Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Canada Has a Waste Management Problem

Letter to the Editor


Canada has a waste management problem. We also have a creativity ‘thinking outside of the box’ kind of a problem, but to address both in this letter would take up too much space and infuriate the editor. When Meaford began its pilot program to reclaiming and recycling plastic film waste I was over the moon ecstatic. I thought it was forward thinking, it showed leadership, initiative, it was good for the environment, and at the very least it was, what I thought, supposed to be a little bit profitable.

All in all it struck a chord with my Scottish blood: save material, sell it to someone who was going to reuse it. That’s a small piece of heaven, right? When the project went municipal-wide I was under the impression that the pilot was a success. Turn in your old plastic and somewhere else it would be manufactured into some nice plastic fence posts, making us money, and giving the old green thumb to some manufacturer creating jobs. Win win right?

So apart from having inherited some frugal bloodlines I also received a good dose of the pessimism gene. I have for years been saying that the future is garbage! For those that know me, will appreciate that somewhere in that statement is comedic nugget of truth and honestly, and perhaps a little bit of hope. For one, I hate throwing stuff away knowing it’s going to linger in some hole in the ground, but living in our contemporary society I’m reminded at every moment that our capitalist consumerist lifestyle still exhibits the behaviours of an irate toddler. For some reason we need flashy packaging made with excessive amounts of all sorts of materials both recyclable and non-recyclable to capture our attention and make us buy it. We also have a tendency to download the costs of waste and recycling onto our consumers. In essence, when you’re buying that Swiffer WetJet you’re saddling yourself with a few years of throwing away disposable wipes made with god knows how much crap along with the empty bottles of ‘special’ spray solution. It all adds up into bag tags, which we bitch and moan about ad nauseum. Alternatively, in the old pre-EU Germany, manufacturers were charged a ‘packaging tax’ and from last I read it was a very complicated but dedicated system of classifying different packaging materials, volumes of those materials, and assigning a tax to them. The goal of this type of system is to pare down the inclination of a manufacturer to go hog wild on brand packaging. It also incentivizes consumers to purchase the items that haven’t priced themselves out of competition due to their packaging taxes. The system worked and I believe some sort of new system similar is making its way through the EU Legislature for implementation across the zone. I’m also slightly optimistic on Canada’s announcement on an integrated plastics management plan, including some banning of single use plastics, however my optimism is tempered by my belief that it will be a complete cock-up and a very expensive one at that, again another example our money being pissed away. It’s another one of those examples of top-down economics which we know to be inefficient and somewhat fallible. I would rather have seen a grand Liberal plan to charge a broad-spectrum packaging tax, economically incentivizing both a materials consumption reduction and consumer support for such a plan. The other benefit of such a plan is to also incentivize the use of reclaimed materials in packaging, as reclaimed material would obviously be charged less packaging tax, perhaps creating a new boon for the recycling industry?

Then there is always that destination, the landfill. Well, part of why I believe the future is garbage is all of those post-industrial revolution waste dumps that are probably teeming valuable materials that even to this day we throw out, because we’re not incentivized to do anything else with them. So, at some point in the future will we be auctioning off our landfill sites to the highest bidders? I believe one day we will, and that those sites will make some people very wealthy. In fact, the smart entrepreneur will make our governments think they’re doing the government a favour by taking the problem off our hands for cheap. Even better, imagine waste management companies charging the public and our governments to remove garbage only to make a profit off it on the other end? Oh imagine that crazy scenario. We certainly have to address some slight economic malformations to make it happen but the path has already been laid out and in fact, this system is already in play in the Netherlands. For those that are interested in learning just how valuable garbage can be look up Lansink’s Ladder and investigate some of the technology being used in the Netherlands to reclaim and recycle materials. And if you’re really into it, look into how much money some of these companies are making.

To that end, when I read that the Municipality of Meaford was terminating plastic film recycling flashes of that old system of uninventive, uncreative, and environmentally destructive blahs came rushing to mind. What a disappointment. Maybe we can’t do it on our own, but I would certainly hope we could at least point out the opportunity to do better. Without real leaders we are all just stewards of our own failure.

James McIntosh, Meaford

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