Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

Last Bag Standing

By Cam Mather

I’m pretty proud of this picture.

I know. It’s a landfill. Or “dump” as we call it. So what’s the big deal?

Well it’s that pink bag. It’s mine, and I’m very proud of it. I’m not proud of the fact that I make garbage. I am proud of the fact that my bag stands out from the crowd.

So here’s the scoop. Years ago, when our daughters were young and we lived in suburbia, Michelle and I had our garbage down to about 4 cans a year. Since we moved to the country it’s crept back up a bit, but it’s still pretty low. I go to the dump about 3 or 4 times a year, usually because  the recyclables are piled so high that they are preventing me from closing the garage door.

The township that I live in, like every other municipality on the planet, has a problem with landfills getting filled up. Oh we fill them up no problem, but once they’re full, it’s next to impossible with current environmental laws to open another one. So a while back the township instituted a bag fee, so that you had to purchase special bags from them, to use for your garbage. The money from the sale of these bags went towards paying for the waste disposal program. At first the bags were pink, so it was pretty easy to confirm that you had indeed purchased your bags from the township.

Then the folks who look after our landfills realized that some people were still putting recyclable items in with their trash. Who does that? Well, apparently some people do. So they announced that the pink bags would be phased out and they would begin selling clear bags so that they could see what was in your trash.

For some reason this really bothered me. I’m not trash bag proud, but I kind of felt like this was an invasion of my privacy. I’ve been recycling metal and glass for 30 years now, long before there was curbside pick up. So I have no concern that they’d find something inappropriate in one of my bags. I just somehow found it somewhat intrusive.

At the time of the switchover from pink bags to clear bags they also decided to increase the price from $1/bag to $2/bag. As soon as I heard this I went right into The Corner Store and bought out all the pink bags that they had left. I think I got about 30 of them.

Over the years I’ve watched as the percentage of pink bags to clear bags at the dump decreased. And then last Saturday, I WON! I was the last bag standing! I had the last pink garbage bag in the township!

OK, it’s a small thing, but I still chuckled about it. I am constantly finding proof of some of the ideas I put forward in my book “Thriving During Challenging Times.” The beauty of being out of debt and having some cash around is that you can take advantage of situations as they arise. Someone strapped for money might have said “I’m not going to ‘invest’ $30 in garbage bags, because I only use one a week.” I, on the other hand, decided that even though I only use 5 or 6 a year, I might as well load up. And now, years later, I had the gratification of tossing the last pink garbage bag into my landfill.

Our dump, like many, also has one of those archaic “No scavenging” by-laws. These by-laws are usually enacted to discourage people from taking any of the recyclable items, such as aluminum cans that can be sold for a profit. The municipality sells these items to help pay for the landfill. I think these anti-scavenging by-laws are bogus. If they want to extend the life of a landfill they should encourage scavenging to keep as much stuff out of the landfill as possible.

I have rarely made a trip to the dump without coming home with something. I wear my steel-shanked work boots when I go to the dump. Sometimes I bring home more than I have taken in. Old windows, sinks, chairs, cross country skis, Christmas decorations…it boggles my mind what people can afford to throw out. This is one of the reasons why Michelle is happy that I only need to go to the dump a few times a year.

Now I have to be clandestine about my scavenging. I have to move fast and act nonchalant as I’m grabbing stuff. “What? Me? No, I came with that chair, just decided to take it back with me. What? The skates? Well I threw them out here then changed my mind so I’m just retrieving them.” Recently I came home with a toilet and pedestal sink. They were both in excellent shape. I guess someone changed their decorating/colour theme?

Our local landfill needs to have a big area where people can take all the stuff they feel has some life left in it, so that other people who can use it will feel comfortable taking it. These types of places are becoming quite common. When I was on The City of Burlington’s Sustainable Development Committee we supported the opening of “The Re-Use Center” ( where people take all sorts of stuff. Saturday afternoons are their busiest times, as people bring in all the stuff they didn’t’ sell at their garage sale. When I lived in Burlington, The Re-Use Centre was my favourite place to shop. And it’s still around diverting tons of waste from the landfill.

I wish I had more time to devote to this issue. I just can’t these days. The time is coming when the landfill will be one of the most popular places around. For now, we can all just head to the dollar store and load up on stuff that will end up there eventually.

* * * * * * *

Don’t forget that our new book “Little House Off the Grid” is now available! We are offering FREE shipping within Canada and the U.S. at our website. Please go to to order any of our books or DVDs. Thanks!


1 Comment

  1. Doone

    On Saturna we have the “Free Store” where people take their cast-offs to be picked up by someone else. It works so well, I don’t know why other places don’t start their own!

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