Jane Toller, the Warden for MRC Pontiac has recently brought forward the idea of an incinerator as a solution to the problem of handling waste materials here in the Pontiac. While her proposed solution is controversial the problem of waste management is real, significant, and in need of a resolution. To investigate the seriousness of the problem some basic facts should be kept in mind. The first is that to be economical, waste from MRC Pontiac is not sufficient to warrant the construction and operation of an incinerator. Considerable amounts of trash would have to be brought in from outside of MRC Pontiac.
Of course, waste material is not in short supply. The biggest producer of waste per capita on this planet is Canada – more than 36 metric tons per year per person. This is 10 metric tons per year more than the United States. This waste includes municipal solid waste, industrial, medical, e-waste, radioactive, hazardous, and agricultural waste.
And what do we do with all this waste? Approximately thirty percent is recycled. The rest goes into landfills, shipped out of the country, or incinerated with landfill being the most common method for disposing of non-recycled waste. However, the ten thousand landfill sites in Canada are reaching their capacity. So, finding some alternative is imperative and urgent.
The problem is that waste is managed on a take-make-waste model – we throw away what we produce. The alternative is a circular model. Products are reused, repaired, re-manufactured or recycled. And the final refuse should be compostable, returned to the earth as enriching material. Reaching this circular methodology will require some changes in our current consumption habits. The materials used in the manufacturing, packaging, and disposing must be redeveloped to match the circular model requirements. This will involve federal, provincial, and municipal legislation. But, most significantly, the consumer must realize the need for change and support this alternative by changing some of their consumption and waste disposal practices.
And what about incineration? Burning waste has at least three components that do not fit into the circular model. First, incineration generates carbon dioxide and there are unquestionable effects of increased carbon dioxide on the weather and temperature of our planet. The second is that incineration leaves behind a solid ash that concentrates heavy metal and other toxic residues that require special handling. Also, incineration releases fine particulate matter into the atmosphere; this particulate matter has been shown to be extremely damaging to living beings.
In considering the circular model, we must look beyond MRC Pontiac and be prepared to participate in national and international solutions that are meaningful for all of humanity and planet Earth. Alternatives, such as incineration, have too many long-lasting adverse effects on our planet and its inhabitants.