A neophyte at waste management visits the Island

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110711 Waste Watch

By Pat d’Entremont (guest opinion)

Prince Edward Island is restful. Peaceful. Serene. Beautiful. “Pastoral,” my wife says.

Whenever we’re in P.E.I. — or should I say on P.E.I., as they do in the news — we are not in a hurry. We walk. We bike. Sometimes we drive — slowly.

For two weeks every summer, we stop trying to influence our surroundings, and we let our surroundings influence us. The tide stays the same rhythm no matter which pace we adopt. The cottage is as inviting at 9:05 as it would have been at 9. The TV stays off. The newspapers pile up. The meals are an event, not something squeezed between events. The phone never rings.

On P.E.I., you can be relaxed without being lazy, slow without being plodding, tuned out without being ignorant. I’ve been so relaxed I’ve actually seen the moon move.

For two weeks every summer, we put stress on hold.

Except… when it comes time to throw something away. P.E.I., you see, is big on waste management, and on doing so “correctly”. I’ve seen as many as five bins in one spot, all for different varieties of trash. If memory serves me, these are: “recyclables”, “refundables”, “paper”, “organics”, and “garbage”.

“Recyclables”, “refundables”, “paper”, “organics”, and “garbage”. It’s quite overwhelming to someone who’s not used to it. Thankfully, the locals, with their proper trash acumen, will provide you with helpful memory tools, like “if it was once living, it’s organic!” Ta-da!

In life, what you want to do and what you feel right about doing are often two different things. And these distinctions change at different times and in different places. Situational morals, I call it. At the airport in Halifax, on the way to a business meeting in Toronto, “Garbage” becomes the indiscriminate bucket. Have a look next time you’re there. Garbage is chubby from overeating while its friend Recyclables is weak with hunger.

On P.E.I., on vacation, that doesn’t do. You can tell it doesn’t do because you notice the balance in the bins. People – I imagine some of the same people who stuff the garbage bins at the Halifax Airport – take the time when on P.E.I. to decide what goes where in the throwaway department.

It’s hard to figure out what actually constitutes “garbage”, that fifth and final category. What, in two weeks of pastoral living, could I possibly need to get rid of, that isn’t one of “recyclables”, “refundables”, “paper”, or “organics”? I’ve spent a lot of my summer vacation time actually pondering this question and have come up with this: blown-out light bulbs.

That’s it. I used to think used aluminum foil would also qualify but, no, that’s recyclable. A friendly cottage-landlord tipped me off before I got caught.

It’s a good thing I do become unhurried when I’m on P.E.I., because I’ve on many occasions spent quite a few minutes scratching my head in front of an array of bins such as the ones I’ve just described. Some bins, like those labelled “paper”, are quite easy to figure out. And as if we couldn’t read, those bins have a rectangular slot to provide us with an additional cue.

Yeah, yeah, I got that one from reading the label, no need to look down your nose at me. Tell me about those other bins. What do I do there? Tell me what to do with that plastic container that held the salad. Is that recyclable or refundable? I don’t want to just chuck it in any bin, then have to run away before the trash police swoop down to ticket me.

I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s recyclable, because it has that little triangle with the number embossed on its bottom.

Oh yeah! The number. If you really want to spoil your island vacation, try figuring that one out. I’ve been told, on pretty good Island authority, that a different number on similar-looking containers having similar looking triangles can make the difference between recyclable and refundable. I’m saving that one for a future visit, safe with the knowledge that most any Island judge would probably let me off with community work for messing up on the numbered triangles.

On our last Island vacation, I found myself in front of the five bins with an ice-cream cone I couldn’t finish. I knew the general vicinity and I gravitated to the right, to the organics and garbage district, while a little voice in my head kept saying “remember, if it was once living, it’s organic.”

As I peeled off the paper napkin from the sticky cone and shoved it in the rectangular slot, I started analyzing my trash: Cows ice-cream… Don Cherry flavour… On a waffle cone... With sprinkles…

Was it once living?

Then it started melting, and dripping all over my hand, and I wished I hadn’t thrown away the napkin. I checked for a hidden camera. No, this isn’t Halifax, figure it out. For God’s sake, do the right thing, Man!

Only I wasn’t sure what that was. So I licked my hand and started walking away – slowly.

“I thought you said you couldn’t finish it,” said my wife when I was back at the bench.

“Nah,” I replied. “I just couldn’t see it go to waste.”


Pat d’Entremont is a Nova Scotian who enjoys visiting Prince Edward Island.

Organizations: Halifax Airport

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Halifax, Toronto

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