Eventually the old boxes are flattened and used to cover the paths between the rows of vegetables and raspberries in the garden. I pile garden waste, sawdust, and leaves on top of these flattened boxes, which keeps them in place, helping to suppress weeds and retain moisture around the garden plants. Empty, plain paper sacks that once held chicken feed, bulk porridge oats and rice are also used as garden mulch in this fashion.
Although the two grocery stores on the next island stopped doling out plastic shopping bags years ago, we still end up with an assortment of bags from other sources. Those I cannot use as freezer or trash bags are taken to the wonderful multi-material B.C. (MMBC) recycling depot in town that accepts just about everything you can imagine. When I go to town I take our own reusable cloth shopping bags, along with a couple of large waterproof, tightly lidded totes to keep my purchases dry during the boat ride home.
Aluminum foil can be washed and re-used many times before it comes to the end of its life at which time it will also be cleaned and recycled. Ditto for any Styrofoam packaging that may have found its way to our island. I try to have faith that the stuff I send to the recycle depot is actually being recycled and not just sent to the landfill. I have to believe that our tax-dollars are actually going to help fund what appears to be an excellent waste disposal system in our nearest town.
The local regional district has recently altered the recycling system at the bins on the next island. Now known as “single stream” recycling, everything recycled here goes into the same bin. I question this and my suspicious mind starts to imagine my once carefully sorted trash being dumped straight into the local landfill, or perhaps worse, being tipped into shipping containers for a one-way trip to the far side of the Pacific Ocean, to be sorted by minutely paid individuals or indentured slaves. Apparently this is not the case. I have been told there are machines that actually separate all this stuff, a bit like a combine harvester I imagine. The recycled materials, once sorted by the machine, are apparently compacted into large bales to be sold as scrap material either in this country or overseas. The shipping part of this still troubles me.
Once a year we make a trip to the town dump. Preferably on a dry spring day, we will load the two or three garbage bags full of un-recyclable stuff that we have collected through the year into the skiff. Recycling and returnables bound for the depot also go into the skiff for the journey down the channel to the end of the road on the next island where we keep our car. The skiff’s load will fill our Honda CRV.
Then there is the long drive along the pot-holed logging road followed by the short ferry ride to the nearest town. There we will make a quick pit stop at the recycle depot to drop off the recyclables and cash in the returnables before heading to the regional dump. There we get rid of our rubbish, handing it off to the dump staff to be placed into the dump’s landfill bins. We used to tip the garbage ourselves, but sometimes people would end up leaving the dump with more junk than they arrived with! Our vehicle is weighed going in and coming out to determine how much we owe for this privilege. Normally we pay no more than the minimum tipping fee of $10.
Getting back to the theme of the three R’s, I would like to add a fourth R. The list should read: Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle. I find it a rewarding creative challenge to find a second life for an item that has fulfilled its original purpose and would otherwise be tossed out. As a child, I remember a lovely table lamp that one of my parents made from a rusty old storm lantern found in the barn; cleaned, painted and wired for electricity, it provided a cozy light to read by.
At home, the business end of a pair of old garden rakes have become hanging racks for our cast iron frying pans and assorted kitchen utensils. An old wooden picture frame, brightly painted, the centre space filled with wine corks glued to a board, became an attractive pin board for the office.
Once in a fit of creativity C. constructed a self-brushing cat-door frame using the brush parts of a couple of old brooms!
Worn out sheets torn into long strips are used to tie up tomatoes and other garden plants that require staking. Using a simple frame loom, I have created some brightly coloured woven floor mats using old cotton sheeting strips for the warp with worn out tee shirts or woolen sweater strips for the weft.
The most obvious solution to the problem of rubbish is to consume less stuff; grow your own, make your own, buy second-hand and simply make do with what you have, as much as possible. I realize I may be preaching to the converted but I don’t think it hurts to be reminded every now and again that in life, it seems, whatever goes around comes around, over and over again. Pass it on!