Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.

Forget the Heroics, Just Pick Up the Trash

Recycling programs should make sense and be boring.

Ontario, the province in which I reside, is home to 40% of Canada’s population. A year ago, a majority Tory government was elected, but that doesn’t mean the Environment Ministry is behaving sensibly.

In June of this year, it issued a press release lamenting

the serious problem of plastic pollution and litter that is increasingly plaguing our parks, highways, lakes and rivers. [bold added]

Pardon me? Well known scientific studies have examined plastic in the world’s oceans. That research is clear: much of it comes from rivers in Asia. In countries without a proper sanitation infrastructure, people use rivers as garbage dumps.

Concern about plastic may be on the rise, but it’s outrageous for a government ministry to declare without hard evidence that plastic is increasing in Ontario’s lakes and rivers – and that an advisor needs to be appointed to “urgently address these issues.”

Nevertheless, such an advisor was selected. His name is David Lindsay. And his actual task was to help figure out how to shift responsibility for Ontario’s mandated-by-law curbside recycling programs away from municipal governments and onto the shoulders of companies that sell products that consumers then recycle.

‘Make the polluters pay’ sounds good, to some ears. In fact, industry already funds 50% of the costs of curbside recycling in Ontario. In my view, it’s a good bet that putting the whole shebang into the hands of the private sector will improve matters. It also seems sensible to standardize what gets collected province-wide. Currently, different communities have different rules. Big picture, this leads to a confusing mess.

But Lindsay’s report, online here, is troubling. It seems that, whenever the environment is involved, delusions of grandeur are never far behind. Recycling isn’t rocket science. It should be bleeping boring.

But that isn’t good enough for Lindsay. He wants Ontario to “become a leading jurisdiction…in the recycling industry.” He thinks Ontario should be “a North American leader in collection and recycling.” He even wants it to be “a global leader in recycling.”

Rather than a sober examination, this report is a philosophical treatise, an expression of one individual’s personal views. He declares that Ontario residents “create too much waste and don’t recycle enough.” He implausibly implies that curbside recycling can be a significant driver of economic growth and job creation. He proclaims:

I know I am not alone when I say that Ontario is on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve our environment and build our economy.

Lindsay’s report declares that Ontario has “limited landfill capacity.” But at more than 1 million square kilometres, we’re four times larger than the United Kingdom, with less than a quarter of the population. Landfill supply is about politics. It has everything to do with fear, revulsion, misinformation, and activism. Any scarcity is a mirage; entirely artificial.

Lindsay then steps way over the line by ruling out incineration as a waste management solution. In his view, it should be completely off the table until “recycling has been maximized.” It shouldn’t count as a method of diverting waste from landfills even though it accomplishes exactly that. Once again, artificial restrictions are being imposed. Why? In the words of the report:

Allowing waste to be used to create energy may be perceived as a reduced incentive to recycle…

An honest broker lays out all the options, together with their pluses and minuses. That’s not what happens here. When it assists his recycling arguments, Lindsay enthusiastically talks about what’s going on in Europe. Yet he fails to mention that clean, high-tech incineration takes place in more than 30 European countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

The personal preferences of a single individual are not supposed to determine government policy.

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This entry was posted on August 12, 2019 by in ethical & philosophical and tagged .
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