Waste & Recycling


Confessions of an Environmental Criminal

The word "criminal" may be a bit strong, but I use it because environmentalist and reporter Bob Hunter (an acquaintance of mine and GreenPeace founder) once called me that -- tongue in cheek -- in an ...

The word “criminal” may be a bit strong, but I use it because environmentalist and reporter Bob Hunter (an acquaintance of mine and GreenPeace founder) once called me that — tongue in cheek — in an article about climate change deniers. Sadly, Bob died (too young!) a few years ago from prostate cancer.

I’ve been thinking about Bob’s label for me recently as environmental issues increasingly become front-page news. The start of any journey toward healing and recovery is to admit you have a problem, right? That’s how 12-step problems for alcohol and drugs work (or so I’m told). Although I edit two (count ’em!) environmental trade magazines, at home I often fail to live up to even a minimal benchmark of eco-friendliness. So it’s time for me to confess my environmental crimes, as a first step in “walking the walk.”

Bob was right: My name is Guy, and I am an environmental criminal. (Just stating that makes me feel better!)

Here are my crimes, confessed in hopes of starting a greener personal future.

Where to begin? Well, there’s probably no form of packaging more environmentally unfriendly than plastic bubble wrap. I confess to not only enjoying popping the bubbles between my fingers (it’s so satisfying) but to going out of my way to buy products wrapped in it (once even purchasing a roll while packing to move) just so I can pop it in front of the TV.

I pledge to never do that again.

In my lifetime I’ve owned about a half-dozen homes and have done extensive renovations to most of them. I confess that rather than drive the renovation debris to a transfer station (or, better still, a reuse centre) I’ve almost always found an out-of-the-way unlocked commercial waste bin and dumped the broken drywall, ripped-up timber and other junk in there (often at night).

Appallingly, instead of feeling ashamed I have usually smirked with satisfaction at my own wickedness, like some sort of recycling Baudelaire.

Again, I pledge to desist.

One of my worst crimes involved aiding and abetting my former wife when she nicked a stack of free bag-tag stickers from the Town of Markham’s “recycling awareness booth” when we lived there. The unmanned booth and that stack of hard-to-come-by stickers were just too tempting for her quick fingers. That pile of tags saw us through a yearlong basement renovation and a summer of landscaping and deck construction. I wish I could say I felt the least bit guilty about it.

Most of my crimes are fairly small and mundane, but I guess they add up. They include allowing the occasional aluminum pie plate to go in the garbage rather than the blue box because I’m too lazy or tired to wash it. We used disposable diapers for both kids. I still sometimes buy those Wal-Mart $3 skids of water in little plastic bottles.

Hmm. What else?

Do I bring soft drink cans and bottles home to recycle, instead of tossing them in a public trash bin? No, not even once, ever. I have a metal refillable coffee cup; do I always use it at the Tim Horton’s drive-thru instead of throwaway (and non-recyclable) paper cups? No. And what’s worse, because I drink my coffee black, I sometimes let them “double cup” it for me, so it’s not too hot to hold!

In my 46 years on this earth I’ve probably already left an “environmental footprint” that exceeds many small island nations. I’ve owned cars and vans for years with utterly no idea how much gas they consume per kilometre. I can’t say how many appliances I’ve bought without checking their energy efficiency (but it’s a lot). I know excessive packaging ought to be shunned, but has that ever stopped me buying something I really wanted? I doubt it. (And certainly not if it was on sale, or something the kids were crying for.) I still cut myself trying to open those damn sealed plastic packages in which many items are sold, especially electronics. See, I’m even willing to risk personal injury to support bad packaging.

Some wastefulness is hard to avoid. There’s a whole shelf of large software boxes above the computer on which I’m writing this that only ever contained an installation CD. Ridiculous! But I could’ve left the boxes at the store…

It’s not like I never try to do the right thing. I have some energy-saving showerheads in a box somewhere. I turn off my computer monitor at night. I confess to using paper towels rather than reusable cloth (out of concern for kitchen germs). I’ll buy the ones made from recycled phone books when I find a store that sells them.

Those are all the environmental crimes I have space to confess here. I promise to do better, and by the time you read this I’ll have replaced most or all of my incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents. Maybe.

Hate me if you like, but let he who is without sin cast the first stone!

Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine.

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