Garbage industry fights for control of your waste
By Helen Spiegelman
There's a battle raging across North America.
On one side is an unholy alliance of companies and interests that profit from waste. On the other is a small but growing army of citizens and public servants who are determined to eradicate waste.
The waste profiteers are pushing an agenda of single-stream recycling and waste-to-energy. All designed to make wasting more convenient and efficient. All designed to take our minds off the root cause of waste. All designed to prevent a shift from a Throw-Away Society to a Conserver Society.
The waste profiteers have history on their side. A hundred years of ingrained habit have made us take wasting for granted. An inevitable fact of life, a hallmark of our prosperity.
We also take for granted that our waste services will be convenient, and provided at very low cost. In Canada, they're a service of our local government. And a close relationship has grown up between the garbage industry and our local governments. Their interests are aligned. They both want people to feel good about the services they provide. The mayor doesn't want angry phone calls from voters complaining their garbage wasn't taken away.
It disrupted the status quo both for local governments and the garbage industry when the public demanded recycling in the 1980s and 1990s. This added a lot of complexity and extra costs. Inconvenience. Hassle. Phone calls.
Recycling also put an uncomfortable new spotlight on the producers of throw-away products and packaging. They were at risk of being recognized as the cause of the surging growth of waste.
And so quietly, behind the scenes, the garbage industry and the makers of throwaway products and packaging are working together to preserve public confidence in the wasting system that has served them so well.
They are focussing their effort especially on places like British Columbia. Why? Because in 1970 B.C. became the first place in North America to require beer and soft drink companies to take back their empties and recycle them--a recycling program that long predated the Blue Box. And then in the 1990s, B.C. pushed the idea further, requiring producers of a whole range of hazardous products to take them back.
Left unchecked, this "extended producer responsibility" policy could threaten both the garbage industry and the producers themselves.
Thus the full-court-press to convince the public and their Mayors that dumbing down recycling and burning waste is a better solution.
So which way will we go? Will we build a bigger, better waste system, enriching the garbage industry and and letting the producers off the hook? Or will we build composting plants, and insist that producers be required to take back their products and packaging at stores or other outlets.
Helen Spiegelman is a Vancouver-based environmentalist and blog coortdinator. Read more at Zero Waste.