Friday, January 14, 2011

Trash-Talking... in a Good Way

It's always bothered me that we don't take waste generation seriously - after all, it's not often we think about what happens to trash once we put it out on the curb. Out of sight, out of mind, anyone? When you read the word "landfill", you probably conjure a mental image of a mound of dirty, smelly stuff, but do you ever think about where it is? Do you know where the landfills are located in your area?

Living in Toronto, that has been an easy question to answer: Michigan! But not anymore. As of two weeks ago, our garbage is staying in-province! The best part: it's called Green Lane, which makes me think of ponies on a meadow, with flowers and butterflies. Wee! Interestingly, this landfill is equipped with a methane gas collection and flaring system. I'm not sure how this is possible without housing the trash indoors, but I'm happy to hear that the emissions will be used to generate electricity. While this is not exactly what I had in mind when I heard Ontario will be phasing out its coal-fired power plants and relying more on alternative sources of electricity, it's better than letting the landfill fumes directly contribute to global warming (methane is much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide). Just don't use this as an excuse to avoid practising waste diversion!

In other trashy (but good) news, Vermont has become the 27th US state to ban electronic waste from its landfills. It's always a good idea to keep lead, mercury, and cadmium away from, well, every living thing! Toxic chemicals like these can mix in with that nasty sludge created by mountains of garbage, and this concoction seeps into the ground, then leaches into groundwater. To make an electronic waste landfill ban effective, proper disposal of the toxic products must be cost-effective and convenient. Vermont has opted for a free recycling program paid for by manufacturers, discouraging the public from illegal dumping and providing an incentive for electronics companies to reduce the amount of hazardous materials in their devices in the long run. What's next? Ensuring the e-waste is disposed of properly and on domestic soil, not shipped overseas to be taken apart in ways that hurt workers and the environment.

While Ontario has not put an electronic waste ban in place, the City of Toronto encourages its safe recycling and provides free curbside pickup of unwanted devices. Check out the spoof video ad:

For more details, read the City of Toronto media release about the Green Lane Landfill and the Associated Press article about the electronic waste landfill ban.


  1. I visited my sister in Toronto several years ago and was very impressed with their city wide food waste collection / composting services. I guess garbage wasn't quite as green as it looked, although it's getting better.

    Someone pointed out to me that part of the problem with living in cities is that we're so removed from the consequences of our actions, including the waste we generate. We rarely see it, never have to deal with it. If I had to deal with all the trash I generate, I would definitely be working harder to keep plastic and other non-biodegradables out of my life.

  2. That's a big part of the issue - out of sight, out of mind. I wonder what would happen if we abolished curbside pickup, and each household had to bring their garbage directly to the landfill? (Let's forget for a moment that this would be incredibly wasteful of fuel and time.) Would that encourage the public do generate less waste? Become more strict about diverting recyclables and organics?