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Indecent disposal

Lezlie Lowe looks into your trash.

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If you don’t want to think about your neighbours policing how you always toss last month’s issue of Hustler into the trash instead of a separate recycling bag, you might have a little problem on your hands.

A Halifax Regional Council committee is considering mandatory clear-plastic garbage bags to humiliate errant recyclers and non-composters. The see-through trash bags are being floated as a strategy to beef up HRM’s garbage diversion rate. (That is, to shame people into leaving juice packs out of the trash and making sure cereal boxes go in the green cart—did you know boxboard always goes in the compost?)

I don’t mean to be a grouch, but this trash problem isn’t one shame is going to fix.

Because, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but, uh, people HAVE NO SHAME.

If Haligonians did feel shame—environmental shame—they wouldn’t be driving around in SUVs. They wouldn’t be idling their cars at red lights. They wouldn’t be wasting disposable coffee cups morning after morning after bloody morning when it’s as easy to bring your own mug as it is to remember to put on your shoes. They wouldn’t be automatically expecting plastic bags at the grocery store every week—they’d be toting their own. If you can remember to bring your wallet, you can learn by heart the habit of grabbing a stash of reusable bags on the way out the door too.

The only people with environmental shame in this city are the ones already recycling and composting properly—or, at least, doing the best they can to follow the rules (must remember to compost boxboard…must remember to compost boxboard…).

On account of these folks, the see-through strategy might eek diversion rates up a wee bit. My husband points out that we probably wouldn’t be so lazy about making sure empty toilet-paper rolls got to the compost if our environmental self-righteousness were on display for the whole street. (Yes, our house is the one where every few months we leave baggies full of elastic bands on the steps for our newspaper carrier to reuse.)

But shame isn’t going to do a jeesly thing for the people who are chucking pizza crusts, left-over donairs and orange peels in with the light bulbs, kitty litter and toothpaste tubes. Shame won’t egg on the portion of the population that has stalled our waste-diversion rate—for two years running—at 56 percent.

Even before we got that high, a 2004 Genuine Progress Index Atlantic report had good things to say about our handling of trash. Nova Scotians waste not only less than the average Canadian, we’re one of the best garbage-diverting peoples in the world. For its part, HRM tosses half as much trash as the average reporting Canadian municipality.

Is that because we have the most environmental shame? No. It’s because we have it easy. For it to be any simpler for Haligonians to put trash in the right spot, municipal employees would have to come in and scrape our plates after dinner and stand beside us with a hand outstretched as we took the last swigs of soda from the can. (That’s at home. Out on the street downtown, it’s a whole different kettle of fishheads.)

It’s so easy being green in HRM that the shame of not following the rules is all the graver. If garbage criminals aren’t ashamed now, see-through bags won’t make a dent in the problem.

There’s only one motivator that makes a difference where shame can’t: Money. It’s time to start ticketing people for putting their Hustlers in the wrong place.

What does your trash say about you? email: lezliel@thecoast.ca

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