As a new immigrant to Canada, with little knowledge of domestic waste management realities, hearing of the introduction of a producer-pays model in Ontario by 2023 is worth commending.
It was interesting to read that only 9 per cent of plastic waste is recycled nationwide in Canada. Data here shows that incinerators burn just about 5 per cent of the waste, emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and just over 61 per cent of kitchen and yard waste is composted while our landfills suck up the greatest portion (72 per cent) and are filling up faster than we may have ever expected.
Worthy of note is the new twist amidst COVID-19, with increasing needs for PPE. According to the WHO, as many as 89 million medical masks, 76 million gloves, 1.6 million goggles are used monthly, increasing plastic waste by 70 per cent globally. It is therefore undoubtedly realistic to agree a paradigm shift may be needed to address our trash problem.
My village of Mokango bima, located in the most remote part of the southwest region of Cameroon is disconnected from any motorable road and devoid of any basic social amenities. Until the recent use of motorbikes, the only means of transport was by carrying goods on our heads (head loading) and trekking for hours or days to and from nearby villages and towns (please don’t try this at home).
With a population of about 600 inhabitants there is just a single, small ‘store’ selling only the basics in the village with $2,000 (Canadian) worth of items. Getting anything else outside of just the basics requires at least a day of trekking for at least 10 hours or travel by motorbike for those who can afford the $20 (Canadian) transport fare to the nearest town, on top of the cost of whatever they may need from there.
The main sources of basic-level incomes and livelihoods are mostly dependent on products from the gardens and the tropical rainforest. Food, vegetable, and protein are all sourced locally. The rest, such as energy for lighting of bush lamps, clothing and leisure goods are important but secondary, so just a basic minimum can be afforded.
With about 70 households in 60 houses in a linear pattern, with a common farming area and playground where families meet often, happiness is derived more from the sense of living as a community and the social cohesion this brings instead of how much material possessions we have. Everyone is bound by fate or design to keep their wants, needs and consumption to the barest minimum while using what they already have for as long as possible, thereby minimizing waste.
Of course, sometimes we may easily lose those basic survival instincts once we move out of our small communities to big towns and cities where we learn fast how happiness is more about having or wanting excesses of everything.
Even while in our urban cities, we can still create little communities, reminiscent of our small villages, by introducing mixed-use compact housing designs with common areas for gardening and play.
Though cooperation can be part of the answer, more importantly is the need for individual reflection of our personal needs and wants and our ability to trim our possessions to just what we need to survive in the spirit of reducing, reusing, recycling and regulating. Like the people in my village and many parts of the world, we can survive and still be happy with less, to save our planet especially in these times of multiple global challenges.