101 Days, 101 Strangers, 101 Stories: Day 54

Today, we went on a field trip to the Waste-to-Energy facility in Burnaby. They produce energy from our garbage, recycling our waste but depending on it to thrive and releasing toxins in the process.

It was an interesting place to visit. Here in Vancouver, we’re lucky enough to be able to throw our garbage into a bin and never see it again. But to see the vast accumulation of it all in one place was… smelly. And overwhelming to the senses. It astounds me that we can throw our garbage away without really knowing where “away” is.

At the facility I met Helmut – our tour guide and waste engineer who has been working at the facility for 27 years. He is my stranger of the day.

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Helmut is from Germany. His name means “brave knight”. He worked as an engineer in Germany for five years, before moving to Canada where he worked for 20 years in Calgary before starting his 27 years here in Vancouver.

“We need to come up with better solutions to fight global warming”, he said, sipping from a Styrofoam cup. Sometimes folks approach big worldly issues like climate change with a systemic-lens, educating others about the issues in a top-down kind of way. Others approach these issues by living the solutions, making sustainable choices in their everyday actions. Some people do both – practicing what they preach in the best ways they can.

Side note: I noticed that a lot of the employees at the facility were drinking from Syrofoam cups. I noticed that one wasn’t, and I asked him if he brought his mug from home. He said that it was provided at the workspace. Knowing this, I asked the employee beside him why he continued to drink from a Styrofoam cup and, pointing to the garbage being burned in 800 degree Celsius heat, he said, “it keeps that going”.

Back to Helmut, though. He gave me what I thought was some pretty wise advice: “Don’t sit still”. He explained that we must never stop being students in this world, no matter our age or level of expertise. “Never stop learning. Education is key.” When Helmut came to Canada, his engineering degree was discounted so he went back to school to keep his education up-to-date. “Never sit still”, he said once more.

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