Ever since I can remember people have been teaching me to be kind to the Earth. In grade school we had someone come in and teach us why we should bring reusable containers in our lunches. Later it was Envirothon competitions, recycling programs, and Environmental Studies. Now that we’re older the onus is on us to either continue these practices or leave them by the wayside. The problem is that despite our best interests, the accessibility of these Earth-saving methods is limited.

I’ve lived in Ottawa for several years and have successfully reduced my carbon footprint by being able to recycle, compost, and monitor my energy consumption. The city has its lows, but its recycling and conservation programs are some of the best I’ve experienced. I’m not saying they’re perfect, but it is something residents can be proud of. Right now the city accepts plastics #1 through# 7, tetra packs, aluminum foil, and take-out containers. Yes, even take-out containers. Through these methods I’ve been able to reduce the amount of garbage I put out to the curb to one bag every two or three weeks, with everything else either recycled, composted, or taken to a resource collection center (for example, hazardous wastes like batteries and old paint can be dropped off at Home Depot).

But I don’t live in Ottawa anymore.

I live in a small township called Beckwith just outside city limits, which encompasses smaller towns like Carleton Place, Ashton, Blacks Corners, and a handful of other tiny villages. I received a rude awakening one Tuesday morning when I walked out to the end of my driveway to find a scattering of plastic containers and milk cartons all over my front lawn. This debris was the township’s way of letting me know that they don’t accept said items.

For starters, tossing what’s now garbage all over my lawn is not the sort of welcome I anticipated receiving from my new homestead, but secondly, why were they not picking up items that I was so used to recycling? I looked up the township’s recycling rules to discover a long list of things they did not accept.

Unlike Ottawa, Arnprior, North Grenville (a township which includes cities like Kemptville), Smiths Falls, and the Russell township (Russell, Embrun, and others), the township I currently reside in only accepts two out of seven recyclable plastics and does not take milk cartons or any waxed boxes such as frozen food containers. Now, I understand the immediate financial strain it may cause some areas to redirect recyclables away from the dump, but, if there is so much to be gained over the long-term, politically and environmentally, how is it that other townships are able to absorb the cost and take the initiative to prevent the fills in the area from filling up faster?

cadieux_green1I have to say I’m a little disappointed in the lack of forward momentum in heritage towns like Almonte, Ashton, and other places out in the Ottawa Valley. These are the places which should be preserved, not allowed to fall by the wayside through lack of funding or planning. We only have these beautiful landscapes around us for as long as we decide to actively preserve them. And if we choose to take the route that looks better at the end of the fiscal year, we may not have any paper left to file these reports.

I’m not saying these townships are doing everything wrong or are behind the times; they just have some catching up to do. The one thing I think the cities could adopt is the bag tag system. Right now my household gets eighty tags for garbage during the year, that’s about 1.5 bags per week of accumulated non-recyclable, non-compostable, non-reusable garbage. If we produce more, we have to pay. Fair enough. There were weeks when I’d drive down my street in Ottawa and shake my head at the amount of garbage that was going to the dump that week, wondered how much of it could have been recycled or redirected.

I once was told that it was a person’s right to choose not to recycle. I think it should be an obligation.