A bleak picture was painted Wednesday night in Coquitlam during a public forum on solid waste hosted by Metro Vancouver that featured a mix of industry professionals, academic experts and business people.
Len Laycock, chief executive officer of the furniture manufacturer Upholstery Arts, addressed the crowd of about 100 people, stating he refuses to use terms like “landfill” and “waste management” because they are not accurate and they “sanitize” the conversation. “If we were truly ‘managing’ our garbage, I would give ourselves a failing grade,” he said.
Laycock’s opening address set the tone for the meeting when he launched into forceful oration against big corporations, often leaning closer to the microphone, his voice rising. “We don’t have control of our garbage at all,” he said.
Large international businesses can mitigate waste, Laycock continued because they use too much packaging and produce “throw-away products.”
“We’ve been extremely wimpy about it. We have to repatriate garbage back to the source.
“We have to find our spines,” Laycock said in response to a question. “We have to legislate and demand what we need to do,” he said. “We can’t keep viewing recycling as a panacea. And we’re not actually recycling — we’re down-cycling.”
Many products we “recycle,” he said, are just reused in a lesser capacity, citing tires as an example. When tires are recycled, they don’t become new tires — they are installed in playgrounds or turned into mats in fitness clubs.
Fellow panel member Brock Macdonald, executive director of the Recycling Council of BC, echoed many of Laycock’s comments and said it is possible to force change, using paint as an example. That industry changed after government enacted legislation telling producers they would have to accept old paint tins for disposal.
The audience was encouraged to ask questions after the opening addresses, which also included comments from Paul Gilman, senior vice president of Covanta Energy, the University of Victoria’s Andrew Weaver, and Tony Sperling, the president and landfill design specialist for Sperling Hansen Associates.
New Westminster Environmental Partners’ Pat Johnstone asked what legislative abilities exist to help bring about change.
Gilman replied that one of the first ways would be to enact landfill bans on certain material, similar to what’s done in some European countries, then impose taxes on everything else heading to the dump — and couple both with levies to “drive up recycling.”
Sperling agreed with Gilman, articulating the need to ban easily recycled items, such as corrugated cardboard, that find a path into the garbage stream.
Macdonald raised the issue of extended producer responsibility (EPR), which makes the companies creating products accountable for the waste their wares create. He said the furniture industry may soon be faced with complying with EPR, and hypothetically spoke of roof shingles. If the roofing industry were told there would be levies imposed if its products weren’t changed to a more sustainable, recyclable items, manufacturers would be forced to re-engineer shingles.
Clear direction from the provincial government is needed to “connect the dots,” said Macdonald. Without its leadership, there are too many small groups across B.C. and “responsibility is fragmented.”
“There’s nobody looking at the big picture. We have to have consistent messaging.”
Waste-to-energy (WTE) plants were also hotly contest among the panel and audience, with Weaver saying they’re not a long-term solution, but they are part of the transition between current practices and a zero-waste approach.
He said each municipality should have to deal with its own garbage in its own backyard, instead of shipping to places such as Cache Creek where it’s out of sight, out of mind.
One audience member asked what the risks to public health are from WTE and Covanta’s Gilman’s answer elicited chortles.
“The United Kingdom government has determined there are no health effects from WTEs,” he said. “The pattern isn’t there” to prove WTEs are bad for human health, he concluded.
Maple Ridge councillor Craig Speirs asked how profit can be put into zero waste.
“We have to get back to making products that last a long time. We have to get back to quality and we have to get back to reliability,” posited Laycock. Once consumers start demanding this type of shift, businesses will have to follow suit or close.
Some trash-related terms and definitions:
• Waste to energy: Waste-to-energy (WTE) or energy-from-waste (EFW) is the process of creating energy in the form of electricity or heat from the incineration of waste source. WTE is a form of energy recovery. Most WTE processes produce electricity directly through combustion or produce a combustible fuel commodity, such as methane, methanol, ethanol or synthetic fuels.
• Biomass: Biomass, a renewable energy source, is biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms, such as wood, waste and alcohol fuels. Biomass is commonly plant matter grown to generate electricity or produce heat. For example, forest residues (such as dead trees, branches and tree stumps), yard clippings and wood chips may be used as biomass. Biomass also includes plant or animal matter used for production of fibres or chemicals. Biomass may also include biodegradable wastes that can be burned as fuel. It excludes organic material such as fossil fuel which has been transformed by geological processes into substances such as coal or petroleum.
• EPR: Extended producer responsibility is a strategy designed to promote the integration of environmental costs associated with goods throughout their life cycles into the market price of the products. Also known as “product stewardship,” extended producer responsibility uses political policies to hold producers liable for the costs of managing their products at end of life. This can take the form of a reuse, buy-back or recycling programs, or in energy production.
– source: Wikipedia