An article in Canadian Geographic recently exposed Canada’s dirty secret: we lead the developed world in the per capita production of garbage with 720 kilos per capita of waste produced annually by every Canadian. The same article refers to Toronto as ‘garbage central’, noting that while our waste management system is efficient, that very efficiency keeps us from seeing the 40 tonnes of compacted garbage that leaves the city to arrive at Green Lane landfill near London at a rate of one every 10 minutes. And increased recycling is simply not the answer:
“By the time waste gets recycled, 95 per cent of the environmental damage has already occurred – in manufacturing, in oil extraction, in the poisoning of our rivers and air. People have to buy less…our economy is based on endless growth, endless production of what our landfills tell us is basically junk. The cycle just keeps going: manufacture, consume, discard.”
Meanwhile, earlier this week several scientists issued a warning titled World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice in which they detail the catastrophic effects that human behaviour is having on the planet. Within two days, the statement had gone viral and garnered more then 15,000 signatures from scientists around the globe showing their support for the document.
While the warning hints at exponential population growth as a big factor in the problems we face, the scientists added this caveat:
The chief concern isn’t really the human numbers. It’s the impact we have.
In other words, it is our consumption habits that are the key issue here. The stuff we consume – and the rate at which we are consuming it – is responsible for up to 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and between 50-80 percent of total land, material, and water use. The rate at which this (isn’t) being discussed in the mainstream leads one to wonder if consumerism – the main driver of our economy – isn’t a gigantic elephant in the mall.
Can ‘Affluenza‘ – our voracious appetite and addiction for more and more cheap consumer goods – be cured? YES! There are ways to enjoy and use things without destroying our wonderful planet and here are five of them.
Let’s face it – our stuff is just not built to last. Planned and built-in obsolescence make it extremely difficult to abstain from buying new stuff.
But, you can fight back! When something breaks down, make a concerted effort to get it repaired before tossing it and buying a new one. We are extremely fortunate in Toronto to have a few organizations that are leading the way in making it easier for you to fix your treasures. You can take broken items to:
- Repair Café Toronto is a group of volunteer ‘fixperts’ who repair pretty much everything. You can take them appliances, electronics, jewelry, bicycles, books, clothing, etc. They hold weekly repair events at our 830 St Clair West location every Sunday from 12-4pm and host larger events at various locations around the city.
- Clothing Repairathon, will fix up your worn in clothes and other textiles. You can find them at farmer’s markets and other special community events around Toronto.
- Louisa LaBarbera Jewelry repairs broken jewelry and can also be found at various Farmer’s Markets and events across Toronto.
2) Borrow, Don’t Buy
In our culture, it has become normalized for every household to have a drill, a set of camping gear, a collection of board games, piles and piles of toys, etc. But is it such a good idea for everyone to have one of everything? When you consider the amount of energy that goes into the creation and distribution of every material object coupled with how much time that item spends in storage rather than in use, it begins to seem a little insane. For instance, a drill is only used for an average of 14 minutes in its useable lifespan – and yet, basements and closets across Toronto have drills sitting in them.
The amount of time, money, and space that can be saved by borrowing things we only need occasionally rather than purchasing to own is remarkable. When people begin letting go of the idea that the need for stuff automatically equates to owning stuff – folks, we’ve got a cultural revolution on our hands. Here’s how you can borrow stuff in Toronto:
- The Toronto Tool Library has 4 locations across the city and lends out over 7,000 tools to members.
- The Sharing Depot is Canada’s first ‘Library of Things’ and lends out camping gear, children’s toys, board games, party supplies and sports equipment. There are two locations in the city, one at St Clair West and one on the Danforth.
- Peerby is an app that facilitates borrowing between neighbours. Upload the items you have available to share and search for items you are looking to borrow in the same app!
- Own the moment, not the outfit with Boro: Canada’s leading marketplace for women to borrow clothing.
- Need a fancy dress for a special occasion but don’t want to spend money on something you are going to wear once? Skip the mall and borrow one from Rent Frock Repeat!
3) Trade & Swap
Have you heard the word? Trading and swapping have become the new shopping and BONUS: you get to declutter your space at the same time! Here’s how you can easily trade and swap things you no longer need for things you do:
- Bunz Trading Zone has made Toronto the official trading capital of Canada. This app has made it simple and fun to post what you no longer need and find things you are looking for. Upload items you have available for trade to the app and use the handy search function to locate items you are specifically in need of. Just a warning though, trading is seriously addictive. You will fall in love with Bunz.
- You can also participate in Community Swaps organized locally. The Toronto Tool Library hosts several of these swaps throughout the year, including our extremely popular Alternative Gift Shop (details about this year’s gift swap coming soon!). Sign-up for our monthly newsletter to be notified of upcoming swaps.
4) Find Things Secondhand
One of the results of a culture built on mass consumerism is the proliferation of secondhand stores. While this feels a bit like having one’s cake and eating it too (because the quality and volume of items available in thrift stores simply wouldn’t exist without mass production), purchasing secondhand is still better for the planet than purchasing new. When you buy an item new, you are creating demand in the market for more of that product, which means you are triggering more resource extraction, production and distribution. Purchasing secondhand allows you to fly under the radar of market demand and in Toronto, there are a few ways to find what second hand gems:
- The Really Really Free Market takes place on the first Saturday of every month and, as the title suggests, everything is indeed really, really free. People bring and donate their gently used items, which are then laid out on tables so everyone can ‘shop’ from the selection.
- Freecycle is an app where people post unwanted but usable things that they are giving away for free! You can search the app to find something specific you are looking for, and you can also post things you would like to give away. This is better than putting stuff out on the street because it avoids weather damage and also ensure it gets into the hands of someone who really needs it.
- And of course, there are thrift stores! Toronto has so many amazing thrift stores to choose from. If you are looking for a more curated selection, check out the Common Sort or Kind Exchange.
5) Make it or Purchase it from a Maker
Maybe it was Pinterest, maybe it was the proliferation of websites sharing open-source instructions for how to make pretty much anything, maybe it was the launching of community Makerspaces – but the ‘Maker Movement’ has exploded into the mainstream in a big way. If you have the time to learn to make something yourself, DO IT! The Toronto Tool Library’s Makerspace hosts Community Nights every Wednesday from 7-10pm where anyone can learn to make something for free. You can find a comprehensive list of Makerspaces by neighbourhood in Toronto online here.
If you can’t make it yourself, purchase it from someone who can! Check out Makers Markets and online marketplaces like Etsy to find the handmade version of what you are looking for. Often, things made by makers are higher quality and are made of better materials so they will last longer than something made in a factory overseas. Here’s a list of Toronto Makers we love to get you started.
This is a guest blog from @itsahashtaglife – blogger, social media manager and content creator non-profits and charities in Toronto. She takes the tools and techniques of traditional digital media marketing and applies them to organizations working hard to shift our world into a new story – one that is more sustainable and supportive of people and the planet.