Friday, December 15, 2017

Litter Audit Reveals a Cleaner City

Citizens, community groups and businesses worked together throughout the past year to help make Edmonton cleaner this year. The results of Capital City Clean Up's 2017 Litter Audit show a continued trend towards less litter on Edmonton's streets.

"The results of this year's Litter Audit show big improvements in the amount of littler on Edmont's streets," said Don Belanger, manager of Capital City Clean Up. "This downward trend in littler is thanks to thousands of volunteers, many community groups and local businesses that continue to step up and get involved."

The audit was conducted by AET Group in June which examined litter type and size at 123 preselected locations across Edmonton as well as along Yellowhead Trail between 107 Street NW and the Beverly Bridge.

Highlights

Since last year:

  • 35 per cent reduction in large litter
  • 26 per cent reduction in small litter
Since 2009 when the audits began:

  • 74 per cent reduction in large litter
  • 59 per cent reduction in small litter
Along Yellowhead Trail:

  • 50 per cent reduction in large litter from the last audit in 2014
  • 19 per cent reduction in large litter from the baseline audit in 2010
Miscellaneous plastic and cigarette butts continue to account for the majority of large and small litter found. Although cigarette litter counts decreased, more work is still needed to address areas such as traffic intersections and locations where smokers congregate to smoke. Estimates show that more than 900 million cigarettes are smoked each year in Edmonton. More than 67 million butts are collected annually in the City of Edmonton's 719 outdoor ashtrays located in 13 commercial districts city wide.

Capital City Clean Up's 2018 litter management program will continue in the spring. It promotes a unified approach to keeping Edmonton clean by engaging volunteers, schools, community groups and local businesses.

Results of the litter audits since 2009 are available to the City of Edmonton's Open Data Portal.

Visit edmonton.ca/CapitalCityCleanUp

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Tell One Friend: How to Have #WastelessHolidays

#Wasteless Holidays Giveaway
You - and your friends can share your holiday tips, tricks and examples for reducing waste. From now until January 7, post your ideas on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #WastelessHolidays for a chance to win.
  • Submit as many entries as you like.
  • Prizes include family passes to Edmonton attractions, gift baskets from the Reuse Centre, or a composting package.
  • Note: Each entrant can win a maximum of one prize. Winners selected by random draw.


Start a Conversation
"The holiday season always seems to create more garbage. What do you do to keep your holiday waste down?" List. Ask more. Keep the conversation about them.

Create an Ally
"I want to enter the #WastelessHolidays Giveaway. Can you help me find some holiday ideas to reduce waste?"

One Small Ask
"I love this holiday tradition you have. Would you post that on facebook as #WastelessHolidays?"

Visit edmonton.ca/WastelessHolidays for more info and full giveaway rules.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

MCR Refresher: 6 Things MCRs Should Know about the Reuse Centre

It was great to see MCRs, last Thursday. Here are highlights from our chat.

1. Ten Years of Growth & Change
The Reuse Centre has kept over 1,500 tonnes of waste out of the landfill and welcomed over 200,000 customer visits to donate and shop.

The Reuse Centre is bigger and busier than ever. More donations. More items. More diverted from landfill. More volunteers. This isn't a tiny Centre any more.

Then again... A busy facility means keeping a fair system for all. MCRs are like any other customer. We pay the regular $5 fee. And we only drop off items from the Accepted Items List.

2. Products & Pricing
  • The List of Accepted Items evolves, over time.
  • Changes happen every year, based on careful consideration including Customer Satisfaction Surveys, in-store wishlists, and feedback from staff and volunteers.
  • Criteria for Accepted Items:
    • Items that will sell in the store.
    • Avoid competing with other second-hand organizations.
  • Current Pricing:
3. Teaming up to Reduce Waste
  • Residents can donate items to the Reuse Centre at any Eco Station.
    Just make sure the bag or box is clearly labelled.
  • Goodwill Alberta sends donations that do not sell on their shelves to the Reuse Centre, like VHS tapes, photo frames, and baskets.
4. Lots of Volunteering
Over 300 volunteers help sort items, lead tours, assist with crafting workshops, and write for the Reuse-It Edmonton blog. And volunteering at the Reuse Centre has changed too.

