Solid Waste & Recycling


Musings on the Devil's Playground and more

Today I’m touring the Dufferin organics composting plant in the northwest end of Toronto with the city’s Brian van Opstal. I hope to write about the plant in the forthcoming June/July edition of the magazine, or potentially in the special annual composting supplement in the August/September edition. (Space will dictate.) Apparently after some initial glitches the system is working fine (I’m told). The plant is important because it’s one of only a few in-vessel systems that are working in Ontario. With more and more communities, including Toronto, collecting source-separated organics (SSO), ways of efficiently processing the material are crucial. Currently, a lot of material has to be sent out of province (Quebec) which makes little sense in terms of environmental economics.
Tomorrow I’ll be at the Recycling Council of Ontario one-day policy workshop at the Boulevard Club, and hope to swing by the pharmaceutical environmental conference at Lion’s Head Golf Club toward the end of the day.
Before I head off, I’d like to mention that I watched an interesting documentary last night. (Actually, it was one that I downloaded using my Rogers personal video recorder [PVR] that is a TIVO-type of appliance — very cool.) Entitled “Devil’s Playground” (not to be confused with the Australian film about repression in Catholic schools) the documentary examines Amish life, specifically a period of a few months or years in which Amish youth, when they turn 16, are set free from the restrictions of their religious communities and are allowed to sample the experiences of the outer world. I knew nothing about this before.
Basically, many of the kids go nuts with partying and drinking and experimenting with drugs and sex, etc. Typical teenage stuff, but in the case of these kids, even going to a shopping mall or a city is a new experience. The deal is that at the end of this wild time they have to choose for themselves whether to freely choose to return to the community and be formally baptized, or go out into the world and give up Amish life. On the positive side, allowing this free choice ensures that people stay in the community because they want to be there, and not because they’re hostages. (In fact, the Amish fled to North America centuries ago specifically because they were persecuted for allowing this choice. They opposed baptism of children and believed only people of a certain age should be baptized, after freely choosing a Christian life.) On the negative side, these kids are wholly unprepared for life outside the Amish villages and farms. They have no emotional or other support, and little preparation. Job opportunities are limited since Amish formal education ends at Grade Eight (since higher education leads to “pride”). So one suspects a lot of Amish kids fall back into Amish life not so much because they reject the outside world, as that they’ve been conditioned to fail in it.
Anyway, I’m writing about this because one thing that struck me from the film had little to do with its intended theme. Watching the Amish live their simple rural and uncomplicated life, driving horse and buggy, and eschewing anything electronic (phones, TVs, computers, etc.) it occurred to me that if we all lived like the Amish, there would be no environmental crisis. No industrial pollution, no man-made global warming, in fact, few modern problems. While the Bible-orientation of the Amish lifestyle and its obsession with getting into heaven may not appeal to many of us, it’s worth thinking about the fact that we have among us rel living examples in other respects of what life looks like when lived without the modern wasteful and energy-consuming accoutrements that environmentalists say are poisoning the planet. Perhaps this is how we’ll all live, after the coming storm.

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