Federal government should lead waste management policies

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Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier

By any measurement (economic, environmental, aesthetic, health) garbage disposal is a major issue in this time of consumption throw-away living: and finding a reasonable, cost effective and environmentally sensitive method for
dealing with garbage is a first rank priority. This is where Canada is behind many other advanced

Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier

By any measurement (economic, environmental, aesthetic, health) garbage disposal is a major issue in this time of consumption throw-away living: and finding a reasonable, cost effective and environmentally sensitive method for
dealing with garbage is a first rank priority. This is where Canada is behind many other advanced
industrial countries, shown by recent statistics. The latest international survey of waste management of 40 industrial countries showed that 28 of them had better records than Canada. Canadians produce 510 kilograms of waste per capita per year; 24% is recycled, 4% is handled by incinerators and 72% ends up in landfills.
Compare this to some European countries: in Germany, 65% of waste is recycled, 35% is incinerated and 0% is sent to landfills; Belgium: 55% recycled, 44% incinerated and 1% landfill; and in Denmark, 44%
recycled, 54% incinerated and 2% landfill. These countries, and many of the 40 countries measured, are as industrialized as Canada but have developed much superior waste disposal systems.
The major difference comes down to the fact that many European countries have national policies regulating waste – standards for packaging and product use, disposal, and recycling – and these are enforced. By contrast, waste management in Canada is considered a provincial matter and left to municipalities to operate and maintain. The numbers show the results.
Here in the Pontiac, there has been some interest shown in incineration. But, for modern incinerators to
be economical, they must be huge plants serving a population of at least 500,000. This means a regional operation. Further, to ensure continuous operation, there should be at least three plants so if one is not operational for a prolonged period of time, the other plants can process the excess. So, for a successful incineration solution to the garbage problem, a regional population of 1.5 million is needed. 
As a basic requirement, incineration must be done within strict health and
environmental standards. Incineration, by its very nature, generates CO2 – another major problem that needs attention – and,
unless built to very exacting standards, other gases (dioxins) and particulate matter become health hazards. Also, incineration leaves behind ash – usually a concentrate of heavy metals that require special disposal procedures. In short, while incineration offers some benefits, including energy generation, there are also significant technical issues that must be addressed.
Waste management is a very serious issue, not just here in MRC Pontiac, but for all of Canada. Landfill sites are no longer available as a solution and while we must continue to look for alternate means of disposal, we should also realize that a meaningful solution will require a national response: the federal and provincial governments must become more active in developing solutions.