By Hayley Apted
If you follow the UOCCC on social media, you will have seen our new and ever-growing map of sustainable shops and establishments in Ottawa. We want to encourage the use of local, environmentally-friendly resources and to promote disengagement from consumer culture in our community. Most of the map is covered by shops and stores that serve as alternatives to fast fashion and industries—but you may notice that our local library is also on the map, on the corner of Metcalfe street. Oftentimes, when we think about shopping and living sustainably, we think of specialty stores that sell handmade or vegan wares, but sustainability is so much broader than this, and includes places as simple as the library.
Libraries are, historically, a community’s center. They are one of the last remaining institutions that are truly public—by providing a space that requires no financial transaction between consumer and institution. But why is it on our list of sustainable places? On the base level, they are sustainable because they reduce the production of books by, obviously, re-using and sharing their stock. Books, being often a single-use product, usually end their lives in landfills. According to Plant Switch, paper accounts for 40% of the total waste in landfill, much of which comes from books. Although paper should be biodegradable, when it is improperly disposed of and ends up in landfill (underground), it is deprived of oxygen as it degrades, which alters the decomposition process. Instead of turning to compost, it rots, and produces methane gas—one of the most harmful gasses that is warming our climate. Buying books unnecessarily is an environmental detriment not only in terms of production, but throughout the papers whole life.
Further, libraries encourage the sharing of information and tools—not just through books. The Ottawa library runs workshops and programs on sustainability—there is a home-gardening workshop at the end of October, and David Chernushenko, author of environmental justice-driven fiction novel Burning Souls will be speaking at the end of September about his book. The library holds many other events to educate Ottawa about the climate crisis, both on a broad, academic level, as well as on the personal level through promoting lifestyle sustainability. Making the personal choice to “live sustainably” simply isn’t enough to effectively save the environment—we need broad, sometimes radical organization between networks of people. Public institutions dedicated
to change, like the library, provide a space for these networks to grow.
Fighting the climate crisis is not something that can be undertaken alone. Participating in community events and organizations like those through your local library is the simplest and cheapest way to involve and inform yourself on sustainability, right alongside your neighbours.