The Environmental Spirit Award was conceived in 2008 as a special recognition tribute to an individual who, with nothing more than a passion for recycling and a determined attitude, could make change happen and influence the behaviour of others. It represented what was best in people who could rise to the occasion with few, if any, resources.
The passing of Jack McGinnis (1947-2011) in 2011 gave RCO the perfect opportunity to honour this recycling pioneer by prefacing this special award with his name.
Jack McGinnis was a giant in the early years of recycling. He was an RCO founder and served on the board of directors in the organization’s early years. MyGinnis was also instrumental in the birth of Durham Sustain Ability.
Born in Cleveland in January 1947, McGinnis left his American home and immigrated to Canada during the Vietnam era, as his personal beliefs ran contrary to the war politics of that time. He was a progressive, a “big thinker,” whose thoughts focused on waste and how to reduce it through recycling. And we are all the better off for his tireless work in developing recycling programs at home and across borders. McGinnis has been called the father of the blue box (in 1977).
And so, at the RCO’s 2012 Ontario Waste Minimization Awards gala, the RCO had the privilege of welcoming to the podium a contemporary of McGinnis, even though they never met during those early years of recycling fervor.
Doreen Friesen was a young nurse working the night shift at Sunnybrook Hospital in the 1970s when Toronto experienced what might have been its first major garbage strike. She and her friend Joan Folkins decided that the mountains of accumulating garbage were simply not acceptable and while they couldn’t stop the strike, they could launch a plan to reduce household generated waste at the source. They saw newspaper, tin cans and bottles as the obvious items to target for their recycling revolution.
Friesen and Folkins applied for, and received funding from, the federal government under the Local Improvement Program. They petitioned then-Mayor of Toronto David Crombie and convinced him to commission six large bins for drop off points they identified as key to the neighbourhood. They distributed flyers across the City of Toronto and set up a collection schedule for neighbourhoods with the option for drop-off at the two bin locations, Eglinton/Bayview and Avenue Road/Lawrence.
The women, thinking ahead, already had buyers lined up for the collected items.
People gravitated to this new concept of recycling. “Pollution solution” as it was initially called was successful, and it grew. In fact it grew so well that within five months of the program rolling out, the city picked it up and made it part of its future waste strategy.
And so, in the current climate of stewardship, sustainability and respect for the planet, the Recycling Council of Ontario honoured Doreen Friesen for her pioneering spirit. Sadly, Doreen lost her friend Folkins this year but the Jack McGinnis Environmental Spirit Award serves to honour both of these feisty women who saw a need and rolled up their sleeves to make it happen. Somewhere, Jack McGinnis is smiling.
Diane Blackburn is Events Manager for the Recycling Council
of Ontario (RCO) and produces the RCO’s annual
Waste Minimization Awards. This column regularly
profiles finalists and winners from that awards
Contact Diane at events.rco.on.ca