Group Sorting
  • Groups of volunteers (4 to 20 people) can schedule a shift to sort items. This also means there aren't drop-in opportunities for individuals. Yes, there are lots of groups who want to volunteer.
  • There are 2 MCR sorting groups. Contact Rodney or Helene to connect with them.
Individual Volunteering
5. A Volunteer's Joy: "One Free Purchase"
Volunteers who sort at least one hour get one free purchase in the store.
Some common-sense conditions apply:
  • up to 50kg (just like one regular purchase)
  • shop after your shift, not before
  • shop the same day, and
  • everyone shops from the store (not from the Sorting Room).
6. Turn on the Programs
The Reuse Centre now hosts group programs, birthday parties, reuse workshops, and even boardroom rentals. Also, there are special events like Family Day and drop-in crafting sessions.

Visit edmonton.ca/ReuseCentre or edmonton.ca/ReuseVolunteers
Visit facebook.com/EdmontonReuseCentre

Monday, December 4, 2017

Card-tastrophe by MCR Leah A.

How to Use Gift Cards Smartly & Avoid Card-tastrophe This Holiday Season


It’s the holiday season, and if you feel the looming pressure to find gifts for an ever growing list of friends and family, you might consider gift cards. They have become the default option for many people with little time to shop. Heck, it seems they have walls of them in grocery and drug stores everywhere. On a global scale, over $585 billion US dollars were spent on gift cards in 2016 [].

If you go the gift card route this season, you won’t be alone. Besides, it might just be the gift your family and friends are looking for…Is this type of gift always such a great card-tastrophe?

After all, gift cards allow the recipient to choose their own purchases, which prevents overconsumption and promotes sustainability. They can be thoughtful gifts as long as you keep the wishes and needs of the recipient in mind. A lucky person in your life might say: “A gift card to <store>?! I love shopping there!” Gift cards are also fitting for small gifts between acquaintances. You might decide to treat a colleague or teacher with a card to their favourite coffee shop as a small token of appreciation for their good work. Make sure you give cards to people you know will use them. In some cases, the money you spend may not even be redeemed -- people misplace cards, or find them to be a hassle to use.

But what happens to the gift card after its value has been exhausted? Most of us hold on to these cards for a while before tossing them. After all, how many cards can one person reasonably carry around in their wallet? If you take them back to the businesses, the staff there will likely toss them out, unless you reload them.

When dumped in a landfill, these cards add to our collective mountain of plastic waste. Sigh.

And you thought paper cups were the issue.
One super easy way to reduce the amount of excess gift cards is to reuse them. Most can be reloaded or re-gifted without anyone noticing. But when we consider the hierarchy of the three R’s, ideally, we would be reducing the number of plastic gift cards in circulation.

Alternatives to PVC Plastic Gift Cards

     Check if there is an electronic gift card option. These can be sent via email meaning no card will clutter up your wallet; they can also be easily accessed through your phone so you are less likely to forget to use up the full amount. Electronic gift cards can also be printed on regular paper which is much easier to recycle.

     Have you heard of Bank of Canada gift cards? (Hint: It is just cash!) Cash, e-transfers, or a personalized cheque still gives the purchasing power to the gift recipient. You can make it more personal by suggesting what they spend it on. Write your intentions on the memo line, in the card, or as the security question.  e.g.: “Happy Bastille day! I hope you’ll use this money to treat yourself to an indulgent pastry.”

     Make your own gift coupons! Give a voucher for a coffee date, a spa excursion, a weekday dinner, or anything you like! One Artsy Mama has these Homemade Holiday Ideas

Making your own holiday coupons can be a great way to go the extra green mile and reduce your gift purchases.
Finally, you can lighten up the financial burden of the holidays by reaching out to friends and family and agreeing not to exchange gifts. Trimming your gift giving list can free up your time to attend holiday parties and reduces the stress of credit card bills in January. Adam Conover, host of Adam Ruins Everything, makes a convincing argument in favour of a gift-less holiday season. He explains the economic problems with gift giving in this video clip. Sometimes, no presents can wind up being the best gift you can possibly give!

