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SOLID WASTE REDUCTION SHOULD BE AN ONGOING ENVIRONMENTAL OBJECTIVE


March 1, 2001
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Dealing with large volumes of solid waste has been one of the industry’s biggest environmental challenges. It is also an area where significant cost savings can be achieved, and in some cases public r…

Dealing with large volumes of solid waste has been one of the industry’s biggest environmental challenges. It is also an area where significant cost savings can be achieved, and in some cases public relations nightmares can be avoided.

Over the past three months I have had the opportunity to learn about one “landfill” issue and the political situations that arise due to public perception. Most of us have also recently witnessed the special media coverage that the “City of Toronto-Kirkland Lake” project received — a project which died partly due to poor communications, leaving Toronto to seek a different plan for disposing of its waste.

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Basically, people and companies produce large volumes of solid waste and nobody wants it in their backyard. Three main points come to mind to address the growing concern about solid waste disposal:

Having continually improving targets for solid waste reduction;

Exploring alternatives such as composting and recycling for many different types of wastes;

Paying close attention to public communications if landfill sites are to be designed and constructed.

HOW CANADIANS VIEW GARBAGE

Although many of us are quick to criticize landfill sites, and waste management in general, we should all turn to our own homes and lifestyles and carefully examine how we each contribute to this country’s solid waste problems.

Per capita, North Americans produce a disproportionately large amount of waste compared to other countries. We are at the top of the food chain for consuming and producing waste. Some say that is the environmental cost of a good standard of living. However, many European countries have a high standard of living and produce much less solid waste than Canadians. This is due in part to a heightened level of environmental awareness and strong support from industry and governments. It is also because many of those countries are smaller in size and ran out of landfill space years ago. As a consequence they have had to aggressively implemented programs for waste reduction, re-use and recycling (3Rs). Germany is a good example. Why not learn form these countries now?

The attitude towards garbage in Canada has been more laid back and all levels of governments have been dragging their heels in implementing waste-reduction strategies for household waste. There is currently very little incentive for Canadians to reduce the amount of solid waste produced. The large number of garbage cans lining the streets on garbage day and the numerous fast food outlet cups and wrappers littering roadways in many Canadian municipalities confirm my comments.

Whether I set 10 large garbage cans near the curb or one small paper bag, I pay the same price. In reality, the small bag costs the municipality 100 times less to dispose than the 10 large containers, due to transportation and landfilling costs.

Much education is needed at the government and public level to promote the 3Rs by educating people and putting in place incentives for waste reduction. We need to develop waste-management programs like the City of Halifax has done.

INDUSTRY EXAMPLES

For economic and environmental reasons, many pulp and paper companies now have internal objectives for solid waste reduction. When the costs of handling, transporting and landfilling solid waste are considered, waste reduction makes a lot of economic sense. For example, the cost of a well-constructed landfill cell (with clay and membrane liners, monitoring wells, subsequent capping and re-vegetation) can easily range in the millions of dollars. Now think of the savings if you can extend the life of that cell from two years to 10 years due to waste-reduction efforts.

Alternatives to landfilling are becoming more and more attractive every year as companies find innovative uses for waste streams. One such company, called Envirem, is located in Miramichi, NB, and uses wood waste from several forest products companies to manufacture top-quality compost for export to the US. Composting can make use of woodyard scrapings, ash and biosolids (from secondary treatment facilities). Sonoco Inc. and Cascades Inc. are two other companies that are working jointly to offer a free service for recycling cores and wrappers from paper mill finishing departments. For a major paper mill this can represent savings of about $300 000 per year, with no environmental effect from landfilling these materials. Other companies, including a number of Ontario mills, have obtained permits for landspreading biosolids on agricultural land as a fertilizer and soil conditioner. Many mills have also implemented recycling programs for office paper.

This same level of awareness in waste reduction would be an asset to many households and municipalities. But people’s habits are difficult to change. There must be an incentive for those who won’t voluntarily change.

NEVER STOP COMMUNICATING

Landfill sites are plagued by a terrible history. Throughout North America, various “piles” were started 50 to 75 years ago with no environmental control and no limits to the waste that entered them. Hence the term “toxic waste” was coined, a term still used today by some environmental groups when describing what enters newly constructed industrial landfills. However, times have changed and industrial solid-waste management has evolved. Waste that enters new industrial landfill sites is not “hazardous waste,” and it is strictly controlled, as well as the air and liquid emissions that are generated. This message must be communicated in order to influence public perception.

Companies should continuously communicate their solid-waste management strategies and efforts to all stakeholders, especially employees, the local community and government representatives. Key issues to be addressed are:

The type of waste disposed;

How it will be transported;

The construction of landfill cells;

What type of air and liquid emissions will be produced and how they will be monitored and controlled.

Guided tours of the landfill site should be offered to the public and fact sheets handed out addressing environmental issues.

In summary, solid waste reduction should be a key environmental objective, with quantified cost savings to be achieved.P&PC

Phil Riebel is environmental manager with UPM-Kymmene Miramichi and he can be reached at phil.riebel@upm-kymmene.com


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