During the first four months of 2007, Solid Waste & Recycling surveyed its readers. Once again we found that an Internet-based survey attracted almost 400 respondents and the results were very robust. Fifty-eight per cent of the respondents were from the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) sector, and 42 per cent were from the public sector (esp. municipal government). Now we can share insights into who reads the magazine, their waste management priorities, and what municipalities, companies and other organizations are doing to minimize waste and boost compliance with the various provincial waste statutes and regulations.
It was interesting to learn that 77 per cent of respondents’ local municipality or organization is committed to diverting 50 per cent or more of the waste stream from landfill, and 63 per cent are more optimistic than they were a year ago that their local area will achieve that level of waste diversion (or another specific waste diversion goal) in the near or not-too-distant future.
Canada is still a country that relies on landfill for waste disposal, and it seems that although space is running out in some areas, there’s still lots of capacity overall. Just under 60 per cent of survey respondents answered that their local municipality or organization has adequate local landfill capacity for garbage disposal for the foreseeable future.
That being said, the commitment to waste diversion is high right across the board, including landfill bans. Recycling advocates will be please to note that 86 per cent (a very high number) of respondents agree with the statement “Recyclable materials such as paper metal glass and certain plastics should simply be banned from landfill disposal.” (Policymakers take note!)
Service delivery and collection issues
As was the case last year, opinion remains divided over whether municipal solid waste should be collected, processed and disposed through a publicly administered and publicly delivered system. Slightly more than half of respondents (56 per cent) agree with the idea of the services being publicly administered and delivered. However, when we asked a more nuanced question about involving some private competition (“I would like to see the municipal solid waste system administered by the government but would like to see public and private entities compete for the provision of services such as collection processing and disposal”) 86 per cent of respondents agreed with that idea.
We asked readers about user pay or “bag tag”-type systems and were interested to learn that slightly more than half (51 per cent) agree with charging for each garbage bag set out at the curb in order to encourage waste reduction and recycling/composting. We were surprised that the number wasn’t higher; 30 per cent disagree with user pay. But 19 per cent indicated that they already have such a system in place, so, taken together with the ones who checked off “agree,” the total of respondents who support user pay is actually a healthy 70 per cent.
We drilled a bit deeper on this topic in Question 8 and similarly discovered that 69 per cent of you think there should be a strict limit on how many bags or containers people should be allowed to set out for collection. We asked readers how many free bags people should be allowed to set out each week (before fees kick in) and the answers broke down thus: one bag (39 per cent); two bags (37 per cent); three bags (24 per cent).
Fully 72 per cent of readers who filled in our survey said that used beverage containers (UBCs) for soft drinks should be collected and recycled primarily through a deposit/refund system (return to depot) and not via curbside collection. (Ontario, are you paying attention?) A slightly higher number (77 per cent) thought deposits should be used specifically for glass UBCs (presumably because broken glass can contaminate fibre and other recyclables). Sixty-eight per cent of respondents agree that we should use clear garbage bags to assist enforcement of what’s allowed for recycling/disposal.
Approval of new facilities and infrastructure
In Question 13, we asked readers if the environmental assessment and approvals process should allow proponents of waste processing and disposal projects to proceed as long as they can demonstrate compliance with environmental regulations and standards and local bylaws. (The “need” for the project should simply be a risk assumed by the proponent, and not something they have to prove before being allowed to go ahead.) We admit that this question was biased toward the situation in Ontario, where the cumbersome EA process is frequently blamed for preventing the construction of critical waste infrastructure. Interestingly, 88 per cent of respondents agreed with this notion (33 per cent “strongly” agreeing and 50 per cent “somewhat” agreeing). Only 17 per cent disagreed (10 per cent “somewhat” and seven per cent “strongly”).
A high 88 per cent of readers agree that waste management facilities such as recycling operations, modern waste-to-energy plants and landfills are just another form of infrastructure like roads, power plants and sewage treatment facilities. Only 12 per cent disagree with that idea. Not surprisingly, roughly the same breakdown applied to the question asking readers if they think we’ve fallen behind in making adequate investments in waste treatment and disposal infrastructure. (Eighty-seven per cent agree and 13 per cent disagree.) A strong 90 per cent of respondents agree that waste management facilities “should be highlighted as ‘critical infrastructure’ in all provincial planning processes.”
Sixty-two per cent of respondents agreed with the idea that “the federal government should play a much larger role in setting waste management policy.” Thirty-eight per cent disagreed. In Question 18 we asked readers how they’d rate the Canadian Council for Ministers of the Environment (CCME) in terms of its performance addressing solid waste issues (e.g., harmonization of standards). Opinion was quite evenly divided between “satisfactory” (41 per cent) and “poor” (48 per cent). Nine per cent of respondents thought the CCME is “completely inadequate; only one per cent rated the organization’s performance as “excellent.”
Composting, thermal treatment and product stewardship
When asked if they believe “every jurisdiction should implement source-separated organics (SSO) collection and composting programs for residents,” 77 per cent agreed and 23 per cent disagreed. Interestingly, 69 per cent of respondents support the use of the CCME Class B guidelines to allow the sale of compost from mixed waste processing or from a “dirty” multi-family SSO stream.
We asked readers if they support waste-to-energy as a treatment/disposal option (assuming that most organics and recyclable materials are diverted first and that the latest pollution control technology is employed). The answers broke down like this: agree strongly (53 per cent), somewhat agree (36 per cent), somewhat disagree (seven per cent), and strongly disagree (five per cent). Taken together, then, 89 per cent of our readers view waste-to-energy favorably, and only 11 per cent unfavorably. These results suggest that Canada is, in theory, ripe for a European-style waste management system of aggressive composting and recycling, followed by thermal treatment and minimal landfilling. This would be a very different system from what exists today; perhaps change is in the wind?
