When I inquired mid-February about the how things were going with our online industry and readership survey, I was very happy to learn from our IT department that over 500 readers had filled in the questionnaire. That’s a great response by survey standards and yields statistically significant results.
Here’s how you, our readers, answered our questions about waste management, recycling and a range of related topics (like what you think of our magazine).
The first thing we asked you was whether or not your local municipality or organization is committed to diverting 50% or more of the waste stream from landfill. Fully 526 people answered this question, 80.4% (or 423 people) saying "yes" and 19.6% (103 people) saying "no." So, waste diversion appears to be a priority in most jurisdictions and organizations.
Next we asked readers if they’re more optimistic now than they were a year ago that their organization or local area will achieve 50 per cent diversion (or a specific waste diversion level) in the near future. The breakdown was similar (74% yes and 26% no), indicating less optimism, but only slightly.
The split was more down the middle when we asked people if their local municipality or organization has adequate local landfill capacity for the foreseeable future: 58.8% said "yes" while 41.2% answered "no." (This obviously correlates to where people live.)
We were pleased to see that 88.2% of survey respondents agree with the statement, "Recyclable materials such as paper, metal, glass and certain plastics should simply be banned from landfill disposal." Only 11.8% disagreed. (Provincial policymakers, take note!)
Systems & service delivery
When we asked readers whether they prefer to see municipal solid waste collected, processed and disposed of through a publicly administered and publicly delivered system, 57% said "yes" and 43% answered "no."
Interestingly, however, when we offered the suggestion "I would like to see the municipal solid waste system administered by the government, but would like to see public and private entities compete for the provision of services such as collection, processing and disposal (i.e., a ‘hybrid’ system)," this struck a chord; 83.6% of readers agree with this idea, and only 16.4% oppose it.
We asked readers whether they think their municipal waste authority should adopt a user pay "Bag Tag" or similar "pay as you throw" system (to charge for each garbage bag set out at curbside) in order to encourage waste reduction and recycling/composting. Just over half (50.1%) agreed, about a third (27.9%) disagreed, and 22% of readers answered that such as system is "already in place" in their community.
With this support for charging people for what they discard, it’s not surprising then that 71% of readers think "there should be a strict limit on how many bags or containers of garbage people are allowed to set out for collection" (with only 29% saying this is not a good idea). But people want reasonableness, too. About half of you (49.8%) think folks should be able to put one bag out for free. A third (33.1%) think the first two bags should be free, and 17.1% think three bags should be allowed free of charge.
Whenever we survey reader opinion, we like to ask about deposit/refund systems for used beverage containers. Interestingly, 69.9% of our readers feel used beverage containers for soft drinks should be collected and recycled primarily through a deposit/refund system (return to retail or depot), not curbside collection; 30.1% disagree. (As an aside, this is how it’s done in most Canadian provinces.)
We next posed an admittedly "leading" question, but the reply surprised us with its force. We asked readers if they agree with the following statement: "I support the idea of collecting intact glass wine bottles via deposit/refund so they can be sterilized and re-used in local wine production and bottling." Fully 511 people answered this question; of them 466 (91.2%) answered "agree" and just 45 people (8.8%) disagreed. Let’s hope the folks at Ontario’s Liquor Control Board (and other such entities) notice this level of support. (Currently, most intact bottles collected are smashed up for recycling.)
Diversion success trumps privacy for most of our readers. 69.2% of you agree that we should use clear garbage bags to assist enforcement of what’s allowed for recycling/disposal; 30.8 per cent don’t like that idea. (What are they hiding?)
Infrastructure, approvals and "who does what"?
Product stewardship is a hot topic these days. (See article about BC’s plan to expand full product stewardship to all packaging and paper on page 38.) 50.1% of readers "strongly agree" and another 40.8% "somewhat agree" with the statement: "Manufacturers and brand owners should pay the full cost of recycling their end-of-life packaging materials, whether they’re collected in a curbside recycling program or via some other product stewardship program." Only 6.2% of you "somewhat disagree" with this, or "strongly disagree" (3%). So it looks like what BC is planning would have support across the country, i.e., having the "stewards" pay the full cost of what’s in the blue box.
