Thursday, October 11, 2012

Too Many Choices, Too Little Information

Submitted by Heather Wheeliker, Master Composter Recycler Volunteer with the City of Edmonton

With Waste ReductionWeek occurring across Canada October 15 to 21, this is a good time to re-examine purchasing habits and rethink new ways to reduce waste stream contributions.

It’s not an easy task. I realize that my habits are based on information I learned many years ago. Here’s what I mean: I am often heard saying to colleagues “please ask for 100% post-consumer waste non-glossy paper.” Huh? Where did I ever come up with that? It’s based on understanding what the recycle symbol tells us. 

A Mobius loop means that the product can be recycled. But a Mobius loop within a circle means the product contains recycled material (the percentage of recycled material is usually found nearby and often a qualifier to indicate the percentage of post-consumer waste). To learn more about this topic, refer to the provincial elementary education resource, Get in the Loop

Now about the non-glossy paper; years ago, I was told that a clay coating is added to paper to make it glossy. Don’t get me wrong, I like glossy paper. But knowing that it takes additional resources and energy to coat the paper, often for one-time use, and then this coating must be stripped away during the recycling process and the clay particles dealt with separately, has caused me to rethink choosing glossy paper. That said, things could have changed since I learned about clay coatings, so if anyone knows differently please chime in. For now, I will continue to request non-glossy paper.

Certification logos play a role when I am choosing products. Have you ever tried to purchase a green cleaner? I spend way too much time reading labels, trying to figure out which is going to be the least harmful to the environment—and to my lungs—but still get the job done. The print is small, and it’s easy to miss a critical piece of information until you get the product home and in good reading light. My latest tactic is to look for a logo. And because we live in Canada, I look for products carrying the EcoLogo certification stamp of approval. This tells me that, at the very least, the product has been reviewed by a third party, and has met or passed pre-determined environmental standards. OK, I’m ready for the criticism that I should make my own cleaner. But I’m busy these days and it’s enough for me to actually do the cleaning let alone make the cleaner first. Until I have more time, I will continue to look for the EcoLogo label.

Another common logo I look for on wood or paper products is from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This certification program tracks the product from the forest where it was harvested, all the way to the store shelf.  It tells me that the forest is appropriately managed and that communities nearby the forest harvesting operations are consulted and considered as being integral to the forest community. Several printers in Edmonton have a Chain of Custody Certification which means they are approved to use FSC paper as a result of the processes they have integrated into their printing operations. 

Sometimes the more you think about it, the more confusing it can be.  Yet, it seems like a lifetime since I last looked at something as “waste for landfill.” Edmonton offers a world-class waste management system, however the resources embedded within waste materials make me rethink my purchasing and disposal decisions each and every day. My resolve to turn down a coffee served in a disposable cup helps to remind me to carry a mug with me. I set out a yellow pail in our office kitchen to collect compostables from staff and, as a result, I end up with a significant pile of compost each year to spread on my flower and vegetable gardens. I reuse as much as possible, I try to avoid impulse shopping. But I’m certainly not a perfect role model for waste reduction. We all get caught up in the day-to-day rush of life, and it can be complicated enough without thinking about waste. Yet it seems like the information I learned years ago is simple and memorable enough that I no longer have to think too hard about it.

If you’re still swimming in the deep end on this and hope to remove the complications that surround consumer choices and waste, take an hour during Waste Reduction Week to learn more about waste, and to find and form new habits.  A little bit of sound information and a couple of key logos should help you through. 

1 comment:

  1. wow! great article! i will totally be sharing this out next week during waste reduction week!
    su aka redworm_mama