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Guelph Mercury Editorial

Reducing, reusing, recycling not a fad but a reality

Sue Richards - September 1, 2004

I remember when I was first intentionally introduced to the three R's. I was five and my ancient, Granny Marshall came to live with us for the summer. Much of Granny's formal conservation instruction got woven into our daily, row boat fishing adventures. Along with teaching me a ominous fish catching rhyme, Granny saved the packaging from our snacks, took a thermos of tea, shared one fat worm between our two hooks, and released our catch. Back on land, Granny lived equally light. She took pride in the adage "waste not, want not" and walked her talk with grace and good humour.

Twenty years later, while sitting in the University Centre, sipping coffee and people watching, my friend Tom strolled by. He was carrying his brand new reusable beverage mug that he and a group of like minded individuals from the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) were introducing to campus. Tom passionately explained OPIRG's rational for pursuing the reusable cup initiative by stating a few stats about coffee consumption and the styrofoam cups and lids that were trashed each day by the over 10,000 caffine cranked, student population. Granny would have applauded. This was an obvious no brainer. Reducing waste was clearly the responsible way of the future.

The future seems to be tricky business for a lot of people to fathom. Most folks are able to grasp their own personal future with some degree of comprehension, but fail miserably to see beyond their time on this earth. I find this odd. Especially if the adult in question has kids or grandchildren.

In most cases, children outlive their mothers, fathers and grandparents. Said another way, our kids will have to deal with whatever legacy we leave behind. Mountains of garbage buried in previously productive farmland that slowly but surely leach unsavory goo into the drinking water is part of that inheritance.

Hence my confusion. My understanding of parenting and grand parenting is the desire to leave the offspring with a brighter future, not a nasty, toxic mess of immeasurable size and unmentionable consequences.

Fast forward to today. I am in serious need of a new roof on my house. I could make the process very easy on myself and request "brown" then write a cheque. But, given my concern for the future, I can't do that in good consciousness. Instead, I am compelled to weigh out the triple bottom line of my decision.

A triple bottom line includes the single bottom line that dominates most business transactions. Economics. Unfortunately, economics all by itself, does not reflect the full or true cost of doing any business. It never did. You can be sure that the price of trucking used styrofoam cups to St.Thomas and burying them, was never, ever considered when those cups was being made.

Alone, economics offers at best an artificially low cost point and fails miserably to consider the future. Remembering of course that the future is our adorable, flesh and blood descendants who will require clean air to breath, unpolluted water to drink and uncontaminated soil to grow food. A triple bottom line fleshes out the economic picture with the social and environmental costs associated with every business decision. It understands that preventing a negative impact takes much less energy than fixing one.

Back to my roof. Do I go with steel or asphalt? What becomes of the existing shingles? Will they be land filled or recycled? If they are land filled, what are the consequences? How does the process of producing steel roofing measure against asphalt shingle production? What is the expected lifespan of these products? What can I afford?

Much of the advice I have received seems disturbingly short sighted. I¹m asked why I would want to invest in a new roof that will outlive me and told, better to go cheapest. Another words, only look at the single bottom line.

This is an opinion with no consideration of the greater good, the world beyond me, me, me or the future. Granny just rolled over in her grave.

Ribfest swept into town last weekend. It's a wonderful, volunteer effort that raises money for local charities. An estimated 40,000 Guelphites attended and consumed a herds worth of succulent ribs delivered in styrofoam containers, drank beer in plastic cups and pop in cans. Sadly, I saw no obvious effort to reduce, reuse or recycle the waste despite Guelph being a world recognized, garbage savvy city. Instead, black plastic bags collected all three streams of trash for future landfilled.

Surely, our city leaders are beyond this.

Reducing, reusing and recycling is not a fad. It is our reality. Every child that you know is depending on you to use prior knowledge, take correction and stop making more of a mess of this world. Enough is enough.

Today is the first day of September. For many of us, this point in the calendar feels more like the new year than the frozen celebration that comes in January. Please use this opportunity to take a loving look at your rosy cheeked darlings. Then, take an honest appraisal at your short sighted habits. Now, make a triple bottom line resolution that will outlive you.

Sue Richards is a social entrepreneur, artist and cultural animator. She is also a member of the Mercury's Community Editorial Board. Check out her Guelph Photo Blog.

Contact Sue Richards at [email protected]

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