Many waste management systems focus only on waste once it is produced, and not on trying to reduce the creating of waste. Producers should be equally responsible for the waste they produce, as the consumer should be for choosing to buy waste-laden goods. Perhaps it is time we had a ‘waste’ label similar to the ‘nutritional’ labels we use on food. Establishing good waste management systems is no small feat – it requires many resources to set up good systems of disposal, collection, and treatment and is incredibly expensive. If handled privately, businesses have no incentive to encourage waste reduction! The location of landfills and waste management plants is usually a highly contested decision – who shoulders the burden of the associated pollution? Nobody wants that in their backyard! Within this discussion are also stark elements of environmental justice and equity.
Reduce Reuse Recycle and the Waste Hierarchy
The waste hierarchy was formed using the principles of the 3Rs, with reducing waste being the most ideal. These principles are integral to current waste management legislation and practices. As a society, we have not moved towards the highest part of the pyramid, the reduction of waste. Recycling initiatives are widespread and the reuse of materials is somewhat practiced but the reduction of consumption is a major hurdle in reaching towards urban sustainability. Zero waste is a system where nothing is discarded; it follows the cradle to cradle philosophy where the waste of one organism is the food of another.
Waste Management in Montreal
- Waste Collected: 1,045,700 tons
- Waste Dumped: 745,700 tons (84% of that goes to Landfills)
- Waste “Recovered”: 299,832 tons (31%)
- There are 6 landfills serving Montreal with service contracts provided by BFI Canada.
It is important to note that Montreal’s Sustainable Community Development Plan 2010-2015 addresses only household waste and only part of the waste generated by businesses, institutions and industries that undergo the same treatment. As a whole, this sector generates 1.2 million tons of garbage.
Despite lengthy reports and lofty goals for waste reduction, the City of Montreal and its Sustainable Community Development Plan 2010-2015 produce a lot of information that is difficult to decipher, easy to manipulate, and not particularly useful. Unlike other city websites (eg. Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton) Montreal’s waste website fails to provide clear and accessible instructions on how to dispose of waste, what receptacles to use, or even when to put it out. But putting things in the trash is easy and cheap in Montreal (unlike in Vancouver) so residents can put out an unlimited amount of garbage. Why bother remembering when recycling day is –and risking a fine– when everything can just go in the trash?
Recycling in Montreal
All residential buildings in Montreal have access to recycling services and residents do not have to separate glass, plastic, metals, and paper. All recyclable materials in Montreal are sorted at the Saint Michel Environmental Complex, one of the largest in North America. The Complex is owned by the City of Montreal but is operated by Groupe TIRU. Over 80% of the “recycled” paper is sold and shipped to China to be burned for electricity generation. In 2008, 53% of recyclables (paper, card box, plastics and metals) were diverted from landfills. The municipality is very optimistic that it will soon reach the 60% cut off required by Quebec policy as it has exceeded the number in certain categories. Indeed, 77% of glass material is recycled but only 31% of plastic collected avoids landfills. Almost 95% of beer bottles are recycled in Quebec, compared with about 60% of wine and spirits bottles. Each bottle is actually reused ten or more times. Wine bottles are sent to recycling centres sold to be remade into other products. Recycling centres are one of the primary players blocking the legislation to allow the reuse of wine bottles: since they are paid according to the weight of recyclable material they collect and glass is one of the heavier materials they receive.
Organic Waste in Montreal
The City of Montreal’s weakest waste management attribute is undeniably its lack of an organic waste infrastructure. Organic waste comprises 47% of the waste collected by the city but only 8% is kept out of landfills. The city aims to divert 60% of its organic waste from landfills by 2015, as required by the Quebec government. Furthermore, the environment Minister plans to ban all organic waste from landfills by 2020. As of today, green waste is only collected in bulk twice a year. The City wants to open more composting centers to deal with organic waste. This initiative includes building two anaerobic digestion centres, two composting centres, and a pilot centre for pretreatment of organic waste. However the plant planned in the west island, near the airport, has been refused over concerns that the center would increase the bird population and cause safety hazards for planes. The city is also looking east and projects to install four composting centres in the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex. However, the residents of the area have expressed considerable discontent with the plan. They have expressed concerns about attracting more birds as well as increased traffic and pollution, Saint-Michel plans to become a greener neighborhood and acquiring the biggest urban park on the Island.
Sensibilisation and Reducing Waste
Unfortunately, there is very little within the Master Plan about reducing waste. Simply diverting the waste (recycling and reusing) to different systems will not reduce the total amount of waste generated. The city puts more emphasis on educating the population on the different programs available than on the importance of conscious purchases.
The state of municipal solid waste management is not particularly bright anywhere. Every city has its horror story about landfills and water pollution, so comparisons between them are not always useful–especially where the numbers are skewed. So what is to be done? What are the questions to ask, the answers to give, the paths to take? It seems that the strongest players in the picture are the factors that lie behind the scene: the interests of private collection companies, the drivers of a consumer economy, the short-sightedness of city officials who see only one methods of progress. Fortunately there are a number of city institutions, businesses, and organizations that seem to be accomplishing a great deal despite the bleak landscape.
Metrics of Sustainable Waste Management
The UN Habitat 2010 report (Solid Waste in the World’s Cities) outlines specific indicators which are used to compare waste management practices between different cities. Indicators cover a wide range of system aspects, from how much of the population has access to waste collection, to financial sustainability. This follows the ideas of Integrated Sustainable Waste Management, where environmental, social, and economic sustainability all play a part in the ideal system. Below is the list of indicators and the provided descriptions:
- Collection and sweeping coverage: Percentage of population who has access to waste collection services.
