Focusing on the problems in front of us

We’ve all heard the comments about Canada being a safe haven for Americans. We’ve seen Americans flee their country after electing President Donald Trump to avoid the heated political climate or deportation. Given our close proximity, comparisons are continuously made between the United States and Canada in terms of our politics, economy, healthcare, news industry and even entertainment. In most cases these days, Canada seems to come out on top.

Statistically speaking, Canada seems better than the United States on many fronts. According to Maclean’s, Canadians live 2.5 years longer than Americans; we’re also six times less likely to be incarcerated. In the United States, 46 per cent of the population obtains a college degree, whereas 59 per cent of Canadians have one.
The World Economic Forum ranks Canadians as the sixth happiest people in the world, whereas Americans rank 13th. The Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index claims Canadians to be the sixth freest people in the world, and Americans are 23rd—even though they boast being the “land of the free.”

When considering these factors, it’s hard not to argue that Canadians are living a better life than their southern neighbours. Yet this mentality can often result in Canada’s problems—of which there are many—being taken less seriously or even ignored.

Take Indigenous issues for example. Canadians and Americans alike closely followed coverage of the Standing Rock protests against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatened Indigenous land and water supplies. Yet when was the last time we checked up on the progress of Canada’s national public inquiry into the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls? How often do we read news stories about the numerous Indigenous communities in Canada living without access to clean drinking water, adequate healthcare or accessible education?

Similarly, from the Ferguson riots in 2014 to the recent comments made by President Donald Trump about “shithole” countries, news stories about racism seem to pour out of the United States, diluting any incidents happening here in Canada. This does not mean the treatment of marginalized groups in our country is any better.

As journalist Desmond Cole once said, “People in Canada generally will do anything to avoid talking about race.” But we need to talk about the fact that, between 2005 and 2015, the number of black inmates in Canadian prisons jumped by 69 per cent, according to The Guardian. In Toronto, 41 per cent of youth in the child welfare services are black, despite representing only eight per cent of the city’s youth population. In 2015, Canadian police recorded 159 hate crimes against Muslims, according to Global News. This was up from 45 in 2012—a 253 per cent increase.

So while Canada may seem better than the United States by comparison, that in no way absolves us of our many shortcomings as a progressive society. We must peel our eyes away from the car crash on the other side of the border, and focus on the road in front of us. We are so caught up in what’s happening on the other side of the highway that we’re creating traffic in our own lane.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth 

Student Life

How to become actively involved in the zero-waste movement

Quebec actress Mélissa de La Fontaine talked about her experience joining the movement

Quebec actress and environmental health advocate Mélissa de La Fontaine talked food waste and consumption during her Conférence Zéro Déchet on March 21 at Université de Montréal.

During the conference, which was held in French, de La Fontaine touched on her experiences living a zero-waste lifestyle and offered tips for people interested in joining the movement.
She talked about her experience moving from Shawinigan to Montreal, and how she started raising her awareness on environmental issues and the rising problem of food and material waste in Canada. She said through her activism, she wants to encourage all Montrealers to make better environmental decisions.
“You should all know that the garbage that we throw daily, it does not disappear. It ends up at landfill sites,” de La Fontaine said. According to de La Fontaine’s research, there are two ways these sites pollute our environment—many non-compostable materials, such as plastic produces methane and well-water. “Methane ends up in the air that we breathe, while well-water is a form of juice that garbage creates, which can end up in our oceans and deeply harm fish,” she said.

De La Fontaine propelled herself in the movement after reading environmental activist Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste. The book helped de La Fontaine become more educated on waste and environmental issues in Canada. The environmental advocate said she believes if everyone made small, regular contributions towards waste reduction in their own homes, it would do a lot of good for the planet. According to a 2016 Huffington Post article “Let’s Work Towards A Zero-Waste Future By Creating A Culture Of Reuse,” people throw out “an average of 4.7 trash bags of clothing every year,” which is equal to 2.6 billion pounds of garbage that goes into landfills per year.

“We do not need to count every piece of garbage we throw out, but rather all contribute according to our personal limits. We all have limits, so it’s not about going to extremes,” de La Fontaine said. She said following a minimalist lifestyle is a good way to reduce waste. When you live a minimalist lifestyle, you are dedicated to buying less and focusing on only necessities.

She outlined a four-step technique to limiting waste in urban households. The steps are refusing, reducing, reusing and recycling.

Refusing is about saying “no” to extra, unnecessary items. This includes trinkets organizations tend to give away at conferences. It also includes promotional cards and flyers distributed on the street, or “freebies,” as de La Fontaine called them. “You are telling the organizations to make more of these items, which causes an issue when they use petrol and energy to create them,” she said.

Reducing is about minimizing the purchase or use of household products, among others. Reducing not only saves money but also lowers the demand for certain products that harm the environment, but that also create pollution when they are manufactured.

Reusing is about utilizing items such as bags and containers. De La Fontaine suggested to buy reusable plastic containers and grocery bags that can last for many years and do not cause damage to our planet.

While de La Fontaine said recycling seems fairly self-explanatory, it’s important to do it correctly. Composting is one of the most important waste-reducing processes, she said. About 50 to 60 per cent of garbage being thrown out in Quebec is compostable, according to Statistics Canada.

“I would recommend composting things like fruit peels, which is very easy to do,” de La Fontaine said.

De La Fontaine said she hopes in the next five years, Canadians will start taking serious action towards environmental health, reducing waste and saving the environment from further pollution.

For those interested in finding out more about the zero-waste movement in North America, de La Fontaine highly recommends reading Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste.

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