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A tale of two conferences: Watch out!


Just a quick entry today to update readers about a couple of things.
On Wednesday morning Brian van Opstal gave me a tour of the Dufferin organics plant in the northwest corner of Toronto. It was very interesting and I’ll be writing a technical article on it for our August/September annual composting supplement. My basic impressions were that I was impressed with the very small footprint of the plant, which composts 25,000 tonnes per year of source-separated organics (SSO) captured by Toronto’s SSO progam (of about 110,000 tonnes total). The material is tipped and conveyed to a BAT wet-separation vortex tank where water is added and the light (e.g., plastic bags) and heavy (e.g., glass) fractions are taken off. The material then passes through a second vortex tank, and then pumped to a digester where it spends 15 days at 37 degrees Celsius being broken down; then it goes to a drier and the damp pulpy product is sent to a private facility that mixes it with leaf-and-yard waste for full composting. Toronto wants to potentially double the capacity at this facility and then build another to handle most of the city’s SSO, and let the private sector handle some too.
The plant was quite impressive, not least because it’s functioning well, as opposed to some other Ontario in-vessel plants that have experienced big problems.
On Thursday morning I attended the morning session of the Recycling Council of Ontario’s (RCO) one-day workshop on waste diversion entitled “Making Waste History” — the first of five proposed one-day workshops that will take the place of the RCO’s annual conference. I like this idea and format very much, but would prefer next time if the panelists get into more of the nitty gritty of policy even if it’s controversial. These workshops will be more successful if the panelists let the fur fly a bit more.
The RCO was successful in getting Ontario environment minister Laurel Broten to come out and talk at lunch. She didn’t say too much that was new and stuck pretty much to her script. She also made it known she would not entertain questions at the end of her remarks. I don’t find this acceptable. In a democracy we expect elected officals to be prepared to take at least a few questions from the public and the media and interact. Even if they tap-dance around the most controversial questions, they should at least be prepared to deliver the appearance of genuine interaction and not flat out refuse questions, especially from a non-hostile professional audience. This minister has been given a bit of a free ride in that regard and I’m not going to cooperate anymore with politely “not asking questions” as though we live in some Stalinist state. I will in fact speak up next time and ask questions of the minister. I will be polite and respectful but I will not be silent, even if my only question is to ask “Why do you refuse to take questions?” She’s a public servant and not a member of the royal family. I’ll pose a question! Watch out!
In the afternoon I attended an afternoon session of a very nice conference on environmental issues as they affect the pharmaceutical industry. I bumped into Dave Douglas and a few other industry contacts there. I raised the idea (which was well received) that pharmaceutical waste needs to be added to the list of special wastes in Ontario’s new designation of Household Hazardous & Special Wastes under Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO). The conference chair — Lisa James of The Environmental Advisory Group — is writing an article pharma waste issues for the forthcoming June/July edition, and it was a pleasure to meet her.


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