Before the Blue Box

Putting out the recycling for the first time in Winnipeg in 1995.

When the City of Winnipeg introduced its recycling program in 1995, they gave homeowners a blue box and encouraged them to separate specific items like newspaper and milk cartons they would have normally put in the garbage. The box went out on the curb beside the garbage cans each week for pickup. More recently, as it has in many cities, the effort has grown into a cart collection program, with a blue cart for recycling and a black one for garbage. Recycling options are also provided at depots and in many businesses.

The Dickies From Gunton: Canadian Brothers in Two World Wars never had a blue box, but like others in their day, they did their own version of what we now know as reducing, reusing, and recycling.

Of humble means, the family always aimed to put everything they could to good use. For example, a crumpled page of the newspaper wiped away the vinegar and water to clean windows and mirrors without leaving any streaks. Strips of paper helped to light a fire. Egg shells and other organic food waste were added to the soil to nourish the garden where they grew their own vegetables. Wool socks with holes in them were repaired by darning. Cloth and unworn clothing was repurposed and sewn into new clothing for the children. Much of what little remained of household garbage and lawn waste was burned out back in a big metal can. Or they took it away themselves to the local dump. Those former dumpsites are now parks.

Conveniences we know today, and are now trying to replace for the sake of the environment, did not exist. For example, there were no disposable diapers to conveniently throw away only to linger in the landfill for many years. Instead, cloth was used, and washed and re-used in a way that seems novel and environmental today.

People drank water from the well, and later, from the tap. They hauled water from the tap down the street, and eventually they had their own water on-tap in their homes. The idea of drinking bottled water was unimaginable, and later when it first became available on store shelves, was simply considered much too extravagant.

There were no plastic bags and plastic bottles. Leaves and yard waste was raked up right into the garbage can, or gathered in paper bags. They had metal garbage cans and they filled them directly, sometimes wrapping wet garbage in old newspaper and then tossing it. Milk, when they did not get it from the cow themselves, came in a glass bottle. So did pop like Coca Cola. They paid a deposit on the bottles and returned them to the store so they could be washed and reused by the bottler. 

It’s just what people did.