Wednesday, May 27, 2009

10 ways to survive a garbage strike

There's a serious chance that my city, Toronto, will have a major garbage strike this summer. The last one was in 2002. It was a long, smelly one in the middle of a hot summer. Windsor is in the midst of a very long one.

Garbage strikes are more than an inconvenience, they're a health hazard. But they're also a good time to take stock of what we're throwing out and look for ways to clean up our act. With that in mind, here are some tips on surviving a garbage strike. What ideas do you have? I rent part of a house with a yard, so I'm particularly interested in hearing how these strikes affect people in high-rise apartments. Let's turn the comments section here into a running list of ideas on how to beat the stink!

1. Stop eating meat.
This is easier for the vegetarians, and there's are good reasons why most of us should cut our meat consumption, anyway. But in a strike it's a really good idea. Rotting meat scraps are some of the smelliest stuff we throw away. They're also the most likely to attract rats and create a genuine health hazard.

2. Get composting.
If you have a back yard, get a composter. In Toronto, the city sells them for $15. We're getting a second one because of the volume of garden and rabbit-related organic matter we produce. The first one has, in the past year, consumed enough material to fill many garbage bags. In apartments, consider vermiculure. That is, the fine art of worm composting. If you have kids, they'll love you for it.

3. Freeze!
For a short strike, put the smelly stuff in plastic bags (you may have to conveniently forget your cloth shopping bags one day to get some), tie them up and toss them in the freezer. You could save a little energy too, as food scraps have greater thermal mass than air, and so will hold the cold better.

4. Time for cloth.
As a parent, I washed a lot of cloth diapers. It's not that horrible an experience. They are a significant expense, though, so plan for it to be a long-term solution. In Toronto, disposable diapers can go in the Green Bin for composting. But in a garbage strike, they're going to get ripe awfully fast. I'd rather do an extra load of diapers every day or two than have a mountain of dirty disposables sitting in my living room! (Or, if laundry facilities are inconvenient or far away, hire a diaper service to do the washing for you.)

5. Reduce.
Easy to do. Look for products with less packaging. Buy fruit loose and avoid those clamshell containers - they're not recyclable in my city, anyway. Plastics are relatively easy to store, as they won't start to smell, but all the same, they're some of the bulkiest stuff to go in the bin.

6. Re-use.
A lot of our "waste" is quite usable. A lot of house-related stuff, from the end of a roll of tar paper to 2x4s and even toilets, can find a new home through places such as Habitat for Humanity's Re-Store. There are also places to bring partial cans of paint (because really, how long could you live with the beige your landlord painted all the walls?), furniture (checked out Value Village or Goodwill lately?), and so forth.

7. Double-bag.
If you can't do anything but throw something potentially stinky away, double-bag it. That will help keep the smell down and help prevent rodents from attacking the trash.

8. Postpone.
Now might not be the time to clear last year's freezer-burned Thanksgiving leftovers out of the freezer. You might also want to hold off on projects likely to create a lot of waste.

9. Use the phone book.
Find the numbers for by-law enforcement officers who handle illegal dumping. Garbage strikes lead people to do some stupid things, like toss their trash into local ravines. This is a dangerous, messy and downright uncivilized thing to do. If you see it happen, call the authorities. Write down the license plate number of the perpetrator.

10. Get out of town.
Yes, a garbage strike is a good time to go on holiday. You won't build a pile of waste in your backyard and you won't have to endure the stench of the heap being stored at the local park. Grab a tend, catch a train up to a nice provincial park and do some backpacking. Or take a bus up to the beach. If you're driving, maybe go visit your uncle's farm...and ask if you can make use of one or two of the garbage tags for his municipal pickup while you're at it.

While you're out in the country, take a deep breath, enjoy the clean air and try to remember the really crappy days that some freezing guy came and took away your stinky old diapers, turned a blind eye to that extra bag you'd set out, or loaded your old couch into the truck without complaint. And try to remember that, one day, the strike will end.

In the meantime, add your ideas in the comments section below.


Anonymous said...

I'm particularly interested in hearing how these strikes affect people in high-rise apartments. They may not be, at all.

The garbage bins for some apartment buildings aren't picked up by the city - it's done by a private contracted service. At least, that's how it worked during the strike before last (I think), for my building. The biggest problem we had was having people in houses around our building tossing their garbage in our bins, and filling them up.

Now, we were a low rise (3 floors, about 50 units), but I doubt that we were alone in our setup.

In the case of a strike, it may be that every building that can contracts it out separately. That would make sense - it's hard to rent units when there's garbage in the hallways, and bugs and pests can be enough of a problem without garbage everywhere.

Lynne said...

For those who are nervous about starting a vermicomposter, it's really a great solution for composting indoors. I had the verimcomposter from our Guide unit for a while. I kept it in the kitchen, and there were no bad smells. It just smelled like dirt. To keep fruit flies out, we glued a fine screen to the inside of the lid. Here's a link to a site that I found very helpful.

KarenInTo said...

Another KarenB heard from. I've been reading articles lately by people who've stopped shopping for a week, delved into their freezers and pantries, and actually cooked meals with the ingredients they found. One writer ran out of fresh fruit and vegetables in the first few hours. I believe I could live happily with my frozen fruits and veggies, dried whole wheat pasta, whole grain cereals and flours, dried beans, peas, and lentils, and a couple of tetra cartons of hemp milk (the hemp milk is, um, kind of mushroom coloured, and kind of mushroom tasting too, but still). The point being that for at least one week you won't be tossing much, if anything, into the garbage.

KarenInTo said...

While at Home Depot the other day I saw dropoff bins for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and long fluorescents, and HD is also taking your partly used cans of paint. IKEA takes your used batteries as well. Whether we have a garbage strike or not, these are some items that SHOULD NOT go in the garbage under any circumstances.

And please, please don't pour used motor oil or other automotive fluids, extra paint, contaminated water (like from washing paint brushes), banned lawn chemicals, or any thing else down the storm sewers outside your house. In Toronto, it goes right into Lake Ontario.

Andrew Au said...

For anything that I can’t compost (meats) I bury them in the backyard. I get a 5 gallon bucket (that hold chlorine pucks- free from any swimming pool contractor), cut out the bottom, dig a hole in my back yard and bury it almost all the way up. I pack around the bucket tightly with soil so no odour can seep out. The lid is lockable so raccoons can’t open it. Besides, as long as the whole contraption is airtight there should be no problem.

mariko said...

I've been doing worm composting since I moved into an apartment the last 2 years. For the most part it's been a very good experience! In case anyone's interested in learning, Gerrie the Worm Lady is coming to Toronto this week: July 28-30, 2009. go to