As for what to do with those plastic gift cards that you can’t reduce or reuse? You can mail them to a company called Earthworks. They ask you to fill out this form for specific instructions -- but you do not have to subscribe to anything. Aside from gift cards, they also take any plastic cards (rewards cards, hotel keycards, etc.) made from PVC. They recycle them in America into new cards while at the same time offering an alternative version without the PVC. If you want to keep everything in Canada, you can order a box for collecting cards from TerraCycle, though it does cost a bit more than sending an envelope to EarthWorks.

Here’s to a holiday season for us all with more time to socialize, less stress, and gifts that need no recycling. Cheers!
---

Leah joned the MCR ranks in May, 2014. She believes that urban environments offer a real opportunity to make the world increasingly sustainable. Favored topics include composting, urban design, and minimalism.


Friday, December 1, 2017

The A,B,Cs of a Great Back Alley Display by MCR Patti D.

I live in an older area with neighbours who frequently walk their dogs through the back alleys.  My MCR personal project was to create a back alley display about waste reduction.  How hard can that be, I thought?
  • Go to the dollar store. 
  • Get a display board. 
  • Create signage about waste reduction. 
  • Put the signs in page protectors. 
  • Change the signs each week. 
  • Start conversations. 
Voila – my 35 volunteer MCR hours are filled in no time!
Challenge 1:  Rain.  The display board from the dollar store was not waterproof.  After the first heavy rain, it was destroyed. Although I must note that there were pieces remaining around the screws that I had used to attach the display board to the fence...
Solution:  I spent $5 more and purchased composite wood board from Home Depot.  The sales clerk assured me it should last at least 2 years.
Challenge 2:  Wind.  I placed the signs on the board one day and proudly went out the next morning to inspect them.  All the signs were missing. I later located all the signs down the alley.
Solution:  I stopped using thumb tacks and used heavy duty staples to tack the signs to the board.
Challenge 3:  Wind AND Rain:  I placed the signs in page protectors with the openings at the bottom – smart eh?  The rain will not move upwards!  Wind will actually move the rain upwards and the page protectors did not help against rain.  The beautifully coloured signs looked like runny rainbows displayed in plastic envelopes.

 I’m VERY pleased to report that once I decided to use quality products, my back alley display was in much better shape.  
Solution:  Ordered expensive self-laminating sheets from Staples.  All signs are laminated front and back before they are stapled to the composite wood board.
Challenge 4:  Procrastination.  I blame it on loss of momentum.  I spent three weeks working on solutions to the first three challenges. Once I got those sorted out, I found that my enthusiasm for this project diminished.  I found other stuff to do over the summer and my signs were NOT changed once a week.  
Solution:  There is no solution; I am a procrastinator.  Regardless, I’m very proud of the signs I have created to date AND -  now that I have worked out solutions - it’s a simple matter to create a new sign, laminate it and place it in my Back Alley Display.
Challenge 5:  Conversations.  This did not spark as many conversations as I’d hoped.  In my dreams, I had people coming up to me, eager to take in the knowledge that I had to give. I had one neighbour admit to me that she did not compost as if it was a dirty little secret. Another asked me to come by her place to discuss garbage versus composting. I had hoped for a lot more interaction.  
 A compost mentor lives here. Talk to me if you need compost help. 

Solution:
 The feedback I’ve received from other neighbours tells me that they ARE reading my signs; one neighbor walked by and I heard him explain to his son what grasscycling is.  Through the signs, people in my neighbourhood have started to think about waste reduction.  Here’s to my next six months!
---

Patti loves Edmonton and wants to help make it an even better place to live. She is now worm composting and started her first outdoor compost, this year. She has enjoyed sharing her knowledge with her neighbours at their annual block party. She keeps a box in her basement to store old batteries and light bulbs. When it's full, they take a trip to the Eco Station.



Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Review by MCR Eve C. - Zero Waste Home

Image source: https://zerowastehome.com/about/book/
Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. Scribner: New York, 2013. Review by Eve C., MCR-in-training.

When you’re ready to take your waste reduction efforts to the next level, Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson’s guide to no-waste living, will provide hundreds of pages of ideas.

As newbie MCRs-in-training, we began the program with a variety of levels of proficiency about minimizing the garbage that leaves our homes. Through the program, we learned the ins and outs of recycling, composting, waste collection, and reusing in Edmonton. We are now reaching out to friends, family, and neighbours to spread the word.

