eMERGE Guelph

Shop Smart to Shrink your Carbon Footprint

png;base6430ad6374999ebcf0November 2013, Guelph received the Ron Lance Memorial Award for having the best 2012 residential waste diversion rate in Ontario.

Guelph’s rate was measured at 68 per cent, well above the provincial average of 47 per cent. Congratulations to all Guelph residents. But really, what does this mean, and what’s the big deal?

A waste diversion rate refers to the portion of our garbage that, instead of being sent to a landfill, is recycled to become a new product. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 70 per cent to 90 per cent less energy is required to recycle a product compared to making it from raw materials. This means all the energy saved from recycling in Guelph alone is equivalent to the electricity required to power 700 homes for a year.

So where do I fit in? What can I do?

Sorting organics, recycling properly and composting are the first steps to keeping our record high average intact. But who are we kidding, this is Guelph and we can do better. Reducing the potential waste coming into our house is what will set us above the rest.

In the past, before we separated our organics, they were sent to landfill with our other garbage. The problem was that in landfills, organics tend to not have enough oxygen. As a result, they must be broken down anaerobically (without oxygen), a process that produces methane gas as a byproduct. Methane is one of the greenhouse gases disrupting our earth’s ozone layer.

By separating out our organics, the city can process them down into compost. This minimizes Guelph’s methane contribution, as well as supplies the city with rich and vital soil compost that they transfer to nearby farms, sell or use for their fields, parks and city-owned gardens.

If your concerns lie with cleaning the stinky green bin each week, then maybe backyard composting is a good option for you.

I know what you’re thinking, “Composting? Yes, maybe I will start next summer, that’s when you are supposed to start, right?” In fact, it is quite the opposite. Composting is a year-round activity you can participate in at your leisure, but autumn is an important season to take advantage of to ensure success.

The reason lies within the process: in order to ensure success when composting, it is important to maintain a healthy balance of carbon (brown) and nitrogen (green) materials within your bin. Households produce plenty of nitrogen-rich materials through their day-to-day practices: examples include vegetable peelings, grass clippings and even coffee grounds.

However, carbon-based materials such as leaves, shrub prunings and dry garden waste are much harder to gather in the winter, spring and summertime. Now is the time to take advantage of this gold that autumn offers, and by starting now you may even have a small amount of garden-ready compost early next spring.

Though recycling and composting play an important role in waste reduction, it is critical that we realize our waste output is still too high. Ontarians produce more than nine million tonnes of waste per year. That is equivalent to the weight of 750,000 school buses.

Most waste produced comes from spoiled food and packaging. As a consumer, it is important to keep in mind that your garbage production starts at the grocery store.

It is estimated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that on average, households waste $30 a week on spoiled food alone. What this means for us is that we are wasting our own money, while placing an extra burden on our environment. There is good news, though. We determine what food comes in and out of our homes, so by buying only what you need and storing foods properly, we can take that normally wasted $30 and put it back in our pockets.

By shopping smart you can empower yourself to be a conscious consumer. Avoid items that are individually wrapped, and choose products in cardboard containers that can be recycled rather than plastic bags. Pass up on buying items like water bottles, or as I like to call it, “packaged water.” Guelph is home to the most refreshing ground water that flows abundantly out of your very own faucets. Grab a reusable bottle and savour all that Guelph has to offer you.

There are many readily available resources about recycling, composting and reducing food and packaging waste available online. However, if waste is a topic that interests you, a home adviser from the not-for-profit eMERGE would be happy to continue the conversation during an efficient home visit. You can sign up online at emergeguelph.ca or by calling 519-763-2652.

Published by: Guelph Mercury
Written by: Sarah Steenhoek