In the realm of public opinion and political policy, “perception” is everything. In an age when few have the time to be fully informed on complex issues, the public and regulators can be greatly influenced by “snippets” of information or the impact of visual images. Such visual images can significantly influence the view of the public and politicians — accurately or inaccurately — which brings me to the cover of the June/July 2003 edition of the magazine with the title “A Disposal Crisis?”
Your visual representation of a landfill borders on irresponsibility because it is inaccurate in its content and conveys a negative perception of the environmental impact of landfills that is unsubstantiated in the real world. Drums of liquids are not buried in solid waste landfills, nor is waste pushed up against the fence of surrounding property. The portrayal of liquids migrating to the “depths of Hell” and causing discomfort to the devil is just plain silly.
“It’s just a cartoon” you may say, but these negative portrayals of landfills have contributed to where we are today — in crisis, because in Ontario we have ignored landfill capacity, come to rely on others for disposing of our own wastes and rushed into expensive, unproven alternate diversion and disposal technologies.
Such portrayals of landfills have fuelled a public and political perception that landfills are to be avoided “at all costs” and should not be regarded as a viable part of future waste management planning and programs.
I would have thought SW&R magazine would be more sensitive to these perception issues and more supportive of the industry it relies on for support.
Ontario Waste Management Association
[Dear Mr. Cook:
Thanks for your excellent letter. I’m very sensitive to this point of criticism, which is legitimate and — as editor — assume any and all blame. At SW&R we’ve always promoted a positive image of the industry. We refer to “landfills,” not “dumps” and “waste” instead of “garbage.” We use illustrations by Charles Jaffe to get away from the equipment and waste photos of other magazines, and to celebrate a “lighter side” of a serious, heavily regulated business. My decision to use the cartoon of the landfill leachate dripping into the devil’s living room was based on a couple of assumptions: (a) our magazine is mostly read by industry insiders, or at least people who know a lot about waste disposal (because they read our mag) who know we take modern landfills seriously, and (b) we felt safe after all these years to poke fun at ourselves and our industry, mocking the “stereotype” of the leaky landfill. It’s risky, of course, making fun of a stereotype, because people who miss the irony think you’re promoting it. So, sorry to any who were offended. We’ll try to be more careful in future, but will allow ourselves some irony, too (the current cover included). — ed.]