The Recycling Council of Alberta conference has come and gone again. The 25th anniversary version took place at the lovely Jasper Park Lodge (which featured a good venue and periodic warnings about rutting elk). About 325 attended this conference which is really a must attend event for Alberta’s (and beyond) waste diversion industry. Ironically these events also serve as a great place for Ontarians to catch up with some of their colleagues in the industry.
Along with Michael Cant of Golder Associates I had the opportunity to present a talk based on our June-July Solid Waste and Recycling cover story on the “State of Waste in Canada”. (http://www.2cg.ca/pdffiles/swr-j-j-2012-pg-8-15.pdf)
The article paints a picture of waste diversion stalled and that was the key message that we presented. I think people are genuinely surprised when they hear this. In our day to day lives as residents and consumers we have a good array of waste diversion programs. However, that is only 35% of the waste stream. It is the other 65%, the IC&I waste stream that appears from available Statistics Canada data to be a bit of a lost cause.
Michael Cant suggested that “it is time to take three steps back” and re-evaluate how we look at waste diversion (and waste management). It seems counter intuitive given the past 25 years of waste diversion work. Lots of good has been accomplished but we have for the most part not been able to surmount our large provincial waste diversion goals (not to mention per capita waste generation goals).
I often mention that when I became involved in the waste diversion industry 20 years ago the term “consumer society” was common. Consider this, since 1996 annual total waste generation has grown from about 880 kg/capita to 1,030 kg/capita, an increase of 17%. That’s 150 kg/capita of more consumption each year. While much of that is IC&I even residential waste generation has increased by some 19% (although disposal is starting to fluctuate downwards and diversion has had a strong uptick).
What are needed are some new approaches that first of all work on reducing the amount of waste generated. Just because it is diverted doesn’t mean it should have been generated in the first place.
We have to ask ourselves the questions: Is diversion important? and Is maximizing resource usage important?
Our ideas to stimulate to reduced waste generation and efficient resource usage included:
1. Setting reasonable and achievable waste diversion goals.
2. Identifying and implementing quantitative drivers such as landfill bans and landfill taxes
3. Recognizing and being prepared to capture the inherent energy of waste
4. Developing separate approaches for multi-residential and IC&I wastes with approaches that recognize the unique ways in which wastes are generated.
These ideas require some additional development, something we will be looking to explore in the coming year.
In the end all this depends on what we really want to do rather than what we think we want to do.