Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Are we bad eco-citizens?

Are Manitobans dismally poor citizens when it comes to environmentally friendly behaviours? A newly-released Statistics Canada study suggests that we are.

We’re last in recycling, which only 88% of us do, far behind second-last place Newfoundland and Labrador’s share of 94%. We’re second-last in the country in using low-flow showerheads (46%), composting (23%), lowering temperatures (50%), and even in using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs; 50%), though the numbers are from 2006, so recent promotions, such as Manitoba Hydro’s CFL campaign last fall wouldn’t have affected the numbers.

We’re also second-last in the country in “very active” environmental behaviour, which is defined as participating in four or more environmental activities, and have the largest share of households that are “less active.”

While the numbers are disappointing, I can’t say I’m surprised. The oft-heard whining about parking (already over-abundant and relatively cheap) and traffic jams (practically non-existent compared to most major cities) in Winnipeg is a constant reminder of our idolization of the car and stigmatization of more environmentally-friendly alternatives. The surprised expressions I receive regularly from sales clerks when I say “I don’t need a bag” for the already-over-packaged single item I’m buying confirms our zombie-like acceptance of ever more trash and our resistance to change.

So what’s the reason? The Statistics Canada study points out that environmental activities increase with greater income, education, and homeownership, of which the first two may play some role in Manitoba. The Canadian Press article (available
here and here) on the issue quotes Randall McQuaker of the Resource Conservation Manitoba as pointing out the lack of consequences associated with sending our trash to the landfill. Certainly, an abundance of prairie land has allowed us to revel in car culture and urban sprawl while filling up our landfills without much cost or afterthought.

Cheap land doesn’t explain it all. There’s a lot more we can do – more of our public institutions and big corporations stepping up to the plate with public awareness advertising and leadership by example would be a great start. The article mentions hospitals that don’t recycle – let’s make it easy for people to do the right thing.

Visionary leaders make a big difference – bans on free plastic bags and curbside waste limits should be looked at seriously. More can be done to encourage the recycling of electronics, which otherwise leach toxins into the ground, and composting. It shouldn’t have to be hard to be nice to the environment.

Here’s to hoping we can put a green foot forward and make some significant strides soon.


KM said...

Re: "We’re last in recycling, which only 88% of us do..."

Eighty-eight percent is a high incidence for any kind of human action, aside from those directly related to basic human needs such as food, clothing, shelter, companionship and sex.

You also mentioned doing something about plastic bags. In Ireland last year, I was politely informed in a supermarket that a bag for my groceries would cost an additional twenty-something Euro cents. As minimal as that charge was, it convinced me to re-use that bag on my next visit. It convinced me that even a modest bag levy could change people's habits.

Prairie Topiary said...

You're right that the 88% for Manitoba is only low relative to other provinces. If we compared it to, say, our recycling percentage of 10 years ago, I bet 88% would compare quite well.

Nevertheless, the fact we're near the bottom of the heap among all ten provinces tells us something. And 88% is only the share of households that recycle at least sometimes, not the share of actual waste that's diverted from landfills. That number is less than 20% for Manitoba, according to another Statistics Canada study (see http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/16f0023x/2006001/5212375-eng.htm), showing us yet again below the rate of many other provinces.

Thanks for sharing your Ireland experience. Your suggestion for a modest bag levy is one I'd support wholeheartedly.

Fat Arse said...

Hey PT, (ha,ha, Peetee - I like that)

Nice post to get my mind of the Orwellian budget.

re: "There’s a lot more we can do –"

Man-o-man am I trying! But I swear, my hand to God (or Buddha, or Vishnu, Allah, or Marx & Engels - whatever?) life is not being kind to my recycling efforts.

Fact Numero Uno: - Dudes who pick up recyling either:

a.) somehow miss the truck's huge receptacle area at the side of the truck & a 1/4 of my recycling content goes all over the place;

b.) they bash the Blue-box so hard against edge of truck that it cracks just like the shrds in Flaherty's parroting mind. Since December 1st (yes, I know, partially owing to cold) they have shattered (beyond repair) two of my three Blue-boxes;

or, e'ffn

C.) the dope smoking, IPod headbanging "Waste Management experts" just simply forget to stop at my place entirely!

Fact Numero Duo:

A.) the condos that face my house's backlane are an impediment to recycling. Why? 'Cause there are too many crazy old-people in it who, when they see an empty Blue-box by MY GARAGE every freaking Ground-Hog-esque pick-up day - they think they musta' left it there! Then they meander over in their slippers, underwear & housecoats (yes, even in freaking -30c) with a far-a-way look worthy of the lobotomized Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and then, when confronted, they aver in all sincerity that "No, this is mine." Since 2001 when I moved back to South Winnipeg off Pembina I have "lost" 13 (yes, 13) Blue-boxes.

So I ask, short of punching poor brittle-minded seniors in the throat; and, short of stopping the Recycling Crew (again!) and nicely asking them to be gentler, and to refrain from smoking the goddess Mary-Jane until after they've done my house - What am I to do????

It's gotten to the point I just wanna give-up!

What's a man to do?

Mr. Nobody said...

I don't think we are "bad" eco citizens

I think we are "stupid" eco citizens

Prairie Topiary said...

Fat Arse -- I've lived in a handful of different areas of the city and, at every place, it sounds like I must have had the very same recycling pick-up team as you. Or maybe they all took the same waste management technician course. I've experimented with the placing of the box more to the curb, away from the curb, in front of the tree, away from the tree, etc. all to no avail. Recycling in this town seems to be all about perseverence!

As for the seniors condo, you probably need to sneak over there and take back your entire stack of 13 at once. It'll be like some sort of eco-Christmas. Not only will the pick-up not be able to miss the sea of blue next to your place, but you'd have a few weeks of grace period before the boxes would make their way back to the condo!

Will Seymour said...

Good Evening Prairie Topiary,
Thanks for the excellent article. Thank you especially for mentioning the dilemma many of us face when all of our electronic gadgets eventually die. And don't we all have ungodly collections of hardware like the thing I'm tappin' away on right now. At the risk of turning you into an advice columnist for the ecologically frustrated, what's a guy to do when his favourite electronic thingamabob finally and permanently expires? Surely there has to be a better solution than sending the stuff to our overflowing dumps.

Prairie Topiary said...

Sadly, there aren't a ton of options.

Green Manitoba had some special e-waste depots, but they were just temporary. Instead, they now offer a list of organizations that collect electronic waste (see http://www.greenmanitoba.ca/cim/dbf/updated_options_2.pdf?im_id=309&si_id=1001).

The City of Winnipeg has a site listing type of garbage that require special handling (see http://www.winnipeg.ca/waterandwaste/garbage/specialHandle.stm)

I also know that Mountain Equipment Co-op accepts used batteries, which shouldn't be dumped.

relic said...

FA: you should write your address in big letters with a permanent marker on your blue box.

Anonymous said...

"Are we bad eco-citizens" or just lazy citizens? If we cared about our province would Gary Doer keep getting elected while in cruise- control? I think not!

Oemissions said...

Glad to have you mention the automobile aspect. I am enraged by the amount of cars on this planet. We have been at overcapacity for decades. The noise exhaust and stress is unbearable.
Where I live, SaltSpring Island, the average household makes 6.5 trips a day.
The use of automobiles helped develop the fast food industry and the disposable containers.
Educated, homeowners may recycle but they still toss coffe cups with plastic lids in the garbage.
We had a big party a few years ago because several acres of forest and land was saved through a concerted community effort. I stayed to clean up and pulled from the garbage all the tossed plastic beer and wine glasses.
Even the educated and more affluent need to be educated.