We trash too much good stuff, Steve Desroches
I have written before on the city’s upcoming waste management plan. There are great expectations across Ottawa on the plan. Two communities in the capital’s west end have growing landfills as neighbours and ghastly gateway features. We live in a world that adopts disruption technologies and pushes for meaningful change on causes like the environment and social justice. With this in mind, there will be disappointment if the garbage plan features familiar and ho-hum steps to do more of the same. Living and working at home has magnified what we see on our neighbourhood streets. I am frequently shocked at the amount of reusable goods left at the curb on garbage day – functional goods needlessly condemned to the eternal fate of landfill. We have all seen usable furniture, bikes and toys cast by the wayside. There needs to be a broader strategy to dispose of useful second-hand goods if we are going to do better. The new waste plan should address how our city can facilitate and support the secondary goods market. The sale of used goods in Canada is big business. A recent report estimated that the second hand economy in Canada was a $27.3 billion industry with a record of steady growth in past years. This sizable statistic is not hard to imagine given the popularity of social media and web-based classified ads and the growing popularity of retail thrift and consignment stores. Thrift is now mainstream business. While some sales are primarily for profit other thrift revenues support local charities. With these current trends in mind, I would suggest a few ideas for the City of Ottawa. First, appoint a volunteer advisory thrift committee or czar to help promote, champion and coordinate thrift sales and donations in Ottawa. The city should facilitate the distribution of reputable donation bins and ensure that there are clean and convenient donation options in every corner of the city. The municipality should also encourage residents to leave identified reusable items at the curb for free pick up. We should embrace the notion that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Many consciencious residents already take steps to label give away products for free road-side pickup. We need to support the notion, already popular among Canadian youth, that the thrift and second hand markets are good for our community and environment. There should be no shame in shopping in the thrift district. In fact, we should understand that the second hard market is a key plank in building an affordable city with clothing and household goods available to low-income families. The City of Ottawa should pilot temporary thrift markets in suitable locations in the same way that farmers markets are popular across the city. We should find a way to enable small scale and locally sourced flea markets especially in areas where the need is greatest. Like it or not, there are profit-oriented thrift and consignment businesses and we should leave it up to residents to donate where they choose. There has been a great deal of well-placed moral anguish over food waste and the steps government, industry and consumers should take to better to address hunger and food security. The same level of righteous outrage needs to inspire our efforts to eliminate unnecessary waste and help the population of unseen residents who struggle. It follows that if you need food you likely need other household goods for your family. It is therefore fitting that the nation’s capital should lead the way in waste diversion and step up with a thoughtful and coordinated thrift strategy to serve both environmental and social objectives.
Steve Desroches is a former City Councillor and Deputy Mayor. You can follow him on Twitter at @SteveDesroches