Canada just got 1,500 tonnes of garbage back. From the Philippines, a nation that – judging by news photos of emaciated children in Manila scrabbling through mountains of trash looking for things they can salvage and sell – seems quite capable of generating its own garbage.
The garbage arrived in 69 containers, part of a shipment of 103 containers sent to the Philippines six years ago. The company that shipped it falsely labelled it as plastics for recycling. It did contain plastics. Also household trash. Electronics. Dirty diapers. Rotting food.
That company that sent it has gone out of business. Like Harry Belafonte’s Matilda, it took its money and ran.
The transaction raises questions about corporate ethics and bankruptcy loopholes.
But the question we should be asking is, why are we shipping our garbage anywhere?
Thinker and futurist Edward de Bono offered a radical solution for industrial polluters, years ago. Simply legislate that an industry must have its water intake downstream from its effluent discharge.
Mennonite farmer Gordon Hunsberger, less well known than de Bono, made a similar suggestion in a book I once edited for him. Reacting to big cities searching for new landfill sites in rural areas, Hunsberger commented, municipalities should be required to keep their landfill sites within their own boundaries.
“We have become a throw-away society,” Hunsberger commented. “But what do we mean when we talk of ‘away’? And what happens when we run out of ‘aways’?”
Sadly, poor regions have been a favourite “away.” Toxic waste dumps in the U.S. are almost always in the poorer parts of the poorer states.
The same pattern holds for international disposal. We send our garbage to poorer nations overseas. Like the Philippines. Also to Africa, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. China, once a major destination, closed its doors in 2018.
By no coincidence, those countries are the biggest source of plastics poisoning the world’s oceans.
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte — not noted for his diplomatic talents — threatened to declare war on Canada over those 69 containers supposedly full of recyclable plastics. Either we took our garbage back, he threatened, or he would ship it back to Canada himself and dump it in Vancouver harbour.
Canada blinked first. Shipping the 69 containers will cost us $1.14 million. Plus another $375,000 to incinerate it at the Metro Vancouver facility in Burnaby. Some of that heat will generate electricity for B.C. Hydro.
This summer, your air conditioner may be running partly on garbage that didn’t make it into Manila’s infamous dumps. That should make you feel good, shouldn’t it?
Lack of controls
As other nations rebel against receiving our garbage, the profit potential from recycling goes down. A Philadelphia recycling company, for example, told Ontario it wouldn’t accept any more plastics, even for free.
In reality, according to the World Health Organization, we Canadians recycles less than 10% of our garbage. And we generate a lot of garbage – nearly three kilograms, about six pounds, per person, per day. Roughly a tonne a year.
Granted, more than half of that comes from industries, not households.. But it’s still waste that has to be disposed of.
And most municipalities have no idea what happens to it. They contract for recycling with a company or corporation. Which compresses it for easier handling, and sells it to another company, which processes it into some other form of plastics, and then ships it to some other company, which further processes it and sells it to…. Who knows?
At any time in this process of shipping wastes around, if the market value declines, the plastics simply get diverted to a landfill site.
Or shipped to the Philippines.
Ups and downs
I remember a man who tried to make a business out of recycling used newspapers for insulation. He did well for about six months. He had a unique angle – he organized Boy Scout troops in Toronto as neighbourhood collection agencies, sharing his profits with them.
Then suddenly there was a surplus. He had a dozen semi-trailers stuffed with useless newspaper parked at a variety of shopping malls. He went bankrupt. Municipal taxpayers got stuck with the disposal and the bills.
That’s what’s happening now with plastics.
The federal government’s proposed ban on single-use plastics is a start. But only a start.
Maybe we should pay more attention to Gordon Hunsberger’s advice. If we create the garbage, it’s our responsibility to find a way of dealing with it.
If we don’t know how to deal with it, then we shouldn’t be producing it.
Doesn’t that make sense?
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I get more letters when I DON’T write a column than when I do! Yes, 39 letters! All offering consolation for not having a subject to write about, and/or congratulations for admitting that sometimes I have nothing to say.
John McTavish anticipated that reaction: “I bet you get lots of responses to this non-column if only because we can feel you finally feeling our pain. We, too, have nothing to say this morning. In fact, we have nothing to say almost every morning.
Heather Sandilands wrote, “Jim, you have NO idea how healing that is for me to hear...especially from you! I feel that often especially when there is so much being processed; when it feels like balls of yarn after a cat’s been through -- and after absorbing everything I have no energy to put any of it into words.”
