Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Defending the Zero Waste brand

Columnist John Barber at the Globe and Mail has cast another shot across the bow of the incineration industry, this time assailing them for falsely flying the Zero Waste flag.

In his June 14 column, Barber writes:

"The race to zero waste has become the hottest municipal sweepstakes since the move to indoor plumbing," writes Barber, "The best proof of that is the speed with which those who stand to lose from zero waste are moving to co-opt it."

As Barber reports, the Zero Waste sweepstakes heated up in Canada last week with the formation of an Ontario Zero Waste Coalition.

The new coalition is made up mainly of municipalities and citizens tired of providing waste and recycling services ~ services that benefit mainly the producers of throw-away products ~ at public expense. They're calling for 100 percent producer funding of waste management. They see this as a key driver of Zero Waste design, design that could eventually lead to a world without waste.

Who has most to lose from this Zero Waste scenario? Not the product makers, who have shown that they can design cradle-to-cradle recycling programs once they're required to do so (look at our nearly 40-year-old deposit program for beverage containers, or our stewardship programs for paint and other household hazardous products).

The people who have the most to lose from Zero Waste are the companies that make money from waste. But rather than adapt, they are co-opting the Zero Waste brand.

Chief among the co-opters on Barber's list is Plasco Energy Group. They've not only ripped off the Zero Waste brand, they've even appropriated the Ottawa brand.

Where would a waste-to-energy company be without waste?

Sometimes public servants have a similar blind spot, except in their case it comes not from the promise of profits but from public expectations that "there will always be waste" and it's the city's job to make it go away. The chance to be involved in the development of a state-of-the-art architecturally-designed incinerator brings stars to the eyes of traditionally trained waste managers.

Our own Metro Vancouver received a scathing write-up this spring in the cover story of Canada's national recycling magazine Solid Waste and Recycling for its own co-opting of the Zero Waste brand by stretching the concept, as Plasco does, to include waste-to-energy incineration.

But everything eventually comes back to the neighbourhood.

Will voters in next November's civic elections support candidates whose campaign promise is to build trash burners in their backyards?

Or will they demand good policy instead of techno-fixes:

"What's truly radical about zero waste," writes Barber, "is that it simply ignores the never-ending ruckus over the safest technology to deal with the alleged 'garbage crisis.' By focusing on policy and economics instead - banning throwaways and making producers pay for their own waste - zero waste makes landfills and incinerators essentially unnecessary.... As a pipe dream, this one is hot as can be."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Zero Waste movement are too pious. I regard any Plasco use of ZW is an reflection of output, not input; although personally I regard it more satirical of ZW dislocation from current consumer reality and where ordinary people are at, and that any other approach to resource management is seen as contradiction. Perhaps this is were the ZW movement have more in kin with religious zealots than engaging positively with different better technologies that have a lesser net monetarised climate change impact than composting; and have a better chance of stopping incinerator proposals. No large scale ZW schemes actually deliver ZW, and they never will! Not even if you brainwash people with ZW philosophy.