Bear in mind: Waste Management

Last year I spent my vacation backpacking through the incredibly vast country of Canada. If you are searching for a land with untouched nature, a large variety of wildlife and nice people, then search no more. You will feel like you are coming home when you visit this beautiful land. No words can really describe all the experiences and sights I fondly remember of the Great White North.

Our main journey took us from the modern metropole of Vancouver to the cold mountaintops of the Canadian Rockies. As soon as we left the big city we started to notice something in streets. Or rather,

Bear Country Sign
Bear Country Sign

we noticed an absence of something in the streets: trash. The rural areas, the smaller cities and the natural parks are all virtually spotless. My friends and I attributed this to the friendly – and apparently well mannered –  people of Canada at first but when we pitched our tent at a local campsite for the first time, we were explained why the Canadians dispose all of their trash when our neighbor stopped by for a chat. ‘are you gonna throw that away when you go to sleep?’ He said, pointing to a bag of half eaten crisps next to our tent. ‘If you don’t, the bears will smell it and come for it tonight’. Our first reaction was to laugh, thinking we were on the receiving end of a well-known local joke directed to naïve tourists. But when we noticed he was serious it all made sense. The

Canadian Bear-Proof Garbage Bin
Canadian Bear-Proof Garbage Bin

Canadians dispose of all their trash in a thorough way because it is a bear country. As we continued our trip, we soon noticed special garbage cans on every street that are designed so that bears cannot get in them and signs everywhere that warned you to dispose of your trash so the bears would not be attracted to it. These things contribute to the state of British Columbia, where this took place, being one of the leaders in sustainable environment management.


This all made me think. The Netherlands is clean country in general but when you look at the rural areas, the forests or the suburban areas, you can see that a lot of trashed has just been tossed in the streets. We as Dutch people do not really face any direct consequence for not disposing waste properly like the Canadians do with the danger of attracting bears. The incentive to dispose waste in a proper way is no more than good manners and a sense of appreciation for a clean world.

But what if we do have a kind of danger that forces us to dispose our waste properly? What if we do have an imminent incentive to throw away all of our trash? I think the dangers of men induced climate change can be framed exactly into this much needed incentive. Of course, throwing a piece of gum in the trash instead of throwing it on the street will not do much for climate change. But it is the mindset of producing less waste and the proper disposal of it that we as a society need. I personally think that the perception of climate change as a threat, as a hungry bear, can be a way of getting people into the right mindset and will lead to a generally more positive way of dealing with waste.

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One thought on “Bear in mind: Waste Management”

  1. Thank you for this original view on waste management. It is interesting that of course, when people are confronted with a direct threat, this is a positive incentive for them to dispose waste properly. However I do think the link to climate change might not be an easy one. Climate change is a very indirect threat in the sense that there are many steps between us disposing our waste properly and the effect this will have on slowing global warming.
    I few years ago, I traveled in New Zealand and I also noticed their wast policy. Even the bins on the street there have separate holes for plastic, paper etc. I think the incentive there is that people take great pride in the beauty of their country. This provides them with a direct reason to take good care of their nature. I think this could also be a reason for people to dispose of their waste better, viewing there surroundings as something beautiful and worth of preserving. I think this could be a more positive type of incentive. However one way may work on one person and the other on another. Maybe both these strategies could be mutually reinforcing.


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