Fire / Feu



Délibérations sur les déchets

Seulement lorsque l'on prendra conscience de notre responsabilité individuelle, pourrons-nous modifier le modèle actuel de création de déchets. 

Nous vivons dans une société très riche. Nous vivons dans un pays très riche. C'est pourquoi nous pouvons démontrer au monde entier que la richesse peut aussi vouloir dire prendre la responsabilité de nos détritus. 

Si nous pensions à tous les sentiers qui seront suivis par tous nos objets durant et après leur vie utile, ce serait un bien grand pas vers l'allègement de l'empreinte de nos déchets.



















Peter Manchester is the author of:

50 Things to Make
with a Broken
Hockey Stick

Fabrications from
Broken Hockey

Books published by Goose Lane Editions


Reflections on Refuse

Peter Manchester
Painter, Illustrator and Writer
November 2004


he word "recycle" is redundant. Every manufactured article is in a cycle, a continuous downward spiral nosedive. It is in a state of transformation. Losing efficiency, parts, stressing out and ultimately being replaced or broken is part of what it means to be a piece of a mechanism. All of the items in the world that we and our forefathers have made are being recycled, but most are not in the fashion that we deem "responsible".

The old axle thrown out at the back of a farmyard, the hubcap in the bushes at the side of the road hidden from view in a dense thicket, a newspaper page caught in an upward vortex that floats to earth in the next county, a beer bottle thrown from a moving car on a Friday night, the plastic bottle of 2-stroke oil that slips off the side of a boat as an unexpected wave comes by -- all of these are being recycled, albeit in a very slow fashion. A time span that we use to measure the movement of glaciers. They are all breaking down in their own fashion, some more benign than others. Old iron parts seem to melt into oxides. Chrome parts, depending on how vigorously they were coated begin to pit and eventually flake into bits. Glass, given the opportunity, will be crushed into a sand-like consistency. Plastics will break into smaller and smaller flakes, but will remain just that for a very long time. Any trip underwater with a mask and snorkel will see this unfortunate "confetti". It will all be dust again, and it is a natural process, just not fast enough. Our society is in entropy. The energy absorbed in its very existence is greater than its productivity.

As a species we have been adding to the trash cycle for many hundreds of thousands of years and more. We are measured by our discarded items. An archeologist would be completely out of luck without the slovenly habits of the earth's past inhabitants. We have added many layers of soil (trash) to ancient cities by our sloppy discarding methods that can be many metres thick. Seashell middens as big as small hills dot our coast, the result of endless waterside meals being tossed over the shoulder. Towns were relocated due to the overabundance of trash, and the problems it brings in an immediate sense. Eventually though, bacteria makes its way in the heap, reducing all but the most ardently lapidary, to different forms of soil.

A good measure of the wealth of a town is to gauge the output of garbage. A typical African village, well away from large metropolitan areas, will have almost no visible refuse. There is such a premium on all usable goods that even a page from a magazine, especially if it has a photograph, has tangible worth. Cans, paper, bottles and tins all are used again and again until they leak too much or are too brittle for functionality. By contrast, we discard what to them would be untold riches each week. We see no worth in much of what surrounds us, and are glad to see it gone, out of sight. A photograph of the aforementioned village would appear well kept; in fact it is dirt poor.

"Dirt poor." Where did that expression come from? It is actually the basis of all we need to survive. We see no worth in soil. We dump waste in it, wash it away, keep it out of our lives, yet it is the mix that we will become, that we need to grow our crops, that we process for our refined materials. Everything that is organic is partnered with "dirt". It is the supreme mix of nutrients, minerals and elementary life forms. A square metre of healthy soil will hold millions (billions?) of living entities. When we say that we are dirt rich, it will be a sea change.

The collection of trash in our society is a relatively recent service. Up until about a hundred years ago, rag pickers took some of the curbside deposits, other scavengers hauled away what they thought useful, but mostly the horse manure stayed where it fell, house scraps and everything else went out on the street. Slowly it would pile up, adding new layers to the ground level. However, the quantity of trash generated by each household was very small compared to today. Oddly enough, in many cities today it is illegal to glean curbside items that are left for the trash man.


The early settlers on our coast used to collect eggs of seabirds for food. In the spring, boats would be paddled out to offshore islands to collect this bounty. Bird species that are now diminished in numbers were the primary targets of collection. Seagulls are rarely mentioned. Their growth came with open landfills. Seagulls are a reverse indicator species for how much we throw away. Seagulls are everywhere.

Now is the time to reflect on trash. Christmas is over and the landfills are teeming with Styrofoam packing, castoffs and consumer goods that were replaced with newer models. All of it is being picked over by swarms of seagulls. It is only by taking individual responsibility that we can change the model of trash generation. We are a very affluent country. We can show the world that wealth can also mean refuse responsibility.

Here is what I propose. Before you throw anything out, make a list of ten things that object can be used for. You don't necessarily have to do those ten things, just take note of them. Before purchasing anything ephemeral to bring into your home, look for other possibilities in the product (aside from groceries) and its container. By all means, compost as much as you can.

Ask manufacturers to include after-market uses in the initial design. I call this "pre-cycling". If we consider the path all our goods will take in their functionality and afterwards, it would be a great step towards lightening our refuse footprint.