Karen Buck

[This is one in a series of Green Profiles. These profile community members who provide positive examples to follow. Those profiled needn’t be Toronto–Danforth riding residents or even Green Party supporters. If you have suggestions about who to feature, please let us know.]

Karen Buck’s garbage can is bright red. Karen chose it because in our society red means “stop” and “danger” — and that is the message anyone who uses her garbage can should be receiving. The Beaches activist takes waste seriously and she has a household system in place that allows her family to keep 95% of what they could throw away out of the Michigan landfill.

Karen and her husband have conveniently placed containers to divert and contain waste in each of the rooms in their household. The kitchen, where most waste ends up, has the greatest number of conveniently placed containers. Standing at her sink, Karen, without taking a step, can choose between plastics recycling, collecting compostables and making garbage. Since their household only places 3 to 5 bags of waste at the curbside for pick-up (in any one year) you can bet that the red can doesn’t get much action! Paper is recycled close to the kitchen table where newspapers and mail are read. Containers are recycled just around the corner from the kitchen…a mere seven steps away. The success of the Buck family at diverting their waste is in having a convenient “throw it here” system. And when it’s not convenient they have no hesitation in changing the system. Separating recyclables and compostables (and putting hazardous wastes in their place) isn’t meant to take any more time than just throwing things away and really the Bucks have found that it doesn’t.

In the 1970s and 1980s Karen became worried with news of an environment “in trouble”. In 1980 when her daughter was born, Karen felt compelled to do something. In 1987 she joined Citizens for a Safe Environment and has never looked back.

From fighting incinerators to reducing her garbage output, Buck is setting a serious example of how one person can make a difference. Buck says that you can’t simply say “no” to something like an incinerator in your community without saying yes to, advocating for and taking action on all of the “better” alternatives. That’s what she’s doing and that’s the strategy that Citizens for a Safe Environment has always adopted.

Karen doesn’t work alone. She’s president of the board of Citizens for a Safe Environment, Co-Chair of the Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant Neighbourhood Liaison Committee, member of the Implementation and compliance Monitoring committee for the Mediation Agreement and a newly appointed member of the City of Toronto Community Environmental Assessment Team for waste disposal choices. She works with her neighbours in her community and together they have made the difference in how east end Toronto communities are impacted by nearby government and industrial facilities.

In 1989 community actions closed the Commissioners Street (garbage-burning) Incinerator. When given the choice east end Toronto citizens chose recycling and composting over burning and burying their garbage. When given the choice citizens of Toronto chose a goal of Zero Waste and if all households in the east end participated “like crazy” in the City of Toronto combined blue box/grey box recycling program and the green bin we’d almost be there or darn close to it. Karen also said that Todd Pepper, waste manager for Essex-Windsor, audited his household waste for one year and found that with a program like Toronto’s we could be diverting at least 90% from disposal…and that’s a good thing!

Why the Buck household can do even better is that they own a cottage where their recyclables are managed by the District of Muskoka. This is particularly important because Muskoka has the most extensive and longest existing plastics recycling program in Ontario. The Bucks take advantage of this program and recycle plastics that Toronto does not yet include. But Karen should also be given credit for stopping the torrent of plastic grocery bags that used to enter through their front door. She refuses plastic bags at all retail stores and uses her own stylish bags. She says the best bargain in the City is the $5.00 cloth tote sold in the LCBO. Fill it with French sticks, cheese and wine…it makes a wonderful present for the host that invites you for supper…and now that you’ve given them a reusable bag, they, too, can say no to the one-use plastic carry bag!

Karen Buck reminded me that recycling saves energy. 97% of the energy used to make a new aluminum can is saved when it is recycled to make the next aluminum can. As a matter of fact, she stated that 3 to 5 times more energy is saved by recycling than by burning the same waste and trying to recover the energy.

But recycling isn’t the only answer. Some packaging like frozen orange juice containers and chip bags that are made from a number of materials “stuck together” won’t be recycled because there is no one in a household willing to take the materials apart or no recycling market that will accept composite materials. In this case we need serious redesign of packaging…and of products. Source separation into recyclables and compostables is the community’s responsibility but when products and packaging are neither recyclable nor compostable then it is industry that must take responsibility.

Karen Buck is a wonderful example of someone making small steps into a big difference. She works in her own home to make less of an impact on the environment and she works with Citizens for a Safe Environment to make our neighborhoods better. From her home in the Beach Karen Buck says that we all need to participate in solutions that stop waste, save energy and make our communities healthy places to live.

In Toronto and in our community, says Buck, we are able to make a difference with how much waste we put out at the curb. The City of Toronto has invested our tax dollars in the infrastructure that makes it all possible. All we have to do is use the system.

For more information please contact Citizens for a Safe Environment at www.csetoronto.org.

3 responses to “Karen Buck”

  1. Duncan writes:

    Black’s Pond in Waterdown.

    Facebook page: Save Black’s Pond

    We are trying save a pond that has been in the community for 60 years.

    A developer is trying to drain the pond and city is backing down.

    There are species at risk and would like to spread the word to save the ecosystem.

    Kind regards,


  2. Michael de Gruchy writes:

    I was technical director for Citizens for a Safe Environment back in the early 90s. I’d love to hear from Karen or anyone else of where it has gone since.

  3. bruce pope writes:

    call me about this at 647-393-7370

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