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Energy-from-waste is NOT zero waste!

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Added: Wed, 07/01/2020 - 3:44pm
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Darlene Pashak
Éditorialiste Invitée
Guest Editorialist

The MRC Pontiac is looking at creating an energy-from-waste (EFW) facility, claiming it will stimulate the economy, save transportation costs, and reduce carbon emissions incurred from hauling garbage and recycling elsewhere. Laudable goals, yes, but are we focusing on the right stage of the game? 
Recently, Zero Waste Canada (ZWC)  offered an online presentation about the ways to reduce waste at source, not simply divert it.
The Zero Waste International Alliance defines zero waste as: “The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water or air that threaten the environment or human health.”
EFW is essentially an incinerator – an alternative to landfilling that doesn’t do anything to reduce waste. It burns materials and even if the method claims to be 99% ‘clean’, there’s still a certain level of pollution. “Incinerators create a demand for waste, thus incentivising waste disposal instead of reducing, reusing and recycling,” says ZWC.
According to ZWC’s inverted pyramid, EFW is not only at the bottom of the
hierarchy of strategies to reduce waste, but is labelled an unacceptable option. If
the MRC Pontiac wants to be known as a leader, is this really the solution?
According to the Conference Board of Canada, we generate on average 720 kg
of waste per capita. The majority ends up in landfills. When we think of waste, it’s
post-consumer, but we forget about the waste generated in the production process. For every tonne of waste consumers generate, 71 tonnes are created before the product even arrives at our doors. If we want to save money and the environment, shouldn’t we be focusing on the starting line rather than the end result?
A new waste facility replacing landfills with incineration isn’t a solution; it’s more complex and requires deep thinking at multiple levels of government to target the many points along the production chain, making it a goal at the top of the inverted pyramid to rethink and redesign needless and/or wasteful consumption.
Scrap the money to be spent on creating a new landfill and put it to better use supporting initiatives that reduce waste in the first place by encouraging all those “R’s” – rethink, redesign, reduce, reuse, recycle/compost, and residuals management. Instead of being a leader in waste, the Pontiac could be the leader in zero waste!