So, this CBC News article caught my eye; it discusses the recycling dilemma:
- We want to encourage (almost) everyone to recycle as much as possible; but
- The companies that recycle things like paper and plastics are setting more strict standards for the quality of trash they will accept because they are being subjected to more strict regulations and, even more difficult, customers are demanding “cleaner” recycled products;
- Some city recycling plants want home-makers to do more – to wash containers, for example, before putting them in the trash;
- Other cities want to make it simpler for the home-maker but then their trash must, often, be sent to landfills which is what we wanted to avoid in the first place.
I also note that Sweden, for example, is using more and More and MORE trash ~ it’s even importing it! ~ for energy production. It has been discussed here, in Canada, but pioneer projects have failed. Waste to energy projects are also controversial because the green purists, including David Suzuki, say that it’s not really recycling at all.
What’s the AIM?
(Which harks back to yesterday and is so important in so many things.)
What is it that we really want to do? Why recycle?
Put simply, it seems to me, we want to keep trash out of landfills because it poisons our land and water and it is waste of land … recycling is, clearly, the best way to do it.
But recycling has to be ~ at least relatively ~ simple and easy or people, being human, after all, will not do it.
I live in a high rise condominium apartment ~ we have “blue boxes” on every floor, in every garbage chute room, and they get used, too … not always and not always correctly but some people divert some of their waste from landfills and I suspect we condo dwellers do so in about the same proportion as do our neighbours in low rise row houses and single homes. We also have a compost bin, but it is always a bit of a walk away: either in the parking garage in winter or in a laneway in warmer months and some, but far, far fewer people use that but fewer people and less often because, quite simply, it’s a bit inconvenient.
Our neighbours, here in Ottawa, have blue boxes and black boxes and green bins as the recycling industry and the bureaucrats who support them try to make the householder do more and more and more of the work … my sense ~ based only on what I see on my morning walks ~ is that the blue bins are still full but the other boxes, especially the food waste green bins, are less well used. I think the added effort and complexity may be approaching the “tipping point” where residents will be unwilling to do any more to help the process. They are, in short, willing to help but they balk at being asked to gift wrap their garbage.
The problem, it seems to me, is that our green activists insist upon unreasonably high standards and the whole process, which is in thrall to them, is forced to be purer than pure. But the truth ~ I assert it is a fundamnetal truth ~ is that humans are imperfect and imperfectable and they will not be pushed (or persuaded or even bullied) beyond certain limits. Reducing, reusing and recycling is, no doubt, the best way to minimize our impact on the water, soil and air, but we may have to find better, more innovative, albeit less “pure” techniques, and that may, I think must, include e.g. increased use (à la Sweden) of waste to energy plants, accepting that there is still waste and some pollution at the end of that process, the re-use of plastics for e.g. road surfacing (as is being done in the UK and India, and which, concomitantly, creates a new “market” for “dirty” plastics), and other new recycling techniques. None of these are likely to be quite as “good” or quite as green as reduce, reuse and recycle but they are, potentially, going to help us with the aim, which is to keep garbage out of our landfills.
The markets will drive us all in some of those directions ~ the commercial “demand” for cleaner and cleaner paper and plastic products, for example, will mean that recyclers will, eventually, have to provide incentives for homemakers to carefully sort and, more carefully, rinse their waste ~ to “gift wrap” it, in short ~ and the right incentive will work for many people. Other new markets, like waste to energy and road surfacing, will emerge for “dirty” waste. The free market is likely to be a much more effective (and cost effective) tool than either bureaucratic bullying or advertising campaigns. But the right answer will require that the most ardent greenies add a little water to their wine.
Conservatives, federal, provincial and local, need to have a coherent (even coordinated) suite of environmental, climate change and waste handling policies that make good environmental and economic sense to most Canadians.