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Monday 28 March 2011

Welcome to the Waste-Land

Over at The Telegram they have been digging into the Provincial Waste Management Strategy and have filled Access to information requests to ferret out some details on what's really been happening since the strategy was released back in 2002. There is little doubt that the long process will result in a better approach to waste management for NL, but can it be done better?

The Plan
When the NL Waste Management Strategy was released in 2002 it contained some very ambitious goals. The key focus was to close out the over 200 small waste sites in the province and instead create 3 mega-sites where modern waste management technology could help minimize our environmental impact. The 3 sites would be located in the Eastern, Central and Western areas of the Island. They didn't quite know what to do with Labrador, and not too much seems to have changed in 9 years.

The Problems
1. The Plan is quite a bit behind schedule. Not unexpected for a Government strategy but still worth noting that while we are in the process of closing landfill sites there are still more then there should be according to the plan. The final incinerator shut down in 2010 as noted in this CBC story, two years behind schedule. Then there's the phase out of unlined landfill sites by 2010 and the full province wide waste management system by 2010. Not exactly.

2. Administrative issues. There have been significant resignations in the East(can't find an online source), the West and even with firms contracted to do some of the work as noted here in The Telegram.

3. Municipalities will be responsible for implementing the final product but some of the municipal reps are still pretty unhappy about the way it's been rolling out. And in some cases strong-arm tactics were used.

4. We are trucking thousands of tones of garbage over hundreds of kilometers to bury it in the ground. How is this environmentally friendly? Besides the composting, which is minimal, and the recycling that is growing, we are still just burying garbage. And now we're trucking that garbage and burning fuel, and paying money to do so. It is just a start but we have to incorporate new technology to better recycle and reuse our waste.

5. Cost and Enforcement. This issue will likely be the one that becomes a large issues as time goes on. Because of the shipping noted in number 4, there will be storage and transfer stations located all over the Island and no more local dump sites. That will mean increased costs. How much will depend on where you live but it is widely accepted that the cost will go up. (And frankly it should, we pay nearly nothing currently) But the real problem is that if you want to take your own trash to the dump, or if you live in an area with no garbage collection you will still be expected to pay for a dumping service when you drop your trash at a transfer site. We already have an issue with people (read idiots) dumping trash in the woods instead of taking it to a waste site and it's still free. What will happen when there is a cost to use the transfer site? Most feel that without enforcement the pristine wilderness will become one big dumping ground. There has been no official position on enforcement.

While these are significant issues that must be overcome they are not insurmountable. But the solutions will need to be flexible and innovative as opposed to rigid and recycled.(good for trash bad for ideas) There is little doubt that we need a viable waste management solution for the entire province, and it will certainly cost more the what we currently use. But the key should be to use a variety of approaches that make sense at the local level as opposed to shipping garbage from Bonavista to St. John's. The NL Waste management Strategy was designed with a top-down approach that was never intended to be flexible at the local level. Because of that the Government has taken a hard-nosed approach that does not allow for open discussion on solutions for rural NL.

My family home has a small trash area behind it that was used by our family for many years. It contained some bottles and cans and very little else. It was reclaimed by nature in a very short time, partly because we were not nearly as wasteful then as we are now. I can't help but wonder if it will ever be possible to reclaim (not just bury) a site as large as Robin Hood Bay. I hope so.

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