Tighter Belts in a Supersized World

This week’s blog post is by our very own summer student, Kyle Shea…

Hello again, Talkin’ Trash readers. As waste ambassador, I’d be carrying an empty title if I didn’t discuss the significance of waste disposal here at UHN—so here goes.

I could start by telling you about recycling and how it not only requires less energy to create new products but defers waste from landfills, as many of you know. I could also tell you about UHN’s 40% recycling rate (which many workplaces couldn’t hold a candle to), but this is not where I’ll begin.

It’s no secret recycling is imperative, but so is reducing consumption and reusing items. Take the three R’s of waste reduction (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle); ‘Reduce’ and ‘Reuse’ precede ‘Recycle’, yet they’re often overlooked. But these unsung heroes are even better for the environment than recycling.

Reducing consumption slashes energy usage (energy to make new products, energy to maintain these products, etc.) and is the most effective way to divert waste by not producing it in the first place. An easy way to reduce consumption, especially in an era ruled by technology, is to ‘skip a generation’. For example, if you own a particular Apple product (ahem, iPhone, ahem), wait until the third or fourth model is released before upgrading. 

Similarly, reusing items where possible eliminates the use of energy and resources needed to create new items and, again, diverts potential waste from landfills. Here’s an easy one: if you frequent a certain coffee shop, bring a reusable mug instead of using a disposable cup. Heck, most places offer a discount for bringing a reusable container. I’m not a coffee drinker myself, but I do try to bring reusable containers whenever I order takeout. You may even be familiar with UHN’s Virtual Swap Room, in which staff can post items they no longer need but other staff may find useful. This is a great application of the ‘Reuse’ principle.

Unfortunately, not everything is reusable, and this is where recycling kicks in. When you can, try to buy something recyclable, compostable or something packaged in recyclable material. Our operating rooms continue to purchase supplies with less packaging and wrapped in recyclable plastics where possible. And to bring it full circle, they reduce waste and help third world countries by donating unused supplies via Operation Green.

If you’ve ever thought of retiring your garbage can, there’s a great documentary out called “The Clean Bin Project” which follows the daily challenges of a couple attempting to produce no garbage for an entire year. You can learn more about the film here or check out the main website here.

Now, of course you are going to generate waste—this is a fact I have no intention of disputing or condemning. And that’s the best part of my job: occupational necessity. There are always ways to reduce waste, be it in the workplace or at home. This doesn’t mean you should stockpile anything and everything or your home will be featured on Hoarders. But continue recycling where possible, and let’s revive the other even more important R’s.

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