Looking forward, looking back

Kate Hamilton is the lead coordinator of our Urban Farm at Ashbridge Estate, and facilitates our biweekly ‘Do It Together’ workshops at the Moss Park Market.

The past year had me continually adapting to new circumstances, both bad and good. Jolting change is wearing, but it may be what 2020 has in store for most of us. If that’s right, we will need to keep each other’s energy up, and our own.

One success in 2019 was the launch of Do It Together (DIT) workshops for Building Roots, a non-profit that develops social connections in Toronto’s Moss Park. There was no fresh food for blocks; Building Roots created a produce market. There was little animation; Building Roots coordinates activities from organizations like Story Planet and Youth Gravity – and hosted the DIT series.

The highlight was a workshop on reducing plastic usage. We talked, learned, made our own waxed-cloth food wrappers, and considered joining an OCAD student project about what motivates behaviour change. Like all the DIT workshops, it was a warm, sociable event with interesting people who brought a variety of experience to the table.

The best part for me, though, was the research before delivering that workshop. I found innumerable initiatives about to break surface – biodegradable 6-pack rings; plastic substitutes from fish waste; improved sorting technology for recyclables; plastic-free 3D-print manufacturing; and innovations by food packagers, supermarkets, hotels, and clothing brands to reduce consumer plastic use. One example: ice cream in refillable stainless-steel containers.

I’ll mention four close to home – Ice River Springs, in Shelbourne, Ontario, uses 100% recycled plastic; a network of Roncy Reduces organizations, in Toronto, encourages restaurants and supermarkets to use customers’ containers; Etee, in Toronto, is an online source for plastic-free products such as toothbrushes; and TerraCycle, founded by Hungarian-Canadian Tom Szaky, is the world leader in recycling generally non-recyclable waste such as energy-bar wrappers. (Szaky remarked: “By moving from disposable to reusable, you unlock epic design [and manufacturing] opportunities.”)

Why was research the best part? It showed we didn’t have to be where we are. We could have been using waxed-cloth food wraps all along, and seen dispensers rather than miniature toiletries in hotels. We could have required durability in clothing, repairability in appliances, bulk bins in supermarkets, micro-fibre filters on washing machines, and local processing that makes plastic’s lightness unimportant. We could have demanded that what goes into recycling bins be recycled. We could have reserved plastic to essential uses like intravenous bags.

What we want in our culture – and what we allow – does shape our systems. But an opinion you keep to yourself has no effect. We have to speak up. And to do that, we have to register the effects of the systems we have. Alberta farmer Don Campbell reminded us: “If you want to make large changes, change the way you see things.”

Change is coming, not only to your toothbrush. Here’s to seeing a 2020 when our choices are better because we require it – and when we help each other embrace them.

Easy reading: Canadian Geographic’s “Canada’s Dirty Secret” (2017) and Ontario’s “Strategy for a waste-free Ontario: Building a circular economy” (2016).

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