Steps forward or backwards?

It recently has come to our attention that the Northwestern Ontario Recycling Program is in danger of cancellation, and this concerns us greatly.
The information we have received is that the Ontario government, under Mike Harris, had made a commitment to fund 50 percent of the cost of operating the program. But just before Christmas, they announced their share of the cost was going to be deferred until the year 2001.
For the time being, this would leave municipalities–which already are staggering under previous downloading of financial responsibilities in the areas of education, welfare, and health care–responsible for coming up with the funding for the program.
A recent telephone inquiry to a board member of the recycling program revealed there currently are only five recycling trucks in operation in all of Northwestern Ontario. While one of them is fairly good running condition, the other four are in need of replacement.
With this added burden, it would be very difficult for municipalities to handle the operational costs.
The NORA board will be meeting in Kenora on Jan. 19 in order to discuss the fate of our recycling program. Although cancellation would be its least popular decision, if the Ontario government does not come through with the funding, this may be its last resort.
It is important to appreciate the success of our recycling program and we should all be proud of it. In fact, our program covers the largest geographic area in Canada and offers recycling services to many remote areas. However, most of these areas are not legally responsible for recycling.
When the NDP was in power provincially, they passed legislation making only municipalities with populations over 10,000 people responsible for recycling. By these standards, in all of Northwestern Ontario, there are only three municipalities or towns which have to recycle.
Projecting this into the future, if the recycling program was to be shut down for any length of time, it is seriously doubtful it would ever recover its initial momentum again.
For this reason, we cannot allow it to be discontinued. Recycling programs are of great importance, not only environmentally, but economically. It has been researched that recycling our wastes creates six times as many jobs as does land-filling and incineration of our wastes (The Green Consumer 1998)
As we enter the new millennium, we should all be thinking very seriously about the state of the planet. When our waste goes to the garbage dump, it stays there–and it stays there for a very long time. For example, Styrofoam takes as many as 10,000 years to bio-degrade. Materials such as aluminum and glass takes hundreds.
People argue that incineration is an alternative but even this emits harmful toxins into the air, depleting our ozone layer, and leaching harmful chemicals into our water tables. What legacy are we going to leave for our children if we continue accumulating garbage?
Let us not disregard the importance of paper recycling. It is often a concern in timber-based communities that recycling is a threat to industry. But not recycling is the threat. We must realize we cannot continue to draw from a finite resource, such as timber, perpetually. At one point, we will run out.
However, recycling paper will alleviate some of the strain on the resource while still contributing to our economies.
In fact, “the production of a tonne of paper discarded waste paper requires 64 percent less energy, needs 58 percent less water, results in 74 percent less air pollution and 35 percent less water pollution, saves 17 pulp trees, reduces solid waste going into landfills, and creates five times more jobs compared to producing a tonne of paper from virgin pulp wood.” (The Green Consumer 1988).
It is no secret the Ontario government’s record of environmental protection is atrocious. In fact, it has been stated that, in all of North America, only the state of Texas has a worse record for environmental protection than Ontario.
If we look around us, we see other provinces have far superior environmental standards than our own. Having recently returned from Winnipeg, we were more than impressed by the large, and colourful, billboards everywhere and the signs on buses which proclaimed, “If you’re not recycling, you’re throwing it all away.”
This statement was reinforced by the image of two hands cradling the planet.
I find it shameful other provinces are successfully running recycling programs similar to ours, with fantastic support from the government, when our own government seems to put the environment on the back-burner.
Recently, the federal government made a commitment to investing in the futures of deserving young Canadians. This new endeavour, called the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, will see an initial endowment of $2.5 billion to be allocated to Canada’s youth scholars over the next decade.
In light of this substantial financial investment in the future of our youth, one cannot help but question the reasoning of a provincial government which, at the same time, discourages youth from pursuing their goals.
I am a student in my OAC year at Fort Frances High School. Since grade nine, I have had the goal of increasing environmental awareness in my school and my community. Eearlier this year, a partner and I endeavoured to initiate an extensive recycling program in the high school.
Currently, we have blue boxes placed in all the major traffic areas, faculty offices, and in many classrooms. We are responsible for recycling glass, paper, aluminum, and plastic containers. So far, our recycling program has met considerable success and I am extremely proud of the support offered by both students and staff.
Later this year, we also plan to increase our efforts by holding environmental awareness activities such as a community clean-up and a tree-planting initiative. This program has required a considerable investment of time and energy, and it greatly saddens me to realize that it is in jeopardy.
This is where we need the public’s help. We must speak out about the importance of the recycling program to our northern communities now, or risk losing it forever. This is our future. Please help us to preserve it, and ultimately our planet, by writing to our local MPP Howard Hampton and to Mike Harris’s office.
We must let them know we will not allow our recycling program to be compromised. We must ensure that the first steps taken into the new millennium are ones taken forward, and for a better world, not steps taken backwards.

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