Municipal waste: landfills, EFW, and the circular economy

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MRC Pontiac has a garbage problem. We are sending our waste to a site in Laval, which is most notable due to the extra costs imposed on our municipalities and, ultimately, the residents. But this is not the only issue. The landfill method of waste disposal has immediate and long-term environmental problems that tend to be overlooked. So, we have a current debate about the proposal for the construction and operation of a waste-to-energy facility. Essentially, this is the concept of burning the waste at high temperatures and generating electric energy. At a first glance, this sounds great, but closer examination uncovers many issues.

The first step in finding a truly viable solution may begin with the question: “why so much garbage?”. We (Canadians) generate 694 kilograms of waste per person per year – the worst record of all nations on planet Earth. 510 kilograms of this goes to landfill. This explains why,

in part, Canadian landfill sites are rapidly becoming full and garbage disposal is a major issue for us and our environment. Obviously, something must change.  But what?

The most effective solution lies in the concept of the circular economy. This is a system whereby materials never become waste. Products and materials are kept in circulation by maintenance, reuse, recycling, and remanufacturing. The final stage is composting, where residues are returned to the environment for natural disposal. The circular economy recovers as much value as possible. It is the wise use of resources to ensure humanity’s true values and the planet’s ecosystem.

Implementing the circular economy will require changes in many of our current destructive practices. We need new business models that account for currently hidden environmental costs. And these new models should be global.  Manufacturing processes must include considerations for recycling and final disposal. These changes are being made.  Individual companies are altering their manufacturing process to better fit with the circular economy. Right-to-repair legislation is becoming more common. The European Union is preparing standards and procedures that will make the circular economy a requirement. The Government of Canada has made the concept of a circular economy an essential part of its plans for sustainability.

And what does this have to do with the proposed waste-to-energy facility for MRC Pontiac? Well, first, there will not be enough garbage to make the facility operational over a long period of time. Second, operating such a facility will become very expensive. Simply put, the long-term viability of a waste-to-energy facility can be seriously questioned. Yes, garbage is a serious issue, but MRC Pontiac has had too many ineffectual attempts at injecting economic activity to be able to afford another failure.