Our readers are clear that waste management infrastructure shouldn’t be a political football, evidenced by their 87.6% approval (only 12.4% opposed) of the statement, "Waste management facilities like recycling operations, modern waste-to-energy plants, and landfills are just another form of infrastructure, like roads, power plants and sewage treatment facilities." A similar percentage (81.6% agree, 18.4% disagree) believe "[w]e have fallen being in making adequate investments in waste treatment and disposal infrastructure.
It’s not surprising, then, that even more (a whopping 92.4%) agree that, "Waste management facilities should be highlighted as ‘critical infrastructure’ in all provincial planning processes." (Only 7.6% disagree.)
Opinion was more divided on whether "the federal government should play a much larger role in setting waste management policy." (60.6% agree and 39.4% disagree.) We asked readers to rate the Canadian Council for Ministers of the Environment (CCME) in terms of its performance addressing solid waste issues (e.g., harmonization of standards). 48.6% answered "satisfactory" and 41.5% answered "poor." The outliers were "excellent" (just 3.3%) and "completely inadequate" (6.5%). It appears the CCME is getting an average rating for muddling along. (No surprises there.)
Composting, WTE and technology
Over the 17 years we’ve published Solid Waste & Recycling magazine, we’ve been impressed how the business has evolved from collection and disposal into an increasingly high-tech waste diversion industry. We wanted to measure opinion on things like composting, waste-to-energy (WTE) and new technologies.
We started by getting reaction to the statement, " I believe every jurisdiction should implement source-separated organics (SSO) collection and composting programs for residents." 78.6% agreed; 21.4% disagreed. (This may not mean the minority opposes composting; they might just prefer the backyard kind, especially in rural areas.)
We got a bit more technical (from a policy point of view) and asked readers if they’d support "the use of the CCME Class B guidelines to allow the sale of compost from mixed waste processing or from a ‘dirty’ multi-family SSO stream." Almost three-quarters of you agreed (71.1%); 28.9% disagreed.
We found there’s strong support among readers for waste-to-energy, as long as certain conditions are met. Almost all of you either "strongly agree" (51.7%) or "somewhat agree" (37.8%) with WTE as a treatment/disposal option, "assuming that most organics and recyclable materials are diverted first, and assuming the latest pollution control technology is employed." Only 10.6% "somewhat" or "strongly" disagreed (combined).
"Biomass" is also an important topic nowadays. We told readers that California has embraced the concept of biomass "that views energy recovered from solid waste as a ‘renewable resource’ and therefore positive." Just over half of readers (58.3 %) think we should "more or less adopt California’s approach." About a third (31%) say we should adopt California’s approach "for such things as energy from methane/composting, but not conventional waste-to-energy." 10.6% of you think we should "reject the concept that waste is a renewable resource" entirely.
We framed a similar question in energy terms, asking readers whether they agreed that, "Government energy policy should recognize the potential contribution of waste management facilities in generating renewable or ‘green’ energy (e.g., methane from landfills or in-vessel composting, waste-to-energy plants)." A very high number of you (94.4%) agree; only 5.6% disagree. So, the concept that energy from waste can be "green" is supported by most of our readers, by a wide margin.
Apparently our readers are, therefore, technology fans and give only average marks when asked to rate their "municipal government’s efforts to encourage the testing and adoption of innovative technologies for waste disposal." 48.1% rate their municipality’s efforts as "medium" with only 22.1% rating them "high" and 29.8% rating them "poor."
We asked readers to rate their provincial government’s efforts in the same area, with similar results (ever so slightly worse): 50.6% say "medium," only 10.2% say "high," while 39.2% answered "poor."
It seems our government at all levels could do more to speed up adoption of new waste technologies.
We’ve published many articles about product stewardship and "extended producer responsibility" (EPR) in these pages. We were curious to know what program design our readers favor.
