On­tario can’t eas­ily change cul­ture of waste

Simcoe Reformer - - OPINION - Ran­dall Den­ley is an Ot­tawa com­men­ta­tor, nov­el­ist and former On­tario PC can­di­date. ran­dallden­ley1@gmail.com Ran­dall Den­ley

The On­tario gov­ern­ment says there is too much garbage go­ing into the province’s land­fills, so it has come up with a so­lu­tion. If green-bin-type garbage were banned from land­fills, the gov­ern­ment rea­sons, the prob­lem would be sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced.

If the ban goes ahead, the gov­ern­ment will be get­ting its fin­gers deeply into how we man­age our homes. It’s one thing to be en­cour­aged to use a green bin, quite an­other to be or­dered to do so. In Ot­tawa, with green bin use at 50 per cent, this is go­ing to split the pub­lic right down the mid­dle.

For those who be­lieve the world can be per­fected by the ac­tions of gov­ern­ment, the Lib­er­als’ plan for a “waste-free” On­tario will be de­sir­able and long over­due. Those who think it’s not gov­ern­ment’s job to tell us what to put in our garbage bags will be less im­pressed.

The gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­est in mi­cro-man­ag­ing our lives doesn’t stop at the garbage bin. There is also con­cern that too much food is be­ing wasted. Please, every­one, clean your plates and don’t let those veg­eta­bles in the fridge get so de­crepit that you have to throw them out.

The gov­ern­ment’s new ap­proach on garbage is a bit of a Rip Van Win­kle mo­ment. Thir­teen years ago, the Lib­er­als set a tar­get of 60 per cent of waste be­ing di­verted from land­fills. Then it took a long nap, only to wake up and find out its dream had not come true. The gov­ern­ment could hardly re­peat its tar­get of 60 per cent waste di­ver­sion, so now it is shoot­ing higher. The goal is to di­vert all waste from land­fills in what the gov­ern­ment calls a “cir­cu­lar econ­omy.”

That’s a tall or­der, given that we live in a throw­away so­ci­ety. Rot­ting food is only part of the prob­lem. Our econ­omy is driven by con­sumerism, and prod­ucts that last a long time or can be re­paired are bad news for sell­ers of new goods. Ap­pli­ances, fur­ni­ture, elec­tron­ics and clothes are all meant to have a short life be­fore they are pushed aside by the lat­est thing.

To ef­fect such a ma­jor so­ci­etal change, the gov­ern­ment would need to show some com­pelling ben­e­fits. It falls a lit­tle short there. The land­fills will only last an­other 20 years, they say. This is well be­yond the worry hori­zon of the av­er­age per­son.

How about the green­house gas ar­gu­ment, then? Push­ing up On­tario’s or­ganic garbage waste di­ver­sion rate from 38 per cent to 48 per cent would be the equiv­a­lent of re­mov­ing 64,000 cars from the roads. OK, but there are 12 mil­lion cars in On­tario. We’re talk­ing a mini-change here.

If none of that works for you, the in­creased waste di­ver­sion is be­ing touted as a job cre­ator. Think of all the new jobs that will be cre­ated in the re­cy­cling and com­post sec­tors. Don’t think of all the old jobs that would be lost do­ing what we do now.

So there are those ben­e­fits, but what about the cost? That’s the point on which govern­ments sel­dom want to dwell. Or­ganic waste di­ver­sion is costly, as the City of Ot­tawa has demon­strated with its in­ef­fec­tive green bin con­tract. For busi­nesses, di­vert­ing a tonne of or­ganic waste is about 50 per cent more ex­pen­sive than send­ing it to a lo­cal land­fill. Who will ul­ti­mately pay that cost?

And then there is the is­sue of the ef­fec­tive­ness of a ban on food garbage. There is no way to po­lice it, short of hir­ing an army of garbage in­spec­tors. Nova Sco­tia banned or­ganic waste in land­fills 20 years ago, but or­gan­ics still make up half of what ends up in their dumps.

There is no doubt we live in a waste­ful so­ci­ety, whether it’s food, ex­ces­sive pack­ag­ing or dis­pos­able con­sumer goods. Ul­ti­mately, chang­ing that is up to us as con­sumers. An or­ganic garbage ban is a big ham­mer, but it’s un­likely to hit the nail on the head.

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