To say Noreen Taylor is passionate about the environment is a bit of an understatement.
Few others would willingly sort through people’s leavings at the Oak Bay Tea Party to ensure the garbage is in fact garbage, and can’t be otherwise recycled or composted.
Specifically, Taylor is adamant about the need to reduce the amount of garbage we create, through more informed choices, increased recycling and composting.
“It’s a passion, I might say,” Taylor says, noting that in fact she enjoys two passions – environmental issues and animal rights.
A hairdresser for 45 years, including many of those as a business owner in Oak Bay, in 1999 Taylor turned to masters studies at Royal Roads University, exploring leadership and training. That led to a simple yet profound realization: “I just don’t like garbage,” she says.
In addition to spending several years with the Oak Bay Environment Committee, a few years ago, she turned her attention to one of the community’s most popular events, the Oak Bay Tea Party.
She had only attended once before and was concerned about the overflowing garbage cans and what was put in them, she says. Closer inspection revealed about 80 per cent of what went in the garbage was in fact compostable – such as partially eaten food and napkins.
A further 10 per cent was returnables – bottles and cans – and about five per cent recyclables. Very little was actual garbage.
The solution? The volunteer-run committee flipped it around and removed garbage cans. Today, tea partiers find compost bins and returnable collection containers. After on-site sorting by Taylor, with a few volunteers, the compostable items are removed by a private company and turned into compost.
Set up under a tent in the parking lot, “I sort through it and pull out what needs to be pulled out so it’s very efficient,” she says. “I hate going through garbage too – it’s not a fun thing – but when I can see all this stuff that’s going to compost, it’s all worth it.”
While she doesn’t know the cost to the district to dump the event’s garbage previously, she says it was in the thousands of dollars. Last year the same fee paid to the dump was just $25.25, reflecting the vast amount of “garbage” redirected away from the landfill.
Also president of her Newport Avenue co-op, Taylor has worked to expand the opportunities to recycle and compost at the residential level too.
“The biggest challenge is education,” she says, understanding that her passion isn’t everyone’s. “It’s being patient with people. Education is slow but once people are educated there’s no reason for them to go back.”
On an individual level, “for me, reduction is No. 1,” she says, noting that moving from a three-bedroom home to a bachelor suite brought to light the value of simplifying. Faced with a potential purchase, “I look at whether I need it, how it’s packaged. I don’t think of it as restricting myself, I look at it as (simplifying).”
In addition to an ongoing consciousness around her purchases, Taylor also regularly reviews what she has, looking at what no longer is a must. Perhaps that book she couldn’t part with is now destined for a new home via a secondhand shop, for example. “Nothing goes in the garbage.”
She does love art, though, and with more pieces that walls, Taylor rotates favourites, storing those not in current display in a small storage area.
In an ideal world – and with a lottery win under her belt, Taylor says with a laugh – she’d love to create a “green” house, using concrete construction, rainwater collection and grey water reclamation – embracing the best practices of environmentally conscious building.
Food security is another topic of interest, both from the transportation costs to the environment, and the idea that in a significant emergency, Islanders need to be able to feed themselves, says Taylor, who volunteers at Serenity Farm, a community partnership in Saanich providing therapeutic food growing opportunities for people who have challenges such as mental illness and addictions.
On a community level, she would like the District of Oak Bay to adopt a zero-waste policy. It’s happening more at events, but she’d like to see council take lead.