Re: Editorial “Zeroing in on Waste (June/July 2005 edition)
I very much appreciated your editorial on IWM and EPR. I agree fully that we are evolving beyond IWM — a fine paradigm that made great progress in resource conservation toward a more sustainable society. And I agree that EPR is an important principle that is the driving force behind the important progress being made in product end-of-life (EOL) management systems.
But I strongly caution against falling into ideological traps, two of which are evident in the philosophy discussed in the editorial. (Note: Creative ideology is very helpful in shining a bright light into the dark corners of our thinking. But is can cast shadows that make it impossible for us to see the path toward a sustainable society.)
The two ideological traps I refer to are the anti-incineration bias and the faith that cost-internalization (EPR) will right all product wrongs.
There are many strong arguments against incineration, especially the construction of dedicated waste incinerators that build demand for waste. And also that destroy higher and better resource values embedded in materials. But an anti-incineration bias can lead to perverse consequences. There are (not rare) cases where the material recycling of a waste material utilizes more resources and causes greater environmental burden than an alternative path that utilizes the embedded energy. As an example, manufacturing scrap from the apparel industry may, if properly managed (including restriction of inappropriate substances) be a very clean source of energy. It may net consume energy to return such scrap to use as a material — which may very likely be a one-use pathway like incineration. Likewise for such apparel as product at EOL.
Regarding cost-internalization through EPR — a very good principle. But there is no assurance that the costs experienced by the manufacturers who are responsible for their products at EOL will be sufficient to create the incentive for the virtuous cycle. Maybe, but maybe not. And for long-lived products, unfortunately, probably not, as the discount rate eats the incentive.
The challenge for sustainability is a systems challenge, not an ideological one. We must understand the complex systems in which these products, and human behavior, function. It is our challenge to design those systems to meet human needs while maximizing resource conservation and minimizing environmental degradation. Many times that will involve adapting and working with the IWM infrastructure for products at EOL, not creating some sort of dual system. There is no collision here, but rather a symbiotically-driven evolution (see Lynn Margulis, Symbiotic Planet), whereby new species emerge from incorporation rather than competition resulting in extinction.
Avoiding incineration and engaging producer responsibility are sound principles that must be added to our IWM paradigm, changing it radically. Authors Sheehan and Spiegelman speak true that IWM can lead to stagnation. But what must drive it to sustainability is not the competition/extinction cycle (indeed the old evolutionary paradigm), but an ever deeper understanding of the challenges we face, the options we have, and a redesigning of our human systems.
[Our cover story and my companion article on Onyx’s integrated waste system in the UK addresses some of you concerns. — ed.]
Re: Editorial “Fall of the House of Ashcroft” (August/September edition)
In the August/September issue of Solid Waste & Recycling magazine, the editorial refers to the “RCBC cohorts” who had worked to bring down the Ashcroft landfill. RCBC’s position has been one opposed to waste, not to landfills and at no time did RCBC take a position against establishing the Ashcroft Ranch Landfill. We did however use the issue as an opportunity to promote waste reduction.
In various letters to the media and in our presentations to the GVRD Solid Waste Management Committee we promoted the enforcement of existing bans and the support of in-place stewardship programs to extend the life of existing landfill facilities. In particular, we urged the GVRD “to make a renewed commitment to ensure that there are effective policies in place by the opening date of the proposed Ashcroft Ranch Landfill to divert from GVRD disposal facilities materials that have been banned from landfill and materials for which product stewardship programs exist.”
Copies of our published Letters to the Editor and our presentations to the GVRD detailing our position are posted in the media section of the RCBC website at www.rcbc.bc.ca
Please note that RCBC had no contact regarding this issue with the provincial Ministry responsible for placing the Ashcroft Ranch Landfill on hold pending a review of the GVRD Solid Waste Plan.
While RCBC sees landfills as a necessary component of current waste management practice we are committed to waste reduction first and foremost. We want the focus to be on reducing the waste, not determining where to put it.
Natalie Zigarlick, Executive Director
Recycling Council of British Columbia
[Thanks for the clarification. — ed.]
Re: Website news item “Love Canal-type landfill submerged in New Orleans floodwaters” and story in “Special online supplement on Katrina hurricane damage”
I found your article on the frightening implications of flooding on the New Orleans Superfund site via a link on talkingpointsmemo.com. Thank you so much for addressing the issue of toxic waste. I was already extremely concerned about returning home to New Orleans, having seen the pre-Katrina edition of PBS’s “Now” that dealt with the problem of Chalmette refineries. I am forwarding links to your site to many friends from home and I hope you will continue to cover this issue.
(currently in Dallas, TX)
Contaminated flood effluent problems and the bio-engineering solutions are of paramount importance. Innovative scale-ups of well known treatment schemes must be advanced prior to any discussion of rebuilding or refilling areas adjacent to contaminated soil zones. Fundamental approaches to mitigation include sequential batch reaction (on a huge scale) direct oxygenation (opposed to aeration) and heap leaching through zeolite and exchange chromatography piles of multi-acre capacity. (The mining industry has existing technology to perform this at over 1,000,000 gallon per hour.) The pre-treatment of flood effluents can be effected and should be moved to the forefront of discussion; existing toxic and MSDS exposure regulations should not be waived for short term economic expediencies…the long environmental health costs will bite municipalities and industry in the ass, 10 or 20 years late — every time.
Re: John Nicholson’s article “Waste-to-Energy in Canada” (August/September edition)
We sell equipment (compactors, briquetters and cubers) to the wood, plastics and metals industries to support the recycling of feedstocks or converting them to solid fuels. Hopefully we in North America will get over the sky-is-falling syndrome when it comes to accepting WTE systems — the idea of expending valuable resources to collect, transport and bury metropolitan waste in the hinterlands of the continent borders on absolute human stupidity — but we were always decades behind other countries. Perhaps with oil now selling by the ounce, WTE will finally be accepted.
Wayne Winkler P.Eng
[You will like this edition. — ed.]