Although we are prepared to provide helpful information to those just starting on their waste  reduction journey, what about those who have mastered the basics? If you or someone you meet through your MCR volunteering wants to make a major shift in their life in order to eliminate waste, the approach taken by Bea Johnson may provide inspiration.

Johnson’s approach calls for a fundamental rethinking of how we view waste in our lives. Instead of the well-known Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mantra, Johnson helpfully urges much more proactivity with these 5 Rs:

Refuse what you do not need.
Reduce what you do need.
Reuse by using reusables.
Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse.
Rot (compost) the rest.

Her emphasis on Refuse struck me as a powerful technique for cutting down on the waste entering my home. I am planning to start rejecting swag at conferences, stores, and events; I always get home and wondered why I accepted a bag full of junk that I now have to get rid of.

I also distilled several tips that seem practical and relevant to my life:

       Using coloured pencils instead of highlighters (the pencil shavings will break down).

       Using French glass canning jars for storing leftovers in your fridge (the jars are quite affordable and attractive, and they display what is in your fridge so that you are less likely to forget about it).

       Put stickers on your waste containers (garbage, recycling, reuse, compost) to make it easy for you and guests to put things in the right places.

       Write the tare (weight) on your reusable containers when taking them to the store for bulk refills. Although Johnson uses glass jars for all her groceries, which is beyond what I would ever be interested in doing, I would like to try Bulk Barn’s program which allows you to bring your own jars.

       Downsize things you do not use as much, such as sporting goods and tools. Instead, consider using the Edmonton Tool Library, rentals, or sharing purchases among a group of friends, etc.


The Edmonton Tool Library
The Edmonton tool library opened this year to provide Edmontonians affordable access to tools. They are also always looking for donations.

Although I enjoyed this book, I would caution that it is best viewed as a collection of tips, from which each reader will inevitably find a few really good ideas to incorporate into their own life, rather than a cohesive vision of a new way to live for all but the most inspired. Johnson’s privileged standard of living, and her California location, may not necessarily translate to the average person.

The book also made me reflect on the Changing Waste Behaviours section of our MCR training, particularly the Benefits and Barriers section. She focuses a lot on cooking from scratch, with fresh local ingredients, using food products for bathing and makeup rather than conventional toiletry items, and removing items with certain chemicals from her home. This book seems likely to appeal to someone with a passion for DIY and an interest in avoiding chemicals in their daily life. The book seems very well-positioned to appeal to that demographic. It would be a helpful resource if your audience was motivated by these concerns.

The converse is that this book would not be well received by anyone who is approaching waste reduction from a more pragmatic and skeptical perspective. Many of her suggestions are not accurate, such as claiming that aluminum cookware will harm your health and should be replaced.[1]

Some of Johnson’s other tips seem unsafe - including making DIY eyeliner, using glass bottles in the shower, and using cheese as earplugs. Ideas like making all your soap from scratch, making your own paper, and growing your own loofahs seem to require an investment of time (and raw materials) that exceed the potential environmental benefits. Finally, tips such as refusing gifts from friends if they come in packaging, and trying to give out unpackaged Halloween candy, are more likely to alienate those around you than to motivate people to follow your example.

Nonetheless, even if Johnson’s trial and error attempts to arrive at zero waste are sometimes unsuccessful, her approach and passion for the topic is commendable. If you stick with the book, you will come away with some helpful ideas and a new eye for examining the waste you produce.

Postscript: Smart Waste Home in Edmonton

Most of us will likely never aim for or achieve a Zero Waste Home. However, the MCR program has set us up to create and help others with a Smart Waste Home –where all waste is correctly diverted into the most efficient and least environmentally harmful stream.

The Wastewise App is my favourite tool for being smart about waste. It reminds me about our collection day every week, and helps me be certain when someone asks me a question about sorting waste. It also takes away the decision fatigue of constantly making judgment calls about what goes where, which may lead some to give up entirely.

Overall, the practical and locally-targeted resources from the MCR program are an excellent foundation for recognizing that - for most of us - some waste is here to stay. We can use simple techniques to deal with it as effectively as possible. 

