Recyclables in the dump
NO ROOM AT RARE: Recyclable materials that are supposed to be processed at North Glengarry’s recycling centre in Alexandria are being trucked to the Glen Robertson landfill site. A “critical” overflow problem has been created at the RARE plant since plastic and paper products can no longer be sold to China. The crisis has prompted many suggestions from The News readers on what people can do to reduce waste production and recycle more. See “You Told Us”
In one of the many memorable scenes from The Graduate, a man offers career advice to Benjamin Braddock, played by a very young Dustin Hoffman. The middle-aged sage’s counsel is brief: “One word: plastics.”
Since that movie was released in 1967, in the real world, plastics became both groovy and lucrative. Huge industries were created and prospered. Every product contained this wonder material. Eventually, even plastic body parts could be purchased and installed. In time, plastics became synonymous with an artificial, throw-away society.
But when the most versatile materials in the world first became widely available, we were enchanted. Just think of the hard plastic hockey blade, which revolutionized shinny. It could be curved and was almost indestructible. Plastics will last forever. And therein lies the rub. After becoming hooked on plastics, we are now trying to kick our addiction. People are having breakdowns over products that don’t break down. The latest cool thing to do is, when ordering your kombucha, preach about the perils of plastic straws, because they are not biodegradable and they will kill a sea mammal.
Our oceans are teeming with foreign objects; pieces of plastic are floating around in our water; plastic wrap can be seen dangling from trees.
And, as if we didn’t have enough angst already, North Glengarry confirms it is full to the gunnels in recyclable materials and that many of these materials have to be dumped in a landfill. We should have seen this crisis coming. For years, Canadian municipalities have shipped tonnes of recyclables to China, where waste paper, plastic and rubber were processed, and sold back to us. We should have done like the Swedes and developed our own recycling industries.
As of January 1, China stopped taking yang laji, “foreign garbage.” China's decision to erect a “Green Fence” and impose tough new purity standards has Canadian municipalities stuck with mounds of trash, and the prospect of losing millions in revenue.
As The News reported March 21, a “critical” overflow at the Alexandria recycling plant has forced North Glengarry to dump recyclable materials at the Glen Robertson landfill site. “We encourage our customers to continue to recycle and to take pride in the amount of material that is being diverted from landfills. But we also urge them to find ways to reduce the amount of overall waste that they are generating, whether it goes into the blue bin or the trash,” says the municipality.
For years we have been doing the right thing, filling our plastic blue boxes with papers, glass bottles, and plastics, making our contributions to saving our planet. We compost; we glower at idiots who don’t use cotton grocery bags; we dream of someday being able to afford an electric car; we avoid using printers.
But now we are told we must reduce our garbage output even further. It is time we have a frank talk about trash. We can do better. Regardless of our political views, we all produce garbage. Recycling is a contemporary term for everyday habits that have been employed for generations.
Try to think of how our grandparents and parents lived. Survivors of wars, The Depression and rationing edicts, they practised the three Rs long before plastic or waste management strategies were invented.
For instance, most sheds and garages featured inventive yet simple storage systems -- baby food bottles were re-used to store re-used screws and nails. Children would spend long yet rewarding days straightening rusty nails. Pieces of leather were fashioned into door hinges. Used clothing would become horse blankets. “Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” That pioneer attitude was engrained in the brains and souls of hardy, practical, no-nonsense folk who re-used almost everything.
Nowadays, of course, we expect governments to take care of our problems. Governments are constantly struggling with waste.
The federal government is attempting to convince the the richest, most industrialized and wasteful countries to adopt ambitious goals for plastics recycling and waste reduction.
A zero-plastics-waste charter would raise the bar, higher than the European Economic Union’s plan to recycle at least half of its plastic packaging by 2030.
The goal would be to have 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging.
In November 2017 the government of Ontario released a proposed framework that sets a vision for “a circular economy that moves towards zero food and organic waste and zero greenhouse gas emissions from the waste sector.”
Consider that food and food waste are reported to contribute 30 per cent of materials that end up in disposal and are a significant emitter of greenhouse gas emissions.
Studies indicate the amount food wasted for each Canadian is 183 kilograms or 404 pounds yearly.
Thankfully, children, who grew up with recycling, are taking part in waste-free lunches, a program that encourages schools to decrease the amount of garbage they produce, and educate students, staff, and parents about waste reduction.
Since 2010 Ontario schools have prevented more than 100,000 kilograms (220,000 lbs.) of food and packaging from entering disposal through the Waste-Free Lunch Challenge. The average Waste-Free Lunch Challenge student is able to reduce waste from 33 grams to just 21 grams per day. Some schools are able to reduce their waste down to just three grams per student per day. In general, we are dumping less than we used to. In 2015, Ontario residents diverted over 2.3 million tonnes of residential waste or 14 per cent more residential waste than they did five years ago, and generated 367 kilograms or residential waste per person, which represents a decrease of 1.1 per cent compared to 2009.
Yes, we have come a long way since 1967. We are more environmentally-friendly and more conscious of our footprints than Benjamin Braddock was. Yet, at the same time, we have relied too heavily on the easy system of discarding our waste in a bin and shipping it off to China.
Collectively, we will have to devise a better way of dealing with our debris. Or we will continue to have huge volumes of materials that will have nowhere to go. -- Richard Mahoney [email protected]garrynews.ca