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.

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10 Responses to “Last Bag Standing”

  • Susanne:

    Hi. I too am a dumpster diver. At least on the web any how! We have Freecycle, where you can get others cast offs and share yours. I have gotten kitchen cabinets, bath sinks, flooring you name it. I would suggest to those who have styrofoam anything to mow it with your mower and mix it with your compost. The itty bitty chunks are mini aerators for your soil. The same goes for cardboard it can be chuncked and minimized by the best of mowers. Cardboard and some plastics can also line the walkway where you you would put chips and leaves to keep weeds out. Let’s go dumpster divers!

  • In answer to Deanna’s question and Susan’s interest…. We have been producing so little garbage for so many years that it is actually hard for me to pinpoint what we do differently than others! Probably the biggest thing is that we compost ALL kitchen scraps. Since we are vegetarians, it’s quite easy to compost everything without worry. We also don’t purchase a lot of “disposable” products like paper towels, paper napkins, kleenex, etc. We use rags and cloth napkins and handkerchiefs. We choose products with the minimal amounts of packaging and will forgo an item if we feel it is overpackaged. The bulk of our garbage is packaging… anything that can’t be recycled (and unfortunately our local recycling centre doesn’t take some things like waxed cartons, etc.) When Cam says that he goes to the dump 3 or 4 times a year, it isn’t because we have a lot of garbage… it’s usually because we have run out of space to store our recyclables! Hope this helps! ~Michelle~

  • Ruthie:

    A friend of mine introduced me to shopping at the local landfill every sunday when its closed. we park nearby and proudly walk in past the security cameras. we are known now, to any weekend security guards, who let us continue our scavenging. We have an old baby carriage and a wagon hidden in the bush we use to truck stuff out. Its a long walk, and we get plenty of exercise carrying out tables and lumber and doors and chairs and lawnmowers and powertools and bikes and chainsaws and skates and brass planters and so many valuable things. i cannot tell you how much we enjoy this. every time we go its christmas morning. there are many eagles and bears. if we cannot manage to carry something prized, we say “easy-come easy go” and have learned how to be grateful for what we can carry. no matter what mood I’m in or whether i’m ill or not, its always a good day to go to the dump. its a shame they bulldoze the stuff before people can pick it over.

  • I too would like to know how you have lowered your garbage output. We have two teen girls and I do recycle and compost but I have a full garbage can of junk every week. I guess it is full of meat wrappers, styrofoam and stuff I can’t recycle. Probably old leftovers too that I wont feed the chickens because there is something in it that isn’t good for them. I don’t know so how about a tip or two.

  • Gil:

    Our land trust had a pot-luck. We used dishes, mugs, etc from our “Take It Shoppe” at the landfill. Washed and returned them afterward. Also used cloth napkins. Very minimal use of paper or plastic to end up in the landfill.

  • Cathy:

    We have Habitat for Humanity Re-Sale stores in Washington, donate your re-usable construction/remodel materials, get a tax credit. I bought these materials and made a chicken tractor.

    Garbage dumps are off limits due to health hazards like personal medical waste, illegal toxic dumping, Meth IV drug user syringes etc.

    When I was a child I got to spend a few weeks each summer with my grandpa who managed the “City Dump” in Jacksonville, Oregon. It was two weeks of treasure hunting….not now days.

  • queen of string:

    I so wish they did a reuse centre here. We send everything we can to the thrift ( goodwill) stores, but most seem not to. I nearly cried recently watching a guy pile a whole trailer full of kids toys into the dumpster. I had to invent a back story to make it acceptable in the end! There are so many times that there’s something in the dumpster that has life left in it.

  • Thank you for this reminder! This is a great idea.

  • sher: This is a worldwide orginization. Main purpose is to keep stuff out of landfills.

  • Deanna MacDonald:

    Would love to know how you kept your trash output so low, even with small kids. I feel pretty good when a week goes by and I don’t put anything out, but there are always ways to improve!

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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