Borrow Zero Waste Home from the Edmonton Public Library.




Thursday, November 9, 2017

City Launches New Change for Climate Initiative for Edmontonians

The City of Edmonton has launched Change for Climate, a new initiative to encourage citizens to take action on climate change.



The initiative is anchored around a new blog called ChangeForClimate.ca where residents are provided a spectrum of 30 actions to help reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The actions cover a wide range of impact levels, from hanging clothes instead of using a dryer to installing a solar panel system on a roof.

“Edmonton has emerged as a sustainability-focused city, and our citizens care about sustainability,” says Councillor Michael Walters. “Change for Climate will serve as a tool where citizens can learn and practice ways to reduce their carbon footprint. They will be provided with a real opportunity to act on climate change.”

The Change for Climate initiative is a major component of the City’s goal of creating a 35% reduction in the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 (below 2005 levels). The blog will provide Edmontonians with the opportunity to share their Change for Climate stories, highlighting why and how they are taking action. It also encourages citizens to select actions from the spectrum, participate on related City programs and share their commitments on social media.

Edmonton is part of global social, economic and environmental systems that support our quality of life. These systems are being disrupted by climate change. We have an opportunity to act now and act locally to protect our quality of life, our health and our economy. Our actions in our community have local and global impacts.

Edmontonians will have many opportunities to engage and participate in the new Change for Climate initiative. Over the next six months, various community events will take place starting with Change for Climate Talks on Dec.7, an evening in which 12 speakers will bring fast paced and inspiring presentations on what we can do to act on climate change. More events are planned in the New Year leading up to the 2018 Cities and Climate Change Science Conference March 5-7.

Visit ChangeForClimate.ca

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tell One Friend: Apply to be a Master Composter Recycler


The MCR program is looking for the next great community leaders in waste reduction. Training starts in 2018. Apply now!

  • Does your neighbour ask about your compost pile?
  • Who is that one friend who loves talking about recycling?
  • Is your coworker a great communicator and passionate about sustainability?

Tell them to apply.
Visit edmonton.ca/mcrp


Give Feedback

I have seen you sorting your waste. And we have chatted about Edmonton's waste system, a few times.

I felt the same way before I became a Master Composter Recycler.
Can I tell you a little about what I have learned?

Prompt Them: Plant the Seed

You would be a great role model for your community. Would you like to be an undercover agent for waste reduction?

MCRs volunteer in many ways. Most of all, we are waste reduction advocates for our friends and neighbours. Can I tell you some of the things that I that I've done as a volunteer?

One Small Ask 

Will you check out the Master Composter Recycler program? Just visit edmonton.ca/mcrp.

If you have other questions, you can ask me.
And if I do not have an answer, I will connect you with the organizers.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Only YOU Can Prevent Dutch Elm Disease

Did you know Edmonton is home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of elm trees uninfected with Dutch elm disease?

Prevention of Dutch elm disease starts by keeping elm trees healthy. During the colder months (October 1 to March 31), prune dead wood from your elm trees. Dead wood is a habitat for the insect that causes Dutch elm disease. (The City is responsible for pruning and maintaining trees on boulevards.) It is illegal to prune between April 1 and September 30.

To Safely Dispose of Elm Wood:

  • Small elm branches can be bundled and placed at the curb with regular household waste. Bundles must be smaller than 1.2 m (4 ft) and 20 kg (44 lbs).
  • Large elm branches and logs can be taken to special elm disposal bins at an Eco StationDrop off is free. Branches must be smaller than 1.2m (4 ft) in order to fit the bins.
  • Large loads (more than a half-ton truck) and commercial loads must be taken to the Edmonton Waste Management CentreDisposal fees apply.
Do not to store wood from fallen or damaged trees, as this increases the risk of spreading Dutch elm and other tree diseases. Fallen trees on private property should be removed by a professional tree removal company. Do not keep or transport fallen elm tree debris for firewood.

Identifying Elm Trees

The elm tree has the following characteristics:


  • Green, toothed leaves that turn yellow in fall;
  • Bark that is deeply ridged and grey-brown in color;
  • A roughly vase- or fountain-like shape;
  • A height of about 35 metres (115 feet) and trunk diameter of about 175 centimetres (68 inches) at maturity.