- Controlled disposal: Percentage of total waste destined for disposal that is deposited in an environmental landfill or controlled disposal site, or any other formal treatment system, including incineration.
- Waste captured by the system: Percentage of waste collected by the formal and informal sector or deposited by households in containers or depots. The final destination is not relevant.
- Materials prevented or recovered: Percentage of total waste which is prevented and recovered – that is, which fails to reach disposal because of prevention, reuse or valorization.
- Provider inclusivity: Composite score on a set of quality indicators allowing a yes for present and a no for absent. Represents the degree to which service providers (and waste recyclers) are included in the planning and implementation process of waste management services and activities.
- User inclusivity: Composite score on a set of quality indicators allowing a yes for present and a no for absent. Represents the degree to which users of the solid waste services are included in policy formation, planning, implementation and evaluation of these services.
- Financial sustainability: The percentage of households who both use and pay for waste collection services.
- Institutional coherence: Composite score of low, medium or high. Combines a percentage indicator for the degree to which the solid waste management budget is directly controlled by the agency, or entity, formally designated to manage the solid system within the city, combined with a qualitative assessment and the organogram.
Some Good Examples of Waste Management?
A report by UN Habitat (Solid Waste in the World’s Cities) outlines many examples of waste management in cities across the world, some of which are summarized below.
Adelaide has a very modernised waste collection system, with all residents receiving kerbside collection on a weekly basis. Most areas have separate waste bins for recyclables and green organics, and there is a ban on plastic bags. After citizen mobilization against the acquisition of a new landfill, Zero Waste South Australia was created in 2003, to help promote waste reduction that will eventually render landfills unnecessary.
The first minute and a half of this video are enough to highlight Philadelphia’s highly modernized recycling plant. This business clearly has strict safety and health codes for the workers and the environment.
The Environmental Council of Zambia works on environmental protection and pollution control – in Lusaka this translates to improving public health. In contrast to the waste management system in Philadelphia, Lusaka’s collection system is just starting up, and is not highly mechanized. Only 45% of the city is covered by formal waste collection systems, although another 30% is covered by the informal sector. However, Lusaka’s situation represents a large step forward for the city in helping to get waste off the streets. This is especially of concern during the rain season when cholera outbreaks are common. Some workers collect residential waste and others sort through garbage at the dump, saving items such as glass bottles to be sold to middle men. This video provides a visually stunning contrast to the working conditions in Philadelphia’s waste sorting plant!
Every year in Dhaka in monsoon season, floods are exacerbated by plastic bags blocking the city’s drains. Bangladesh made a ban on plastic bags in 2002, but this did not solve all problems for this densely populated city, where over three million people are living in slums. Waste management in Dhaka is driven by concerns for the environment and public health. Dhaka’s government initiatives include a compost plant created in 2008, and stricter guidelines for new landfills. Laws such as the one against plastic bags and others against littering are only as effective as their enforcement, which is unfortunately lacking. In this city, recycling is seen as a foreign (western) concept, because being resourceful is a way of life – items such as newspapers and glass bottles are reused for as long as possible.
Some Major Waste Management Theories
Cradle to Cradle
“When designers employ the intelligence of natural systems – the effectiveness of nutrient cycling, the abundance of the sun’s energy – they can create products, industrial systems, buildings, even regional plans that allow nature and commerce to fruitfully co-exist.” The processes of every organism contributes to the well-being of the whole system. Products should be designed with this purpose in mind to ensure that they do not become obsolete. (McDonough and Braungart 2002)
Reduce Reuse Recycle and the Waste Hierarchy
The waste hierarchy was formed using the principles of the 3Rs, with reducing waste being the most ideal. These principles are integral to current waste management legislation and practices. Recycling initiatives are widespread and the reuse of materials is somewhat practiced but the reduction of consumption is a major hurdle in reaching towards urban sustainability. Zero waste is a system where nothing is discarded; it follows the cradle to cradle philosophy where the waste of one organism is the food of another.
“Freeganism is a total boycott of an economic system where the profit motive has eclipsed ethical considerations and where massively complex systems of productions ensure that all the products we buy will have detrimental impacts most of which we may never even consider.” Major principles are waste reclamation, waste minimization, eco-friendly housing, rent-free housing, going green, and working less to provide greater community support. – freegan.info
Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)
Life cycle analysis looks at all stages of a product’s life, including pre-production, production, distribution, utilization, and disposal. The idea introduced here is that energy (or material) is an input at every stage of the process – the energy put into final disposal is not representative of the energy consumed over the lifetime of the product or processes.
Integrated Sustainable Waste Management (ISWM)
Integrated Sustainable Waste Management (ISWM) is a framework for designing and implementing new waste management systems and for assessing the effectiveness and efficiency of existing systems. Stakeholder participation leads to responsible behaviour, environmental awareness, and higher willingness to pay in issues of sustainability in an urban setting. When people contribute to a project, they are more likely to follow through and ensure its implementation. The system elements have three major components: waste collection, waste disposal and waste prevention. Waste prevention focuses on the reduce, reuse, and recycle philosophy. The most critical components of the ISWM include inclusivity, a multi-stakeholder approach, financial Sustainability, and sound institutions and proactive policies.
Key questions for further research/class discussions
- Extended producer reliability: this concept refers to the accountability of the producer to the complete life cycle of the products he manufactures.
- Polluters Pays Principle: This concept means that if you are the party who has the lion’s share in polluting environment then you have to pay for this. With reference to waste management, the polluter would have to pay the price for the waste to be completely disposed off. This also links to the need to redefine “ownership of waste”.
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