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Cathy-Hird-disposal-fullBy Cathy Hird
We've all done it. A little bit of old gas in the jerry can is dumped out on the grass. There are a couple pills left in the prescription bottle, and we dump them down the sink. We know we shouldn't, but it feels like the alternative is too complicated.

So last Saturday, I was proud to be thirtieth in line with another thirty cars behind me when the household hazardous waste disposal event opened. An efficient group of twenty volunteers unloaded the old paint, pesticides and used oil I brought. And the line of cars was just as long when I left, people waiting patiently to safely dispose of things that should not be put in with the ordinary trash.

For the prescription medicines, did you know that you can take them back to the pharmacy any time? And the OPP in our area run a program at least once a year. There is no need to leave them in the cupboard or put them into the water system.

For old electronics, there are now lots of places that take them. The rare earth elements in them can be re-used, and harvesting them from discarded electronics is easier on the environment.

Some stores have bins where we can return items we bought at their store when we've used them up; things like batteries, CFL light bulbs and printer cartridges come to mind.

Not everything is easy. What do we do with a used paint brush? Washing it in the sink puts a bit of paint into the water system, but throwing it out wastes the brush and puts that paint into the landfill. Our water softeners regularly put salt into the water system.

Not every kind of recycling is a clear win. Paper products and aluminum cans are pretty easy to convert back to usable items. But I was recently told that converting used plastics back to something useable takes a ton of water. Companies have to be making money when they reconvert waste to something they can sell for us to reuse, but as a society, are we measuring the energy it takes?

Used clothes are a problem. When the item doesn't fit us but is still in good shape, the thrift shop is a good place to send it. Someone else will look nice in it, and we have several thrift shops in our area. If the item is not in good shape, our choices are more complicated. We can use some for rags at home. We could imitate our grandparents make a quilt, but modern ones usually use new cloth. We can put old clothes in the bins we see around, but much of that is shipped off to developing countries who have their own clothing industries and don't really need our cast-offs.

Although "cradle to grave engineering" does happen, too often we do not ensure that there is a clear plan for disposal for the products we buy. In our households, we too often look only at the narrow slice of an item's life, the part where we use it. How it gets to us we ignore. Where it goes when we dispose of it, we pay no attention to. We hope someone else is attending to those parts of life, but experience shows us that unless as a society we put on the pressure, the methods of manufacture may cut corners, and the disposal will be casual.

It costs more to mine and manufacture in a way that manages waste by-products. Items produced with less chemicals may not look as polished: organic apples have spots, and unbleached paper is not as bright. We may have to pay for disposal as we now do with tires.

That's why the patient line up on Saturday impressed me. People cared enough to spend a chunk of their precious summer weekend to properly dispose of things that are a clear hazard if they get into our water table. They cared enough to store the items safely until the collection day.

Caring for creation is not just a nice idea. It is essential for our health and the health of the world we share with other creatures. It takes attention and energy thought. Looking after the world around us takes effort. It is worthy work, but still work.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.

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