  • Tuesday, October 31, 2017

    Waste Services Temporarily Closes the Compost Facility

    The City of Edmonton's Waste Services has temporarily closed the Edmonton Composting Facility (ECF).

    An engineering assessment of the ECF identified structural issues with the building. As staff safety is the number one priority, Waste Services has temporarily shut down the composting facility while they explore short- and long-term solutions.
    In the interim, wet waste will be redirected to the transfer floor. Waste Services is urgently working to find other options to best manage the organics fraction.

    Friday, October 27, 2017

    Reducing Waste While Travelling by MCR Priya (and Archie)

    We love to travel. It’s one of our biggest joys! However, on our recent travels, we started to notice the amount of waste we produce when we travel, and that waste was absolutely shocking.

    Here picture is from our recent flight to Mexico. This is the waste from one meal of a small pizza, orange juice, and water, for one person.

    This has been bothering us for a while now, so we started making very conscious efforts to reduce our waste when we are travelling. In order for the efforts to be sustainable, the solutions needed to be convenient, cheap, and travel friendly.

    What did they do? Priya and Archie

    Wednesday, October 25, 2017

    Celebrating with Friends: 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Event

    Thursday, October 19, was a fine celebration of volunteering with Waste Services. Master Composter Recyclers and the Reuse Centre volunteers were recognized by the City for their efforts over the past year.
     



    Thanks to everyone who enjoyed the evening. It was fun spending time with friends.

    Tuesday, October 17, 2017

    Election Sign Takedown

    Public Service Announcement

    City reminds candidates to remove all signs by midnight Thursday, October 19, 2017


    Candidates who ran in the Edmonton Election have until midnight on Thursday, October 19, 2017 to take down signs or face fines.

    All election signs must be removed from public property within three days of the election. Starting Friday, October 20, 2017, the City of Edmonton’s Community Standards Peace Officers will begin removing any remaining signs and candidates may be fined up to $250 per sign.

    Citizens can call 311 to report concerns about the removal of campaign signs.

    The City of Edmonton encourages candidates and residents to recycle plastic or cardboard campaign signs and metal frames at any of these locations:


    Signs must be separated from their stakes, and components sorted into the correct bins to be recycled. Large signs must be cut into pieces no larger than 3’ x 3’ (1m x 1m).

    Residents may also place cardboard and plastic household lawn signs out with their regular recycling. All frames and stakes should be removed and placed in the garbage or brought to an Eco Station or the Edmonton Waste Management Centre for scrap metal recycling.

    For more information, visit campaign signs or how to recycle your sign.

     

    Thursday, October 12, 2017

    Tell One Friend: The Reuse Centre Accepts More Items

    Designate a convenient area in your home to collect items for the Reuse Centre. Print and post the list of accepted items, including the new list, nearby for quick reference. 

    Use these ideas to remind your friends, family and co-workers:

    Change Habits
    "The Reuse Centre now accepts even more items for reuse. Have you thought about starting a collection bin?" 

    Prompt Them
    "Set up a collection bin and start collecting. You don't have to go to the Reuse Centre all the time, only when the bin is full."

    (You might offer to take them along on one of your visits.)

    One Small Ask
    "Will you start collecting items you think are reusable but are not accepted anywhere else?" 
     


    Collecting and donating items to the Reuse Centre is an easy way to reduce the amount of waste thrown away. Did you know... all these items can be dropped off for free at the Reuse Centre?

    Remember, they can't accept clothing, bedding, kitchen items or toys. These can go to many other organizations.

    Tell One Friend: Thank a Friend for Recycling

    A simple and positive word will keep a friend recycling. Thank them for doing it. It's a win-win situation for both of you. It will keep you happy and they will feel appreciated.


    Use these ideas to get started: 

    Reinforce Habits
    "I noticed that you recycle as much as you can. Thank you. It makes a big difference."

    Then, listen to their story. Don't judge. Ask questions like, "why do you like to recycle?" Remember to keep the conversation about them. 

    Make It Convenient 
    "I found having a recycling bin under my bathroom sink helps me recycle empty shampoo bottles." 

