Re­cy­clables in the dump

The Glengarry News - - Front Page -

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

RICHARD MAHONEY PHOTO

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