Interestingly, two-thirds of you (66.1%) favor programs in which "manufacturers and brand owners/first importers fund the recycling of e-waste through an industry stewardship/funding organization that sets fees and approves contractors to do the work." (This is how most product stewardship programs in Canada work today.) One third (33.9%) of you favor a more radical program design in which "manufacturers and brand owners/first importers directly fund the management of their e-waste themselves or through contractors, with no industry organization setting a fee and/or handling the material."
Opinion was divided over how product stewardship fees should work. 45.6% of you think a stewardship fee should be displayed "at the cash register." 46.7% believe there should be no explicit fees (to encourage producers to internalize costs). (Only 7.7% of readers think programs should use "hidden fees.") It seems policymakers will disappoint about half of our readers whatever way they go on this.
We weren’t surprised that most (77.5%) of readers believe their province or territory needs "to invest in an anti-litter campaign. (The 22.5% who disagree with this, by the way, aren’t necessarily in favor of litter; they simply mightn’t think it’s the province’s job to fund a campaign.)
There’s definite support among our readers for Canadian jurisdictions doing "whatever it takes to become a ‘Zero Waste’ society." 41.6% "strongly agree" with this idea and a further 46.2% "somewhat agree." Only 7.9% of readers "somewhat disagree" or "strongly disagree" (4.4%). This result suggests that policymakers could push the "pedal to the metal" on the Zero Waste idea.
Trade associations & training
We wanted to know what specific issues they’d like their waste- or recycling-oriented trade association to "focus its lobbying efforts on." 129 people chose to answer this question; they offered a range of ideas that we’ll pass along to the associations. As you’d expect, the range was broad and included such things as this one: "Ban waste, recycle everything. Find ways to make recycling easier. Reduce packaging." And this one: "By 2025 all governments levels should have systems that have ‘designed’ out waste with diversion programs for reuse, recycling and composting achieving 90% or more diversion of wastes from disposal." Some were very specific, such as, "Microwaves should be part of electronic stewardship."
It wasn’t surpising in this digital age that people would "prefer more professional courses, training and certification-type exams" to be offered "online" (73.3%) as opposed to in "a classroom setting" (26.7%). The breakdown was identical in answer to the related question, "I am prepared to pay for training courses offered online, to avoid the cost and time commitment of traveling to an onsite gathering/facility." 156 people also offered suggestions on possible webinar topics, ranging from "how to accurately calculate waste diversion" to "tough and straight talk that compares one manufacturer’s piece of equipment against another." (We’ll share these all the ideas with our trade association partners!)
Solid Waste & Recycling magazine
Finally, we wanted to know how our readers are experiencing our magazine and ask for suggestions. It was gratifying to learn that you think highly enough of our magazine to share it with others. A third of you (33.6%) read your copy without sharing, but 22.8% of you pass it along to one co-worker and 43.6% per cent of you share it with more than one co-worker. So our audited magazine circulation vastly understates the number of actual readers we have.
We asked how often you read our recurring columns and topics. 80% of you read these either "always" or "sometimes." The editor’s page 4 Editorial scored always/sometimes over 90%. The Cover Story scored 97%. No regular columnist scored below 85%.
Advertisers will be interested to know that 80.9% of you answered "True" to the statement "Advertising I encounter in Solid Waste & Recycling magazine helps me learn about and select waste management products and services." 71.7% said their organization "relies on/makes use of my opinion when formulating decisions about what waste management products and services to buy."
Lastly, we asked survey respondents (43.6% of whom are public sector and 56.4 per cent are private sector, by the way) what changes or improvements they’d like to see in the magazine. We were offered dozens of useful tips, though some people told us they’re happy with the publication the way it is. One respondent wrote, "We need more real life stories about local endeavors and operations, maybe a monthly column spotlighting the small guy." Another wrote, "More life cycle thinking and less end of the pipe." Some people commented that they like our cover art by Charles Jaffe, one stating, "Love the front covers eye catching, appeals to all age groups, positive, often humorous, and packed full of excellent lessons."
Thanks for the feedback, everyone! And we’ve announced the four survey contest winners of a free Kindle e-book reader on page 7.
Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine. Contact Guy at email@example.com