A company with a chronic deficit solves nothing by taking out a loan. Likewise, Toronto did not solve her garbage problem yesterday. Toronto’s purchase of the deceptively-named Green Lane Environmental Ltd. (say, didn’t we used to call those things garbage dumps?) is the purchase of a little more time, nothing else.
How much time? About twenty years. How much time has it taken us to find this dump? About twenty years. And the next one will take even longer.
We’re the only species on this planet that makes true waste — as in, something that doesn’t go on to become food for something else. Looking at it that way, waste is economic inefficiency. Waste is lost profit. The only true solution to our waste problem is to eliminate waste altogether.
I know, sounds crazy, right? It’s not. In the past three years alone, Toronto has reduced the number of trucks we send to Michigan from 143 a day to 80. (And no, we didn’t just get bigger trucks.) We’ve done that by diverting recyclables and organics, and that’s just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. The real magic happens when you start using materials in continuous cycles.
Take the beer store, for example. They get back and reuse 96% of the bottles they sell! Ontario’s announcement that they’ll start doing this with LCBO products as well is a huge step in the right direction. Just think, if hungover people have the wherewithal to return bottles, how much more could we do with the packaging of non-intoxicating products?!
The bottom line is that we need to stop subsidizing waste, and start making manufacturers responsible for their own products. Author Paul Hawken often writes about having three categories of waste:
- Consumables. Anything that can biodegrade completely and harmlessly. That includes clothes (assuming we stop putting other weird stuff in them) and food (assuming we stop spraying them with toxic pesticides).
- Products of service, like cars, TVs and refrigerators would be “leased” to the customer, ultimately to be returned to the manufacturer who would be responsible for the product’s recycling or reuse.
- Unmarkatables. This is the nasty stuff, like radioactive isotopes, toxins, and chemicals that bioaccumulate (build-up) in your body. Manufacturers really shouldn’t be producing these things at all, but if they do, they’ll pay to have them stored in “parking lots” until they can figure out how to neutralize them.
So, you can either make products that are 100% biodegradable, figure out how to reuse the parts, or pay the government to store your waste for you.
Anyone who thinks waste reduction, and ultimately elimination, isn’t realistic, should ask themselves one question. How realistic is the idea that we can just keep finding new dumps forever? (To say nothing of all the virgin materials we keep extracting unnecessarily.)
We need to start now, so that by the time this dump is full we won’t have to go looking for another one. Let’s not waste the next twenty years. (Ah ha! There’s the pun I was looking for.)
ps. By the way, this new dump is located in some of Ontario’s (and therefore, Toronto’s) prime agricultural land. As our garbage starts to break down it will leach into the earth that grows our food. The phrase “don’t shit where you eat” comes to mind.