Photos courtesy of the Ingersoll Public Library
When Colin Beavan set out, with the somewhat grudging agreement of his wife Michelle Conlin, a business writer, to change their family’s way of life from high consumption to no impact, he had not thought about what they would give up. It included the following:
* No food from distant places, so no wheat, because they live in New York City
* No packaging on their food, because that produces packaging waste, and lots of it!
* No transportation using fossil fuels, because the green-house gases result in a climate crisis
* No shopping for new clothes, cleaning products, whims or what-have-you
* No reality TV, thought reality TV is hardly real, and though they were making a film
* No meat which was a challenge they met easily and no coffee for his wife which was a hardship
* No electricity.
So, in their downtown New York apartment they burned bees-wax candles, tried a pot-in-pot refrigeration system which resulted in curdled milk which their daughter did not want to drink, ate lots of root vegetables all winter, and had some conflicts. It sounds like reality but not TV.
On the other hand, they enjoyed the pleasures of the farmers’ market, like many people do here, not just for the quality and variety of the food, nor just for the certainty that buying from a local producer brings, but also from the social event that each visit represents. They also reduced their consumption dramatically and their garbage massively. Colin discovered that “the most radical political act is to be optimistic”. He understood that by doing something individually, by befriending others, and by individually deciding “Why don’t I do something?” rather than waiting for a change of government, he could make his life better, make the life of his young daughter richer, make his wife’s health better, though he could not wean her from coffee. Fair trade or not, her addiction to caffeine was only abated by pregnancy.
Colin aka No Impact Man and Michelle, his wife and business writer, took lots of abuse from blog posters and even colleagues. Who didn’t abandon them were friends. Who adopted them as friends were organic gardeners, farmers, a Congressman, and neighbours. It was a net gain.
For residents of Oxford seeking a more sustainable future for themselves and their children, “No Impact Man” has multiple lessons. When you decide to do good, people will question your motives and your sanity. Then some of them will apologize and come around. Some of the detractors will even applaud you, eventually. When the survival of the planet depends on an 80% reduction in our consumption of carbon, everyone will find a different way to do so. The pessimists will say “There is no right answer”; Colin and other optimists will say that there are many right answers. Adults will want to learn from you; other adults will want to teach you and you will enjoy their stories, their wisdom and their company. The scenes of an urban garden in a sea of vehicles will inspire you to want to convert vehicle lanes into bike lanes to make room for more oxygenating food, even flowers. Ok, food not lawns would be great in our small urban centres; community gardens for multi-family homes would be a treat and do exist. We perhaps don’t need to reclaim traffic lanes to do this.
Children will be fascinated and will want to lend a hand, even two feet as in the scene when Colin decides that laundry machines can be replaced by soaking of clothes in the bathtub with home-made, organic cleaning products, and some gleeful trampling by his feet and his daughter’s. Michelle even joins in and ends the event with a kiss.
Is “No Impact Man” the path for everyone? Surely not! We don’t live in New York City. Our access to farm produce is much easier. Locavorism is as simple as visiting a farmers’ market of which Oxford County has several. On the other hand, our example in garbage reduction, in refusal of packaging – made easier by shopping in markets – and of the mantra of “reduce, reuse and recycle” can help urban residents, including Minister of the Environment, Glen Murray, who does bicycle to work, to identify resources in what others would discard, and to produce a wealth of experience and happiness for all citizens. Oxford residents can lead the way on that.
“No Impact Man” is an award-winning film distributed in Canada by Mongrel Media. Its American reality has some lessons for us. Conversely, we have some lessons for urban centres stuck in a rut of mass consumption and massive waste. “Stop and think about it”, Colin Beavan would say. We’d agree and say “Stop the dump”. Glen Murray, an avid urban bike rider, will want to hear that from you. His email is email@example.com . He can move on the “Waste-Free Ontario Act” with our encouragement of “Hurry, Murray” and our applause of “Hurray, Murray” or he can be “no-impact man” and fail in his goal to deal with the crisis facing Oxford, Ontario, Canada, even the planet.
And a clarification “No Impact Man” seeks to have no negative effects on the planet. “no-impact man” would have no effect at all. Which would you or Glen Murray want to be?
1. John Joosse and Bryan Smith attended on behalf of OPAL for the morning session. Suzanne Crellin, Mike Farlow of Oxford as well as ally Temara Brown attended for their groups in the afternoon. County and City of Woodstock staff were in attendance during the day as well.
2. Prior to the meeting, John and Bryan met to discuss the document released by the MOE, the comments which we needed to bring forward, and a strategy to enhance our voice at the round tables.