    One Small Ask
    "It sounds like you know what to recycle. If you are ever unsure, can we chat? I don't have all of the answers but we can find out together."

    Wednesday, September 13, 2017

    Trashed - Book Review by MCR Eve C.

    Book Review
    Trashed: by Derf Backderf. Abrams ComicArt: New York, 2015.

    Review by Eve C., MCR-in-training.



                                                     Image source: http://images.tcj.com/2016/02/Derf-coverWB.jpg

     As MCRs-in-training, we were fortunate enough to hear from an Edmonton waste collector, who described how he and his team go about providing the important service of moving our waste from curbside to the Edmonton Waste Management Centre. It was good to hear that Edmontonians generally are very supportive of our waste system.  We heard about kids who wave to their waste collector every day, senior citizens who wait by their curb to chat with their collector, and a homeowner who responded immediately when she realized her collector had slipped and fallen on his daily route.

    With this background of a first-hand description of waste collection in my city today, I was very interested to read Trashed, a graphic novel all about garbage and garbage collection.

    For those of us who toss our trash in a bag and set it out at night, only to have it whisked away before we wake up, Trashed provides an eye-opening look at the journey waste takes. Derf Backderf, drawing on his experience as a waste collector and citing statistics about waste in America, portrays a year in the life of an American small-town garbage man in the late 1970s. His tale tells how our waste goes from curbside to landfill and the people who work hard every day to make this happen. Backderf’s portrayal also contrasts with the more modern technology, safety, and work culture that waste collectors in Edmonton enjoy.

    The novel begins with the unnamed and unemployed protagonist finally giving in to his long-suffering mother’s request to clean up his pigsty of a room. Depositing his waste in a pile in and around the garbage can, he is overwhelmed by the revolting smell. He decides to abandon the task, prophetically stating, “Aw, screw it…. the garbagemen can deal with it.”

    Shortly after, a vague newspaper ad leads to a job on a municipal garbage truck, driving through the summer, fall, winter and spring seasons of garbage, each with their own piquant details. Summer brings heat, which does not improve the odour of garbage, while winter includes solid masses of frozen garbage in cans waiting to slide onto the toes of the unwary, and blizzards that shut down almost everything – except the need to haul garbage. The at-times overwhelming portrayal of the waste we create is leavened by a generous dose of humour at the challenges and small victories of daily life.

    Interspersed with these adventures in waste are asides about the big picture of garbage. Interludes include the history of garbage, diagrams of modern landfills and their vulnerability to leakage, and diagrams of the ever-increasing quantities and composition of waste in America.  These tie the indifference of individuals, whose lack of ownership towards their garbage starts from the minute it leaves their houses, to the revolting and dangerous effects of huge quantities of waste on both the individuals who work to keep our urban environments clean, and to the planet as a whole.

    Although at first not overly excited about the job he has somehow found, as time goes on, the narrator becomes more familiar with the rhythms of his job.  Some residents, including the holy grail – the home that produces one tidy garbage bag per week – pleasantly surprise him. After a year has passed, much to his surprise, he decides to stay working in waste collection. 

    Overall, this graphic novel is an entertaining look at a side of life most of us do not often consider. Backderf vividly portrays the day-to-day details of the reality of garbage collection alongside our society’s exponentially increasing culture of disposal, resulting in an entertaining and unsettling look at the world of waste.

    Postscript: Trashed in Edmonton

    Taking ownership of our waste involves many different aspects: reducing the quantity of garbage we produce, properly diverting waste wherever possible, and once we have only the proper items in the garbage bag, ensuring that our trash is ready for collection.

    Although this last aspect is perhaps sometimes forgotten in the focus on waste reduction, Backderf’s description of the daily routine of waste collectors shows that an individual can make a difference, especially in the life of a waste collector. Here are four simple asks that can keep our Edmonton waste collectors safe and working efficiently to take care of our waste:

    ·        Keep it light (make sure you can lift your garbage with one hand);
    ·        Box and label “sharps”;
    ·        Use the right can; and
    ·        And make it safe to reach your trash


    For more info on helping waste collectors in Edmonton check out this FAQ

    And view this video for the top three ways to make your waste collector’s job easier. 

    You can borrow the book, Trashed, from the Edmonton Public Library