Beth Robey Hyde had similar thoughts: “Oh, Jim! That's my life story! I sometimes wonder if the constant flood of global muck and mire has swamped my synapses just at the time when we need to find the tipping point to land us on a higher shore. Or something. Or maybe all the political thunder and even the horrors of climate change are among the weeds that have preoccupied us. Or do we all just get stalled out once in a while after many years of doing and producing?”
“Don't feel humiliated,” Pat Graham wrote. “I think most of us wonder how any columnist can continuously come up with ideas for articles.”
Indeed, several of you commented that you wished, sometimes, that you had had the courage to admit that you had nothing to say on a Sunday morning.
Alice Hanson responded, “That only makes you human and gives us permission to do the same. Thanks for acknowledging it.”
Dave Klepper: “I do know the humiliation of someone who works with words to discover I have no words. Happens almost every Sunday for me. Hang in there.”
Chris Duxbury commiserated, “Silence can be profound! At least you admit you have nothing to say, while there are those who speak and yet say nothing.”
And Sandy Warren called it, “a wise and uncommon response -- in this time of relentless noise, to choose silence when you have nothing you want to say! I love it. Thank you.”
Anne McRae: “Having nothing to say is better than talking at length and saying nothing.”
A few of you commented on the value of silence:
Jim Henderschedt: “Enjoy the welcome sound of a silent mind.”
Rachel Prichard: “In my experience it is in the silences that we hear God best.”
Isabel Gibson related my non-column to her own blog efforts: “Yes, I have some idea of the joys of dry days/spells. That's when I turn to my photos . . .
So did another writer, Launa Tallman: “Indeed, I know exactly how you feel. I don't know how people who blog every day or every week manage to do that.”
And some of you put your good wishes into a broader context:
Wayne Irwin: “Not getting a piece from you today is a reminder to me of how much I value what you offer each week. It may be so for others also. It is a suitable metaphor for me on its own.”
William Ball offered consolation: “Well, Jim, sometime the words just don't come, and sometimes they don't need to, or shouldn't. Your reflections, both Soft and Sharp, encourage me to pay attention and think about what I see and hear happening around me.”
I particularly valued a few letters from people who know writing from the inside. Like this one from Paul Irwin: “Enjoyed your wordless column this morning from my quiet armchair in the sun in the company of a sunning wordless feline, Coco.
“I also made my living with words: French and English teacher, book publisher, editor, UCC clergy for 25 years, hospital chaplain… and now hospice work, amateur musician, and a growing comfort with silence. No need to find words anymore, especially Sunday morning -- what a relief!
“After 80 years experience, I wonder if one of the benefits of aging may be a diminished need to manifest through wordy expression? I hope so, as life's circumstances ‘excommunicate’ most of us bit by bit.
“But word-smithing is a rush while it lasts. And you, Jim, give pleasure and stimulate positive thinking with your wordy play of ideas and thoughts gleaned from a rich life experience, disciplined and formed by a trained mind.”
And another similar letter from Robert Hudder: “I too feel embarrassed at seeming to have nothing to say after a career of speaking and writing on a regular basis. As a local church pastor, I wrote and presented a weekly sermon for 35 years; along with a monthly newsletter column for most of those years, which eventually morphed into a weekly reflection piece sent out via email; and since 2008 a periodic blog,
“I was eagerly looking forward to more time to write, without the stress of squeezing it into the hectic schedule of administrative duties, pastoral care responsibilities, Bible Study class preparation, and so much more that a pastor deals with. Then I retired a year ago and I have barely written anything of any substance! Some of it is lacking the discipline to simply sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. But some of it is also a struggle looking for inspiration, even though there is plenty going on in the world around me and I have a very full life engaging with a new community.
“To some extent I think the creative process, whether it is reflecting on life, commenting on the world or culture or society, or just creating a story or poetry, needs a certain structure to be fostered and nurtured. If that structure changes, the creativity can lapse or go into hibernation until a new structure emerges to encourage it.
“Anyway, I want you to know that there is at least one US resident in Georgia who still looks forward to your two columns and who eagerly reads them and keeps hoping they will spark some of my own creative process.”
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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some links constitute spam.)
Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on YouTube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The website for this project has closed but you can continue to order the DVDs by writing info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet
ALVA WOOD ARCHIVE
The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.