3. Also invited to the session were officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, other municipalities, owners and reps of the recycling industry including a very eco-friendly computer repair and remanufacturer as well as a disgruntled car-wrecker and scrap-dealer, 3M’s high-powered executive (who did cut and run), etc. Walker Industries had a representative in the afternoon session.
4. Further documents will come from the MOE; further consultations will happen; the date for commentary via the EBR has been extended to Feb. 29. The Minister has previously stated that he still receives letters after the closing dates on the EBR. Meanwhile,
“Have your say
Your input will assist in evaluating potential amendments to the proposed Act, if necessary, as well as the finalization of the draft Strategy. We invite you to provide comments on both the proposed Waste-Free Ontario Act and Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario: Building the Circular Economy through a number of opportunities, including regional consultation sessions and the Environmental Registry website at: http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/ registry number 012-5832 for the proposed Act and registry number 012-5834 for the draft Strategy”.
Comments on the Document and Session
1. In general, the Waste-Free Ontario Act is forward-looking and OPAL should be pleased with much of it. Wendy Ren, Manager of the Resource Recovery Branch presented the document, noting that they had looked at Quebec and B.C. documents as well as some international efforts at waste reduction and “improved on them”. This is a welcome change from “sustainability plans” like York, Toronto and Peel’s which suggest shipping it out (to Oxford). John and Bryan expressed their and our gratitude to the MOE staff who organized the session and praise for the elements of the document which will help OPAL’s cause in particular and the problem of garbage in general. They argued for a quick start to the “resource recovery” and “circular economy” model which will obviate the necessity for a dump in Oxford. They also noted that no new action was slated for 2018 and wondered aloud why (without pointing out that this is the next election year).
2. They asked why “generators” were no longer considered producers and importers of goods but were now aligned with the waste haulage and disposal industry in order to find out how those industries got inserted into the diagram in 1.0 of the Waste-Free Ontario Framework (see Framework page 3).
3. The goals of Zero Waste and Zero Green-House Gas emissions are not yet firm. The MOE staff asked if these should be net zero, allowing for trade-offs. Further, the Green-House Gas emissions they target for reduction are only those emitted by the dumps themselves not those emitted during haulage. Given that Climate Change is a priority of the Minister, it is hard to see why this is not included.
4. The MOE’s plan is not prescriptive regarding waste aversion and diversion: they want to set up a non-Crown, self-financing Authority who will persuade and collect data, a set of regulations and policy statements rather than setting concrete targets in law. The Authority will apparently not have much if any power of enforcement of the actual waste reduction; they will enforce the completion of reports. Will those reports have to be substantial or can they be no more than keystrokes on paper? – Not clear from the current version of the document or from MOE staff clarification. It is not evident that the Authority will be transparent to the public. There seem to be multiple exemptions from the initiative and/or from reduction of waste.
5. There was much discussion over which programs to move from their current IFO to the Authority first: Would it be the biggest? The most toxic? The most likely to succeed? There was constant assurance that the world-leading blue box program would not be interfered with, though the funding would move from shared by industry and municipalities to 100% producer responsibility.
6. Timelines suggest a wait until 2017 for any movement on organic waste. MOE was encouraged to begin with some parts of this earlier. Bulky items like furniture and carpets seem to be a priority for the MOE. Any effective removal of all of these from the waste strand will significantly extend the life of landfills. Conversely, toxic household waste waits until 2019 before new action!
7. Apparently, construction waste got shunted from the MNR to MOE who has no plan on how to reduce the volume of materials from filling landfills. One municipality suggested buildings where you can come take what you wish as a solution to this. (Workable for furniture etc too?)
1. OPAL needs to continue to communicate with MOE at the highest level of bureaucrats and via politicians to improve and speed this act.
2. OPAL should encourage individuals and community groups to do the same.
3. OPAL must counteract industry lobbying which has resulted in some significant changes and silences in the act’s revisions.
4. OPAL needs to continue to lobby MNR against allowing pits and quarries to become dumping grounds for asphalt from roads, concrete bridges etc., and/or sewer pipes, while working on the MOE to prevent garbage, contaminated soil, or industrial sewage going into them.
5. OPAL should advocate for the inclusion of GHG during haulage as one of the targets for reduction to zero, and suggest it be by reducing the long-distance haulage to zero.
6. OPAL should consider a delegation to the legislative hearings on the Waste-Free Ontario Act around zero waste, not net zero; around (in)appropriate siting for industrial reprocessing by the waste industry, i.e., not in pits and quarries, highly vulnerable aquifers and recharge zones, toxic waste reduction and diversion, IC&I responsibility, etc.
7. OPAL should continue letters to John Tory, Glen Murray and Catherine McKenna as well as encouraging the public to do the same.