The concept of “biomass” is gaining widespread interest. We told readers that California has embraced biomass, where energy recovered from solid waste is viewed as a “renewable resource” and therefore positive. Sixty-six per cent of respondents think that Canadian jurisdictions should “more or less adopt California’s approach.” A quarter (25 per cent) of respondents agreed with the idea of biomass, but only for
capture of such things as landfill gas (methane). Only nine per cent of readers appear to reject the concept that “waste is a renewable resource.”
One of the highest scores in our survey came in answer to the following question (which was a variation of the question above): Government energy policy should recognize the potential contribution of waste management facilities in generating renewable or “green” energy (e.g., methane from landfills or in-vessel composting waste-to-energy plants). Fully 95 per cent answered “agree” and only five per cent “disagree.”
There appears to be some frustration, however, over government red tape interfering with the testing and application of innovative technologies. Respondents seem to agree with thermal and biomass approaches that extract energy from post-recycling waste. Knowing this is a hot button topic, we not only asked readers to rate the government’s efforts to encourage the testing and adoption of innovative technologies for waste disposal, we asked them to rate the municipal and provincial governments separately. It was interesting to see neither scored very well, but the municipal level scored slightly better. Respondents rated their municipality’s efforts: highly (13 per cent), medium (51 per cent) and poorly (37 per cent). They rated their province’s efforts: highly (seven per cent), medium (44 per cent) and poorly (49 per cent). One can conclude that both levels of government need to do a better job removing barriers to innovation, especially the provinces.
Next, in Question 26 , we asked readers what kind of system should manage electronics waste (or “e-waste”). We proposed two kinds of systems. In the first, manufacturers and brand owners/first importers directly fund the management of their e-waste themselves or through contractors, with no industry organization setting a fee and/or handling the material. Forty per cent of respondents approved of that kind of system. In the second, manufacturers and brand owners/first importers fund the recycling of e-waste through an industry stewardship/funding organization that sets fees and approves contractors to do the work. Sixty per cent of respondents favored that kind of system. So it appears that, warts and all, industry funding organizations (IFOs) are slightly more popular with readers in Canada than the more direct EPR (extended producer responsibility) approach for e-waste.
Consistent with that, 61 per cent of respondents believe that product stewardship programs (for various products) should display a stewardship fee at the cash register. Thirty-four per cent agree that there should be no explicit fees (i.e., to encourage producers to internalize costs and improve upstream environmental performance). Only five per cent of respondents believe that fees should be charged, but not shown at the cash register. (It would be interesting to know how the breakdown might change for different products and materials — something we’ll explore in next year’s survey.)
Unsurprisinglyh, 85 per cent of readers agree with the statement that their province or territory needs to invest more in antilitter campaigns. Only 15 per cent disagree.
Despite what we’ve heard about companies managing more and more of their wastes onsite, only 30 per cent of respondents say they manage wastes this way; 70 per cent send theirs for offsite treatment and disposal. Of course, it could be that larger generators favor onsite treatment and smaller generators can’t justify the investment in onsite systems. In any case, the breakdown of waste treatment is as follows: recycling (38 per cent), secure landfill (22 per cent), neutralization/stabilization (nine per cent), thermal (seven per cent) and other (24 per cent).
Assocations and training
We asked readers about their hopes and expectations from the various trade associations that represent their interests, on the recycling and other waste management fronts. There was significant support for the notion that the associations should lobby government on leading issues, with a sort of informal ranking as follows: product stewardship/EPR; deposit/refund systems for used beverage containers, environmental assessment reform; and, compost standards. We asked an open ended question about other issues readers would like to see their associations represent, but to see those varied answers you’ll have order a copy of the full survey results. (See the note at the end of this article to learn how.)
We asked other questions about trade associations, and the answers suggest the associations are doing a good job. Most readers rate their associations’ performance on a range of fronts as excellent (16 per cent) or satisfactory (71 per cent). Almost exactly a third each of respondents feel the existing number and mix of associations is about right, or that there are too many, or have no opinion. They feel the same way about the conferences and workshops out there on waste management and recycling topics, with a slight bias toward feeling it’s the right mix (42 per cent) or too many (25 per cent). But the majority would prefer that more professional courses, training and certification-type exams be offered online (68 per cent) than in a classroom setting (32 per cent). Three-quarters of respondents said they’d be prepared to pay for training courses offered online to avoid the cost and time commitment of traveling to an onsite gathering/ facility.
The last section of the survey concerned how our readers use our magazine. We gathered interesting feedback to help us fine-tune the magazine content to meet our readers’ needs in future. The most-read columns and features appear to be the cover stories, Guy Crittenden’s editorial page, articles that concern waste-to-energy, and letters and news, so we’ll be sure to continue and emphasize those areas, as well as composting, landfill technology and regulations, which also scored highly.
Our advertisers will be pleased to know that 79 per cent of respondents checked “true” beside the statement, “Advertising I [and my organization] encounter in Solid Waste & Recycling magazine helps me learn about and select waste management products and services.” When readers visit the website, it’s mostly to check daily news items and to read current or past magazine articles. Checking out event listing and dates is also popular.
Please turn to page 35 to learn the names of our iPod winners, awarded from people who completed the 2007 survey. And remember to fill in our survey again next year!
GUY Crittenden is editor of this magazine. To receive an electronic copy of the survey results, please contact our Circulation Manager Mary Garufi at firstname.lastname@example.org