Listowel Banner / Wingham Advance-Times editorial
The Shadow knows... and so does everybody else. It has been there all winter, lurking under the snow, preparing to show its ugly face to all the world, waiting. Garbage.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when people around here looked after their own trash. Before the day of the municipal dump, most household waste ended up in the fire, except for a few items that would not burn. In those days there was a lot less waste, of course. Lunch was wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper, not a substance with a half-life of centuries. Leftover food went into the soup pot or was thrown to the pigs – wonderful creatures, pigs.
Outgrown clothing would be passed on, and patched and darned until it fell apart. Even then, usable bits would be salvaged for quilts, or torn into strips for braided rugs. Most things were built to last and passed from generation to generation, from hats to houses, workman’s tools to furniture.
Then came the modern age of prosperity and waste. We discard clothing for no good reason other than it is unfashionable. What goes into the trash from the average dinner table could probably feed a good-sized family. Obsolescence is built into the design of just about everything, from towering skyscrapers to children’s toys. And most goods are ridiculously overpackaged.
Still, we have no problem getting rid of unwanted things – we just pitch them in the garbage, which is taken to the dump – cheap, convenient and sanitary. At least that was the case until recent years. Existing dumps are filling a horrifying rate.
We know what happens when something is in short supply – the price goes up. And so it is with garbage. The cost of disposing of the stuff has reached the point we are feeling the bite. Getting rid of waste is also becoming less convenient. We have to sort it into several different containers these days. Some communities have even started separating out compostable matter. It is enough to make one long for the old days, when two containers were enough – one for the pigs, one for the fire.
Some people have figured out ways to bypass the whole process, and unfortunately we discover what it is each spring as the snow disappears. Ditches, alleyways and fields are covered with trash. It is not only household garbage but an assortment of industrial and commercial waste – construction debris, packaging, metal containers and tires.
Add to this the piles of cigarette butts from car ash trays dumped into the snow at the side of the road, and the candy bar wrappers and fast food containers tossed out car windows. The result is an unsightly mess, difficult to clean up, and in some cases, quite expensive to remove.
A heartfelt thank you to the trail associations, service clubs and individuals who go out with trash bags and rubber gloves to clean things up each spring. The fact they usually end up with several dollars’ worth of empty beer bottles and cans can be viewed as proof of the laziness of the litterbugs.
We have to find long-term solutions to burying our garbage for future generations to deal with, and we have to do it soon. Many of our landfill sites are nearing the end of their life expectancy, and land for more will be horrendously difficult to find, and even more horrendously expensive. Making built-in obsolescence obsolete might be a hard sell in the fashion industry and electronics, but overall, it might not be as hard as we think. Many people are driving their cars longer these days, and renovating rather than building new. Shopping at garage sales and thrift stores is popular. And excessive packaging is already on the hit list for many of us including government officials.
In the meantime, we need to deal with the mess however we can. We can legislate against irresponsible behaviour, like throwing trash into ditches, but enforcement is another matter. On with spring clean-up, and bravo to the community-minded volunteers doing it.
The Wingham and District Horticultural Society challenges all citizens – students, employees, residents, Cubs and Scouts, Guides and Brownies, air cadets and retirees, to come out and join the clean-up effort on Monday, April 22 – Earth Day.
If each of us picked up the litter on our part of the street, we could transform the community into the attractive, scenic place we know it can be.