Right in the centre - Revisiting some garbage


By: Ken Waddell


This past week we have been browsing through some of our old issues of the paper and it’s interesting how much has changed in 10-15 years.

Back in 2000, the concept of a regional waste site was just emerging. Several towns had landfills or garbage dumps and they were pretty disgusting places. There were high hopes that a new site – a regional one that could replace several old ones.

There were high hopes that more recycling would take place and that the environment would be cleaner.
Some of those hopes have been realized in Evergreen Environmental, the waste site that handles garbage and recycling from Neepawa, Carberry, Minnedosa and surrounding municipalities. It’s obviously somewhat successful as a small mountain of garbage is now piled up there and not scattered around the countryside or in smaller landfills.

There is definite downside as well. Garbage and recycling costs have gone up. It was definitely a lot cheaper in the short run to dump and burn at the old landfills. The new landfill rules don’t allow for burning. Towns or RMs can burn trees, but they aren’t supposed to burn garbage or construction waste. It’s amazing how many tons or tonnes of garbage accumulates from a relatively small area.

Recycling efforts have certainly stepped up as well. Rivers has a very aggressive recycling program which includes a ban on one-time use of grocery bags. The recycling tonnage from Evergreen is increasing as they are now sorting recycling for the first time in years and cardboard especially is being shipped out by the semi-load.

There are still many problems with garbage and recycling and I was reminded of that when I watched an online video about recycling in Africa. Strangely enough, Africa is both way behind Canadian waste handling and in some places way ahead of Canada. Recycling is a huge industry in parts of Africa, and in other areas, garbage is simply tossed aside for the wind to carry away.

To say that recycling and waste management in Manitoba is confusing would be an understatement.

Municipalities get paid for recycling drink containers or household cardboard. If it’s commercial cardboard, they get paid a pittance even though a large percentage of the tonnage is from commercial cardboard. No levy or fee is collected on commercial cardboard but there is a fee on drink containers.

It’s the old story of governments being willing to meddle but never really facilitating a total solution.

The levy on drink containers should be accompanied by a small levy on all products including commercial cardboard and plastics. If we really want to clean up our environment and recycle stuff, then there should be payback to the collectors on all products.

When there was a one or two cent levy on glass bottles decades ago, kids and adults alike scoured the roads county-wide for bottles because they got paid for them.

We are missing a major opportunity in garbage handling and that is clean burn for energy production.

Because we have cheap electrical power generated by Manitoba Hydro, there’s little incentive for alternative energy. Wind and solar simply can’t compete with hydro.

However we have a high direct cost in not burning garbage, construction waste and downed trees. We should be clean burning those by-products instead of paying for the huge burial costs.

Consider this: It costs $75 per tonne to dispose of waste at Evergreen Environmental. At that price, it means that garbage is worth the same as when wheat is priced at $2 per bushel. We don’t throw out wheat when its priced at $2 per bushel, so why do we throw out garbage?

We need to recycle more, much more. But there comes a point in the waste stream where there’s nothing that can be done except to burn it or bury it and we should be burning it and generating energy by doing so.

The problem is that communities, citizens and governments seem to be happy with partial solutions instead of innovating all the way to a total solution. Cleaning up our environment and our landscape will take effort from everyone. Certainly local recycling efforts and the very hard work that’s already being done at Evergreen Environmental are big steps in the right direction.

We need to change our thinking. It isn’t trash or garbage. It’s money and opportunity and it’s up to us to seize it.