Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"Awayland", Magical Place of Consumerism and Waste

I know I don't often talk about the "big" issues, mostly because a) I can't seem to write about them in an entertaining way and b) they are completely overwhelming and let's be honest... depressing. At the same time, they are important and I do believe that our slow-moving paradigm shift to polluting habits becoming more unacceptable and "uncool" is essential. We can't really have this shift without first understanding the 'why'.

The road to my parents cottage last weekend... snow!
Something I have been thinking about quite a bit lately is exactly how wasteful we can be (I know, my inner mind is just so interesting!!). It's just so EASY to throw something 'away', our entire system in urban settings are set up for 'out of sight, out of mind'. We Canadians (and Americans) throw our garbage to some magical land called 'away' with gusto. 

According to Stats Canada, household waste makes up a whopping 40% of our national solid waste. In 2002, I (along with every other Canadian) generated 383 kg (844 lbs) of waste. Out of the 12 million tonnes (metric) generated in 2002, 2.5 million were recycled. So 9.5 million metric tonnes of solid waste was magically whisked 'away'.

First of all, where exactly is this place called 'Away'? For some North Americans it's a 'dump'. Have you ever been to a dump? I have, it's where our garbage goes in the village where I grew up and it's about 20 minutes from my house. Visualize a picturesque fishing village; little houses built on the ocean, winding roads, no sidewalks, lots of trees... Cross the highway from our turnoff and drive down a dirt road inland for about 20 minutes. Then you'll come to the Dump.

It's a huge field where the garbage is literally just dumped in piles surrounded by a huge fence. It smells and there is no escaping that these piles of plastic garbage bags are simply left in the middle of a forest. So that bag of old clothes you threw out? It's only twenty minutes away! Those old pair of shoes? Hanging out in your neighbourhood. 

Since we generate so much garbage, it doesn't take long for the bags to get buried under more plastic, thus limiting the amount of sunlight and oxygen needed to break down the plastic and any organic material inside. Toxic substances leach into the soil, contaminate local water systems (there are many lakes around our dump) and pollute wildlife.

What about landfills? It sounds prettier doesn't it? Landfills are basically designated areas where huge, carbon spewing machinery plough over piles of plastic garbage with dirt. So instead of having garbage in open air, the plastic bags get buried, with no air or sunlight to break down and layers of soil to pollute. At least it controls the amount of methane that's released into the air from rotting garbage.

Really, if you seriously consider this, throwing out garbage to a dump or landfill, is essentially like choosing a random place in the forest to dump your trash. The waste management facilities are still on land, on top of soil, rained upon and connected to our local water system and plant and wildlife. It's not like a landfill has some special 'dome' encircling it- or that toxins will just 'know' to seep straight down and not over.

This isn't all to say that in our household we don't have ANY garbage. We do, and I'm trying to decrease the amount of waste we produce. We recycle (although we know that recycling plastic is just a short term solution- plastic is forever), we compost ALL food items but the big thing.... is I'm trying reduce.

It's all well and good to do the 'green' lifestyle, buying 'eco' products just seems to glamorous and trendy! Oh we love to buy STUFF. But the truth, the truth is that reducing is the greenest thing out there. Instead of feeling good about getting that salad in a container made with recycled waxed lined paper, destined for your neighbourhood landfill, bring your own container and step off the cycle.


article and photos copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. the combination of beautiful snow pictures and the topic made me imagine "awayland" as a fairly sparkly place... umm.. wait.... not the idea...

  2. That's it--I'm gonna stop using products that aren't recyclable or fact, I'm gonna throw out all that unsustainable stuff right now...oh, wait a second...

    Seriously, ne of my most upsetting travel experiences was when I was in high school, and my family visited Mexico. Driving out of Mexico city, we went through one of the world's largest slums, with mountains of garbage with people all over the them, foraging for whatever they could find. And, even when I was staying in a lovely beach community in Mexico last year, it was amazing how much trash washed up on the beach. And, this is how it is in much of the world now. Not seeing the trash is becoming more and more of a luxury all the time (and, to make matters worse, so is not having to root through it for food).

    Wow...this is a reeeally depressing comment...sorry...

  3. This is a good post.....I too have traveled internationally and see the piles along the roads of plastic bags and bottles, I've seen kids playing on top of garbage dumps because it's where they live and the only large place that has any room for play. I've also seen the pictures and presentations about the plastic swirl we've created in the Pacific Ocean. I've been to my local dumps back home and driven by a major landfill on a main highway in my home state (watching the grass covered "mountain" grow larger every year...and did I mention the other side of the highway is a wildlife preserve?!)....

    Reduction is truly the only way. We can reuse some items but most of the the items being produced in the end have to be thrown away. Planned obsolescence as my Granny likes to rant about! (You should have heard her lecture she gave the salespeople when she had to replace her cell phone when they changed the system over...) ;-)

    The other major concern beyond the landfill and toxic disposal into water ways that of incinerating.... Often it doesn't matter if it's toxic or gets burned in order to get rid of it (although not really since everything harmful just gets released into the air). This is practiced by the airlines, the military, foreign governments, etc.

