Our Role as Good Citizens

by Benoît Bleau (translation Catherine Stratford) (October 2018)

What did you think of the summer we’ve had? Heat waves, drought followed by very heavy rainfall, and finally tornadoes! We are often reminded of climate change in our daily lives. It is becoming harder and harder for climate-sceptics to deny this change. I find it really shocking to see how our politicians avoid addressing this important problem. Isn’t it up to them to take decisions to protect their citizens?

Facing such an important problem, we have two choices: to throw up our arms in defeat, or try to do our part in helping to solve the problem, even if we feel that our individual efforts may not have much influence in view of the amplitude of the situation stressed upon us by specialists. But as they say, as long as there is life, there is hope!

So, what exactly can we do to help the situation? “Think Globally, Act Locally” as they say. The main cause of increased greenhouse gases is indeed human activity. The good news, is that if we are a part of the problem, we can also be a part of the solution! We all have a role to play in reaching a solution, by changing the way we do certain things. Every little bit of help counts!

In the April 2018 edition of Info-Hemmingford, Jeff Turner mentioned that the greatest source of greenhouse gases is Transportation. Greenhouse gases are also emitted from our landfill sites. Organic matter (such as leaves, table scraps, grass clippings, garden refuse and sludge, etc.) when buried with non-organic materials, find themselves in an anaerobic environment, thus creating methane (CH4), during their decomposition, a greenhouse gas which is 21 times more powerful than CO2.

In 2013, the Quebec government took the decision to ban all organic matter from landfill sites by the year 2020 (PACC2020. pdf). Most municipalities in Quebec have made the move to adopt such measures in their municipal services. In most cases, this involves a third waste-bin, the brown bin, which collects all organic matter. You have probably noticed the brown bins in Montreal and in other municipalities. Organic matter is collected and then brought to a special center where it is composted or bio-methanized. (This procedure is a biological treatment of organic waste matter that uses fermentation in the absence of oxygen. This operation creates a biogas that contains methane and that can be used as a source of energy.)

In our community, our elected officials have decided, for the moment, to go with the status-quo, counting on citizens to compost their organic waste on their own on their properties. This may be the best solution for four reasons. First of all, it would greatly reduce the quantity of waste that we send to the landfill site. As a general rule, compostable materials account for 50% of our actual waste. If we consider that another 45% can be recycled, the quantity of garbage left to send to the landfill would be less than 10% of our actual waste! Secondly, the greenhouse gases created by the transport of organic matter to specialized composting centers, would no longer be necessary as every resident would compost their own organic waste. It would no longer be necessary to bury the organic waste materials or to bring them to a specialized composting center. Thirdly, as citizens would be in charge of their own composting, the chance that toxic substances might find their way into the organic matter, would be reduced. This is a problem encountered in some of the special composting centers. Compost issued from such centers at times contains all kinds of substances that one would really not want to put in one’s garden.

Finally, everyone would have access to rich fertilizer that would benefit their flower and vegetable gardens. But for such a strategy to succeed, the participation of residents is necessary as well as support from the municipality, in the form of training and access to proper equipment.

Are we ready to take on this challenge? Several of us already compost our organic waste. To what degree is the municipality ready to support such a program? It is up to us to let the municipality know what we want for the future of our little part of the planet. Send your comments to us at envir.hemmingford@gmail.com