For over a month the trunk of my car has been crammed full of mixed plastics. I have scoured the city’s recycling depots for one that accepts mixed plastics, to no avail. It’s a touch ironic: my attempts to reduce my environmental impact include driving all over the city, polluting.
In Victoria, I enjoyed curbside pickup every second Wednesday. I was pleased when I was able to recycle most of my post-consumer waste. For items not recycled by the city, I could walk a few blocks one Saturday each month and drop off milk containers, Styrofoam, chip bags, and other items at the Fernwood Community Centre for recycling.
Not in Calgary. There is no curbside pickup here, though we’re told it’s coming. A pilot project conducted four years ago found that recycling of post-consumer waste nearly doubled when curbside pickup was available. In October 2005, City Council voted to extend the service to the entire city by 2009. That may be progress, but I have a trunk full of salad, yogurt, and salad dressing containers that says it isn’t enough.
The Calgary pickup plan won’t include mixed plastics. Nor will its 50 drop-off depots accept them. According to the city’s website, “We can collect milk containers and plastic bags because there are economical and environmentally sustainable markets for these products . . . . However, there are few markets for other used plastics like yogurt containers, margarine containers and shampoos. Manufacturers use a variety of plastics to package their products. It is difficult for markets to sort them, turn them into a consistently high quality raw material and then produce a new product from them . . . . The plastics recycling industry in Alberta is in its infancy. Until it grows we won’t be collecting mixed plastics for recycling.”
So, what’s a green-minded citizen to do? In my case, I filled up the trunk of my sister’s car with plastic crapola, which she took back to her small community of Coalhurst, 207 km. south of Calgary, for recycling. I fail to understand, however, why a town of approximately 1,600 people can justify recycling all plastics, but the City of Calgary cannot. It took my husband and I less than one month to fill up the trunk of my Pontiac Grand Am with this stuff. Imagine that being the norm for people in Calgary, a city with a population of 1,019,942 — that’s roughly 509,971 trunk loads each month.
Last week at the recycling depot, I asked a city employee, who was emptying a bin full of cardboard, what I was supposed to do with my plastics. His reply? “Throw them away.”
It’s not an answer. In fact, the entire province of Alberta is in desperate need of an environmental pickup. I’ve seen commercials on TV encouraging Albertans to conserve water, which on the surface seems like a good idea. But why are citizens asked to conserve water when the real villain is the oil industry? Tar sands operations consume vast quantities of water and produce even greater quantities of wastewater. Two of Alberta’s toxic water dumps are actually visible from space with the naked eye. That’s right, the Great Wall of China is not the only manmade structure visible from space.
Maybe our toxic water dumps should be named the Eighth Wonder of the World. Or maybe Alberta should clean up its act. It may be the only province in Canada out of debt, but unless it makes some drastic changes soon, it’s well on its way to creating an irreparable environmental debt.