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

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Reinventing our cities: is waste a public responsibility?

It's time to ask ourselves whether we want entire departments of our local governments devoted to management of waste.

The city of Vancouver spends upwards of $13 million dollars each year sending trucks around to collect our garbage and empty our recycling containers. Another $6 million emptying street litter bins.

So we're incurring public costs of more than $20 million a year to manage what we call "municipal waste." But is that waste really municipal?

Three-quarters of what we set out at the curb is throw-away products and packaging.

A strong case can be made that these are not "municipal" wastes at all. They are private wastes, produced by companies profiting from disposability. They are sold to consumers who turn to their local governments to make the problem go away.

EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) is a policy that would turn the clock back to a hundred years ago, before the birth of the Throw Away Society.
In 1900 most of our waste (75%) was ashes from heating our homes. Look for the blocked-off openings in the exterior walls of the basement in older homes, where the coal chute used to deposit fuel for the furnace.

Then there was food waste from our kitchens. Not surprisingly, our great-grandparents threw out about the same amount of food waste as we do. Stomachs have not changed much in all that time.

What has changed is that each of us produces 13 times more throw-away products and packaging than our grandparents did. They lived in an era before plastic water bottles, "milk to go," squeezable ketchup bottles, Swiffers, etc. etc. etc.

You may think life is better now, with all those conveniences. But surely it doesn't make sense for public servants to be providing the clean-up for all our throw-aways. How much more sensible for the producers to take them back and recycle them, the way beer bottles still go back to be refilled in this country of ours.

If we could eliminate all the private wastes from our public garbage system, that might just free up resources to spend composting food waste. This is a project that has been woefully neglected while our city chases after milk jugs and yogurt containers and squeezable ketchup containers...
Pic: The Benson Bubblers were a gift to the city of Portland from a rich businessman to facilitate the provision of public water for free.

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