    However currently I feel in a catch 22. Glass containers are better for our health, but here in Louisiana we can't recycle them. Plastic we can and do recycle. There's no such thing as bulk bins nor decent farmers markets here though so everything we buy has to be in separate packaging and containers......

    Definitely a good reminder and thought provoking post. Reduction and re-using......

  4. I saw a commercial last night advertising disposable tooth brushes. You know, have your little toothbrush with built in toothpaste and just throw it away at the Dance Club so you can feel great about kissing that cute person on the dance floor. The kiss lasts a couple of seconds and the tooth brush is forever in the land fill. Ugh....

  5. Hmmm, I wonder what we could do about the plastic packaging our tofu comes in. (Making our own is not really feasible at this point!) Our hippie grocery does sell bulk tofu out of a bucket, but the one time I bought it, it went bad before it could use it. Probably my fault, as I'm not used to keeping tofu that not in its artificial vacuum-packed home! Perhaps they'd let me bring my own container, like I do for dry bulk products. Then I could promptly cook or freeze it once I got it home. I'll have to check whether they sell the tofu by block or weight. Hmmm, this weekend will be interesting!

  6. it's true the the big things are depressing and overwhelming. it was an experience when i drove through staten island and saw these eerie hills on a flat island that i realized were the old nyc landfills. ever since i started composting (my version is to save food scraps in the freezer and then bring it to a dropoff site for a compost facility since i'm too lazy to have my own bin) i can't stand the idea of throwing food waste in the regular garbage and having it pile up in landfills. it upsets me when i'm at someone else's house and it all just goes into the garbage. argh.

  7. I am completely and totally obsessed with this subject, and have been for nearly a year now. Every day is a new discovery of how wasteful we all are.

    I am also concerned with the whole "eco-friendly disposable containers" and "biodegradable plastic." As you said, our landfills are packed so tightly that the elements (sun/O2, etc.) can't get to them to break them down. So it's not really biodegradable, at all.

    I wish everyone would be required to live with their own trash for one month - wouldn't that be an amazing experiment?!

  8. Great post, gives me the last push I needed and has gotten me really excited to start a compost bin this spring! Julia-thanks for sharing your version of composting, I'm sure there must me a drop site in my neighborhood that I can start visiting right away.

  9. Did you watch the No Impact Man documentary? I watched it last week, LOVED it. I'm reading the book right now. It's a harder book to read than I am used to because he uses big words that I don't know. :) (I bought the eBook, no paper waste!) I can hook you up with an electronic version of the documentary DVD, I just need your email address.

  10. Thanks for such a thoughtful post. This issue has troubled me for a long time, and I just don't see any real future for a consumerist society.

    People have always buried our rubbish (e.g. roman middens etc.) but we've never done so in this amount, or of the type that never breaks down.

    Even so, the Med Sea is absolutely chock full of glass bottles from over 2000 years ago - still there, beautifully preserved, dumped when done with by our forebears. And glass is considered "eco-friendly" these days!

    One of the aspects of our lifestyle as a family we've been looking at in detail is our rubbish - not just the solid stuff, but also the gases we're sending into the air when we drive, for example.

    Permaculture teaches that only closed systems with no wastage are truly efficient systems. So the waste we're creating is just a concrete proof of how inefficient we are as a society.

    My goal? To learn to be efficient, save money and energy, and live a much cleverer way of life that is better for everyone - including our world :-)

  11. emma: haha, i know!! i just really like those pictures of home... so thought I'd do a little cognitive dissonance lol.

    dr. jay: oh that must have been life altering. sometimes though, i think we see those images and think 'not home, not where I live' you know?

    Simply Authentic: same as dr jay, I think it is so important to see our local landfill-dumps to really get that concept.... you're right about incinerating, the toxicity just goes up in the air for us to breathe...

    it's a yoga thang: OMG, that makes me want to vomit just a little bit. seriously though.

    VB: I LOVE that idea!!!! you have to let me know how it goes. YAY reducing!!

    Julia: ohhhhh, you know when i read you put your compost in the freezer a while back i don't think i really understood why. what a fab idea!

    fiveseed: i also wish everyone was required to collect their trash for even just a week. seeing pictures of someone else do that really doesn't seem to drive the point home...

    downdog: YAY! i'm so glad this post was helpful! :)

    Theresa: i've been waiting for Colin's movie FOREVER it seems. Canada has been SO SLOW. I keep getting andrew to check online.... if you'd like to email me- my email is under my profile :D

    daharja: you have an important point, this wastefulness has been ingrained in our culture and society for thousands of years. the problem is the volume and actual type of waste currently going on. sounds like your house has a solid plan (welcome back from your bloggy vacation!)

  12. i feel terrible because i do not recycle. And it is pure lazy. There is no system here that allows us to recycle and have it picked up with trash. I would need to just save all my recycle-ables and then bring them to a designated place. It isn't an excuse, just the truth. I'm going to start, though because it is sad.


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