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Waste Segregation – A Collective Responsibility
Waste Segregation – A Collective Responsibility

The world’s population and the overall economy are growing fast and so is the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW).  Consumption of various goods and services has never been higher and though there’s more environmental awareness in the world today, our carbon footprints are not slowing down.  Both the volume and diversity of waste types are an increasing challenge.  This puts enormous pressure on haulers, recyclers, government agencies and even individuals as we try to make sense of our waste and what to do with it while aspiring to live “greener lives.”

What can be done about this?  How can businesses and individuals implement best practices for Waste Segregation and Process?  Lots of municipalities are playing catch up as they tackle this all-important issue.  Not only do processes need to be implemented for existing facilities but it is crucial to develop a plan early in the development of new construction.  A Waste Consultant can plan your development to follow the current guidelines and create a flexible design capable of adapting best practices for the future, while safeguarding the development from huge cost implications.

Processing Waste

It is impossible to prevent waste from being generated. But waste can be processed to make it part of the circular economy, reduce the extraction and usage of natural resources, and curb greenhouse emissions.   To process the waste and extract the valuable material from the waste, we must segregate waste into different streams. Garbage can be segregated into three major streams: Organic Waste, Landfill Waste, and Recyclable Waste (latter includes glass, metals, plastics, fibers, and other specialty items like universal waste and hazardous waste).

No Standardization of Segregation Between Jurisdictions

But the major problem is there are different by-laws and rules for waste segregation and processing in counties, municipalities, and cities across North America. For example, one Municipality in Ontario, Canada, doesn’t need its residents to separate organics from the combined waste stream. However, the adjacent municipality requires residents to separate organics to ensure that no compostable waste is sent to landfill sites. People move from one place to another for various personal and professional reasons, and they don’t necessarily know the differences in waste segregation and processing between their old and new home locations.  Now the residents who never segregated the organics must adapt to the different by-law as it was never a part of their lives, resulting in a spike in contamination of landfill waste.

Similarly, some municipalities do not need their residents to separate cardboard/fibre from comingled glass, metal, plastic streams while others require their residents to separate the fibre stream from recyclables. This can be a particular issue for residents living in high-rise buildings with smaller residential units lacking enough space to accommodate separated recycling.

Whose Responsibility is It?

The problem doesn’t only lie with the end consumer; it lies with the producer of packaging and establishments using them.  There are literally hundreds of different types of material that can and are used to manufacture the same product…some are bio-degradable, some are recyclable, and some can only go to landfill sites.

Now, imagine yourself buying a great cup of coffee from your neighborhood coffee shop, but after finishing up the coffee, you don’t know where that cup should go, not to mention the spoon used to stir your coffee, the top used to cover it, the emptied sugar packet, or the napkin you also used. These items will likely end up in the wrong stream; after all, who takes the time to analyze what type of material is in your hands as you head to the coffee shop’s disposal area?  This leads to a waste of your efforts necessitating additional energy on the part of the hauler/recycler to retrieve/process it appropriately.

Let’s Get the Conversation Going

It is essential that we focus on Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR, where the producer of goods ensures the end cycle of the product, meaning the packaging, complies with the waste processing infrastructure that currently exists for that type of packaging. In addition, intermediate consumer/ service providers should also make sure to focus on using the right product instead of the cheapest material available that may not comply with the waste processing infrastructure. This will lessen the burden placed on the environment while helping different partners of the circular economy. Raw material producers will be able to take advantage of the economy of scale, and manufacturers will be able to allocate more dollars to research. Intermediate users will be able to procure material at a lower cost. Waste processing companies can streamline their infrastructure across the board, leading to considerable savings in financial and natural resources.

Responsibility is a Must

Waste is a collective burden requiring collective responsibility.  Identifying problems and enacting sensible policies coupled with subsequent education are necessary if we wish to reduce our impact on the environment.

By:  Kavish Kapoor, Project Manager – Waste Consulting | Toronto

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