Volume 92, Issue 62
Tuesday, January 19, 1999
Saving the world with a little blue box
© Dipesh Mistry/Gazette
By Meridyth Drew
While the garbage at the end of the lane vanishes each week, what many fail to acknowledge is the majority of waste ends up stored at landfill sites. Although measures are in effect to ensure the safest possible disposal of waste and maintenance of the sites, the impacts of today's high consumption society has some people worried it could prove to be devastating if people do not radically change their living habits.
Efforts are underway to reduce the amount of waste stored at landfill sites. According to Bruce Pope of the policy branch of waste management in Toronto, the Ministry of the Environment and Energy has a current provincial goal of a 50 per cent diversion in waste from landfills by the year 2000, compared to 1987 statistics.
"Municipalities and the private sector are having a hard time meeting the target," says Jay Stanford, manager of solid waste for the City of London. However, 1997 statistics show that London does have a 35 per cent waste diversion rate when compared to 1987 waste figures.
"We are looking at long-term waste disposal right now and that is for a 25 to 40 year period. So we just want to have a long term strategy to make sure we have a home for our garbage," Stanford says.
Stanford, however, adds the majority of London's garbage will eventually come to reside within one of the area landfills.
There are groups of rural residents who spend a great deal of time dealing with the end result of garbage disposal and its effects on their lives. Glen and Wilma Williams are members of a small environmental community group currently involved in pursuing the safest possible landfill regulations and ensuring the interests of rural residents living near landfills.
The Williams, who live directly adjacent to one of London's garbage dumps, say a day never goes by that they do not think about it. Both have been involved in pursuing stricter safety regulations for landfills since 1974, when the landfill was placed next to their family farm.
"When people pass garbage disposal off lightly it really hurts you," Wilma says. Both she and Glen say they believe perhaps the effects of garbage have to impact people before they become concerned.
"People just put the garbage out at the end of the road and let it go. The majority of people in London probably do not know where the garbage goes," Glen says.
The Williams are concerned there is a potential to be exposed to landfill gases because of their close proximity to the site and are also concerned about potential impacts on their drinking water. Currently they, along with a number of their neighbours, buy their drinking water at their own expense.
"We understand that we have to have landfills in our throw-away society," says Doug Ouimette, another area resident and member of the community group.
The group has several ideas regarding how the amount of garbage coming into the landfill could be reduced. The members of the group would like to see a material recovery facility in front of all landfill sites, which would sort through the incoming garbage and redirect any recyclable and compostable material to the appropriate facility.
In addition to this, the group say they believe if the user pay system was widely adopted, it would help to reduce the amount of landfilling. The user pay system requires that people pay to have their garbage removed according to how much waste they produced and thereby giving people incentive to reduce, recycle and compost.
At the very least, the members say there must be more research done regarding waste reduction. Because they cannot consciously sell their homes to unsuspecting buyers, these residents say they feel the only suitable answer is for the township to zone their properties as industrial, so they will be able to relocate.
The question for the Western community may centre on whether or not it is are maximizing its ability to limit the effects waste is having on the environment. Michael Creighton, University Students' Council environmental awareness commissioner, recounts two years ago a waste audit at Western was undertaken which entailed sorting through the garbage from around campus and weighing the recyclable materials found in the garbage compared to how much was actually recycled through the use of blue bins.
"Two years ago, about 40 to 45 per cent of the stuff was recycled and the 60 per cent went into the garbage can," Creighton says. The same type of audit is being done this year by Creighton, with the results being made available in a few months, he says.
"Running the recycling program [this year] is a money losing proposition," Creighton says. The economics of the recycling program is one reason there are not more recycling bins around campus, he adds. But the student body of Western can perform a major role in aiding the recycling program.
"It would help if the recycling rates were double what they are because then the recycling program would make double what it does for the same amount of money put into it," Creighton says. "If the container is only half full, you have to send a janitor around once a day to empty it. If the container is all full you still only pay the janitor one time to go around to empty it, but you get twice as much material."
The problem and the challenge, Creighton says, is how to change people's minds and habits.
Gary Kaye, special coordinator for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment in London, refers to the user pay system as an option available to municipalities to help reduce the amount of waste going to the landfills.
"It is one fair way to finance waste," Kaye says. If people were given the option of a one or two dollar charge per garbage bag, more waste would be diverted into the blue boxes and composters because it would be free, he says.
Other options are being thought out. "Build the cost of recycling or disposal into the cost of every product you buy, so it's a hidden tax and it goes into a fund that pays to develop new technology, pays to develop new uses in materials and pays for recycling," Kaye says.
The bottom line is to have a healthy economy a healthy environment is needed and to have a healthy environment a healthy economy is needed, he adds.
The fact remains that although the emphasis is put on recycling, it is the least cost and energy effective method of the three R's, Kaye says. "If you don't generate it, you don't have to deal with it. You save all kinds of costs and it is much more cost effective," he says. "I suppose to some extent you just walk in the grocery store and it is convenience. You buy the stuff and you don't worry about it. You never think about that it's in your taxes."
Kaye also worries about what it will take to educate people on the importance of waste reduction and diversion. "The more we seem to go ahead, the more we go back. The more rhetoric, the more smoke and mirrors and nothing really seems to happen. Is it going to take that one major disaster that really affects people and then will it be too late?" he says.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999