Waste & Recycling


Missing R's

Waste Reduction Week is coming to a close across Canada. I suppose in some ways it is like a week of Christmas’ for those of us in the industry and the week after Thanksgiving for everyone else.
As I was able to say on the local Rogers Daytime television show on Wednesday Waste Reduction Week is a time to remind everyone and ourselves what we can be done to minimize the amount of waste that enters landfill.
In some way the week misses the point. It really focuses on recycling (which is good) but obscures the lack of progress we have made on reduction and re-use of wastes.
We struggle with the hierarchy. We talk about 3Rs (and should either scrap the concept altogether or perhaps add a 4th R). We are actively engaged in one maybe two Rs.
I have written a lot recently about the full waste diversion picture across Canada so won’t cover old ground except to say when it comes to reduction we fail and quite frankly don’t appear to be trying. We live in a culture of prosperity, convenience and faux fame. It can be shallow and skin deep. People are measured by what they have. People are keen to be measured. Prosperity and convenience are a cycle designed to perpetuate the illusion that creating waste represents progress. Faux fame adds to the illusion by suggesting that everyone can achieve fame, and the prosperity that comes with, if they can just find something stupid enough to do and film it (yes Honey Boo Boo I am talking about you).
Re-use is largely a lost art with some significant glimmers here and there. I don’t want to sound like I am getting old and cranky in a kind of “get off of my lawn” way but the same prosperity and convenience culture that prevents waste reduction has created planned obsolesce that makes products useless or undesirable after a few years, un-repairable and not re-usable. In this regard Goodwill Industries is a shining light. While you may know them as a place to drop off stuff you don’t want and place to buy cheap stuff what they really do is mine the economic value of goods that can be reused. In 2011 the Ontario Great Lakes region received 8,600 tonnes of donations from 319,000 donors (by making it very convenient for them to donate) that generated $9 million in annual sales. This money is driven back into providing employment and employment services. This model shows that the value of the value-less can be extracted with some minimal effort on our part. We need a lot more of this.
Where our industry has been successful is with recycling. It is the lowest R, designed pragmatically to deal with what has been generated. On the residential front London, where I live, has achieved a respectable 42% residential diversion rate, without a green bin program. They continue to introduce new features to make waste diversion easier including an application (my waste) that reminds residents of their garbage day and has a database of how a long list of wastes should be managed. Other smaller rural communities in southwestern, many served by Bluewater Recycling Association (http://www.bra.org/) are pushing 60% and greater.
While great strides have been made in some areas efforts need to be redoubled to really tackle the first R and the second R.
How we get there is open to debate. Maybe it is something like Zero Waste (see Candace Anderson’s recent presentation on Zero Waste-Theory and Practice from the recent Recycling Council of Alberta’s conference- http://www.recycle.ab.ca/uploads/File/rca_conference_2012/proceedings2012/CandiceAnderson.pdf)
Although in some ways it feels like giving up maybe we take another look at today’s reality and try to work with it rather than trying to fight it. What we want never enters the comprehension of everyone else not because they cannot comprehend but because of where managing waste sits on their list of priorities. It is low- somewhere between visiting in-laws and going to the dentist.

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