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The passing of Jack McGinnis


Jack McGinnis died last week at age 64 of complications related to lung disease. Jack, I just learned, had serious lung problems and for the past year was rarely without supplied oxygen, worked from home and had difficulty with things like climbing stairs.
However, Jack worked until the end, and his recently completed last piece of writing – an article about his client Canadian Liquid Processors (CLP) for out CleanTech Canada supplement – will appear in the forthcoming February/March edition of Solid Waste & Recycling magazine, as well as a short obituary.
I have invited people from the waste and recycling business to send me recollections of Jack, which I will run in this space and excerpt in an article in the April/May edition.
Jack was buried on Saturday, February 5, the driveway to the service lined (appropriately) with blue boxes.
While I await recollections, I offer this article from the Toronto Star on Friday that provides a summary of his life.
Father of the blue box’ died this week
February 04, 2011
by Louise Brown
Jack McGinnis designed the world’s first blue box program in 1977.
RON PIETRONIRO/METROLAND
Forty years ago, he was the guy who would pick up your bottles and cans if you put them out to the road, an offer that at the time just seemed weird.
What homeowner would want to haul an extra load to the curb? Why bother making house calls when Toronto already ran recycling depots? Besides, who’d want neighbors to see how many bottles they’d killed off each week?
But hippy-dippy chain-smoking environmentalist Jack McGinnis had a hunch people would recycle if it was made easy, and those early patrols through the Beach in his little pickup truck sparked an idea that would transform recycling.
By 1977, McGinnis had designed the world’s first blue box. His simple idea of a plastic box has become a curbside icon responsible for diverting 870,000 tonnes of material in Ontario every year and is used in millions of homes across North America, Australia and Europe.
McGinnis died this week at the age of 64.
“He was a visionary who knew if you give people the opportunity, they’ll do the right thing,” said former partner Derek Stephenson, who helped pilot test the idea of curbside recycling.
There was plenty of trial and error. For a pilot project in East York, “we had enough money to rent a few trucks and send out flyers but we didn’t provide a box so the stuff blew all over and kids threw the pop bottles on the road,” said Stephenson in an interview Thursday from Singapore, where he was consulting about recycling.
“Back then, we had no idea the scale this thing would go, but I do know so many people put out recycling, the weight of it bent the frame of the truck.”
Kitchener hosted the first municipal blue box program in 1981, where McGinnis decided it would be helpful to offer homeowners a plastic box not unlike the bins Knob Hill Farms used for groceries at that time, recalled Stephenson.
Next step was to design a slogan for the box, recalled Stephenson, “so we hand-stenciled ‘We Recycle’ on the side of the first 200 and people loved it.
“It let them tell the world that even if they couldn’t solve bigger environmental problems, at least they recycled.”
They chose blue, notes former McGinnis employee and friend Gail Lawlor, “because blue was the colour of plastic that resists the effects of the weather most. It wasn’t because of the alliteration of ‘blue box’ — but that was a bonus.
“Jack went on to become known as the Father of the Blue Box.”
McGinnis leaves a strong environmental legacy, as founder of the Recycling Council of Ontario and a non-profit environmental foundation called Is Five, taken from a phrase by poet e.e. cummings, “2 times 2 is 5,” meaning the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, said Tom Scanlan, who joined in some of those early Beach recycling rounds.
“How many people can come up with a simple idea — give people a box to put their recycling in — and actually figure out how to put it into practice?” asked Scanlan. “Jack was a pioneer.”
The “genius” of the blue box is its simplicity and elegance, said former employee Betty Muise. “He wanted to make putting out recycling as easy as putting out garbage — and he did.”
Blue box facts
1981
First blue box recycling program launched in Kitchener.
96%
of Ontario residents today have access to a blue box program
870,000
tonnes of materials now diverted through blue box programs
4.7 million
Ontario households use blue boxes


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