Learning From The Neanderthals – Talkin’ Trash, October 2013

The signs are all there. Doc says I’ve developed a slight astigmatism in my left eye, seems like most of the teams I play hockey against these days are a “buncha kids” and I’m having difficulty telling a Tweek from a Twert. Yup, sounds like it’s time for me to have myself a mid-life crises.

Not to worry – it’s not like I’m going to do anything like jump out of a plane (did that 20 years ago during a previous mid-life crises) or get a fancy car (sure, a Ferrari California looks great in a flood, but with city traffic, it’s really not going to help with my commute)…no, I think I’m going to give up on recycling. Okay, not exactly give up (hey…we’re not talking a revolution here, just a crises…you know, something that would go well with a soundtrack by J Mascis), rather I think, I’m going to shift my focus to the first “R”: reduce.

I mean, there’s evidence that our ancestors were on to the recycling thing 300,000 years ago, so surely it’s time we upped our game, isn’t it?

Let’s look at the numbers. I mean it’s great that UHN recycles well over 12,000 pounds of waste a day, 365 days a year…but that’s because we generate over 33,000 pounds of waste a day. And waste, be it destined for the landfill or the recycling plant, brings a whole lot of environmental stuff, like air and water pollution.

Let’s look at the numbers another way. There are around 16,000 of us UHNers out there…just say each of us purchases a hot, free-range beverage of choice once per day (as if – who can keep it to only one?) for about 45 weeks of the year (allowing for vacation, days that people are just not in the mood – as if – and the fact that I like nice round numbers)…do a bit of math and you’ll see that if every one of us uses a disposable cup for our hot, free-range beverage of choice, and if that cup ends up in the recycling bin every time (as if) it adds up to 3.6 million cups that are being recycled, enough to reach from Toronto to Ottawa if laid end-to-end. Sure, that’s 3.6 million cups that are not going to landfill, but that’s 3.6 million cups worth of pollution and energy that were needed to make those cups, drive those cups to the free-range beverage of choice dispensary, collect and ship those cups for recycling, and finally downcycle those cups.

Here are some more numbers to look at – a recent study indicated that if wasted food was a country, it would be the third largest contributor to climate change in the world.

And just in case that’s not enough, let’s look at the numbers in yet another way. UHN uses over 48 million sheets of paper per year. Now, let’s just say we manage to recycle each of those sheets of paper (as if – our waste audits tell us that as much as 9% of the stuff we throw in the garbage is good ol’ recyclable paper), we’ll save around $22,000 as compared to throwing those sheets into landfill. Now, $22,000 won’t buy you a Ferrari California, but it’s better than throwing away the Hospital’s money. But let’s just say we managed to cut our paper use in half, you know, by double sided printing, copying and just not printing…well, then we’d save around $1.2 million in paper, toner and electricity costs, enough to buy six Ferrari Californias…perhaps to be used for a future mid-life crises.

 

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