Waste Management as I see it
Letter to Springwater News January 21 2010 I follow with interest the developments at the County of Simcoe as it relates to its Waste Management Strategy.
I am very suspicious in the fact that an outside agency Stantec is to develop a Strategy for Waste Management for the County rather than the senior bureaucrats undertaking their own research and at least providing a vision for the future. Stantec are qualified, but like the PR Firm hired to undo the Site 41 situation, County Management should be establishing where they want to go. It would almost appear that County staff only directed their long term thinking to landfills as a solution for waste. The County was certainly not a trend setter or leader when it came to general recycling or green bin collection and simply followed others. In recent years I have become a believer in conspiracy theories as I have observed the antics of our County Elected Officials and staff, especially with its Site 41 saga.
Anyone spending five minutes on Google will most likely provide the same conclusions as Stantec will provide after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for their consulting expertise.
The reality is that waste management is not brain surgery, provided we as the consumer step up to the plate and provide pressure. The most effective waste management is Elimination at the source. Just review the packaging that accompanied your Christmas gifts. Some of the heavy plastic shrink-wrap and vacuum seal material required the use of a chain saw to open the enclosed item. None of this material is recyclable or is virtually useless in its secondary use. Dad’s and Oreo cookies, which I really love, are now on my no purchase zone as they represent a growing problem. I was pleased up to about three years ago that the packaging was entirely recyclable using a paper bag and a corrugated divider. Today it is made from a non-recyclable plasticized bag and a plastic divider. There are many products that have shifted to this type of packaging over recent years. The reason is simple. They want to be able to have the product last longer and have it shipped from greater distances under the guise of efficiency. These changes add to the green house gas problem rather than reducing it. The biggest problem is at the source and unless we focus on elimination, we will never contain the growing waste epidemic. Zero Waste Simcoe get this and hopefully the ears of the County are listening. Unfortunately it will take our efforts lobbying the government to impose regulations on the producers. Yes we may have to pay a few pennies more, but is it not worth it? This Christmas I received a remote controlled helicopter that was made in China but to EU specifications. Aside from two small plastic bags containing small parts, all the packaging was recyclable corrugated. North America packaging would have contained a styrofoam protective shell. If you read the waste management plans for Europe, because of lack of space for landfills, they are much more serious about addressing the problem than we in the West. And yes like us, they are accepting it slowly.
The second approach to waste reduction and more preferable than recycling is Reuse. We finally have recognized the major problem we created at land fills and recycling with that little toxic disposable water bottle. Why don’t we simply eliminate them. Until about ten years ago they didn’t exist. Yes, we created a billion dollar industry compounded by scares like the Walkerton tragedy, with us no longer trusting our community water supplies. The small and large plastic bottles of water was deemed the answer. The swing back to reusable bottles is at least encouraging. Years ago, most products like jams and peanut butter came in glass jars that everyone reused for canning and storage. What was wrong with that? I can recall when I was President of a company in the 80’s and the awareness of the growing volume of landfill waste became a prime concern, we as a company wanted to do our part. The first step was requesting the elimination of styrofoam packaging from supplies shipped to us. We shifted from the use of styrofoam popcorn packing to recycled paper based material. We asked our suppliers to eliminate their brands and logos from their packaging, so we could reuse the boxes for our outgoing shipments. Aside from reducing the amount of recycling and waste we saved money. We chose Barrie’s Moore Packaging at the time for our corrugated supplies as they were a leader in recycling corrugated eliminating all of our landfill destined corrugated material. We had one major supplier redesign the shipping containers for a high volume raw material we purchased, so that it could be returned and reused. Based on a longer term agreement they agreed. As a result, their market share increased when some of our competition realized we were developing a competitive edge by emphasizing waste reduction in our business philosophy. That was well over twenty years ago.
The next step of course is Recycling. Too many think this is the answer to the world’s waste problems. It should be a small part of the solution. The unfortunate thing is that many plastics become unstable in their reuse and are used for various products that may have been made from a more environmentally friendly material originally. I think of the two garden hose reel holders I bought in the last 10 years. They were manufactured from recycled material but failed within a couple of years after sunny summers and cold winters. Previously, most holders were made from steel a much more environmentally friendly product. They also lasted forever. Some of the recycling we do may in fact be more detrimental to the environment we profess to be protecting. It is part of the bandaid solution.
I don’t know enough about Composting except for the large pile we have down by our garden which provides us with very rich and usefully garden material each Spring. I think more emphasis needs directed to home composting which would also reduce the amount of green collection. Unfortunately some people no longer using their backyard composter and simply dump all their food waste into the green bin on collection day. I am not sure that is a step forward.
To forever eliminate the possibilities of another Site 41 fiasco, we need to do our part. It will cost us time and money, but it will be all worth it. The priorities for waste reduction in order of importance must be established; Elimination, Reuse, Recycle, Compost then a less preferable Incineration and then as a last resort Landfills. If the County simply focused on their Twenty Year Waste Strategy from this perspective, the County of Simcoe could be come a trendsetter rather than an “also ran”.
I urge people to support the efforts of Gordon McKay and Zero Waste Simcoe. They as a group have the right idea. We as the residents must fully support their efforts if we truly want to reduce the environmental impact that each of us leave everyday as we climb into our high powered sports sedans, SUV’s and pick up our morning coffee at Tim Horton’s Drive-Thru in a disposable cup.
The County may lack vision and try to pawn off their responsibility to a third party like Stantec, but in the end we are all responsible for the mess we are in and will ultimately pay for it.
Bill French, Grenfel