At the time this article was written
James Rabbitt represented Yale-Lillooet in the British Columbia Legislative
A frequent complaint of private
members is the lack of opportunity to participate in policy-making, usually the
reserve of Ministers and civil servants. There are, however, ways a government
can take advantage of the knowledge of its elected members. Last year the
British Columbia Minister of the Environment released a discussion paper
"The Provincial Role in Municipal Solid Waste Management". Among other
things it set up a Task Force chaired by the author to undertake a four month
program of hearings and to make a report. This article summarizes that report
and raises issues that may be relevant to legislators in other jurisdictions.
One product of the North American
way of life is garbage. It flows in a rising tide from homes and businesses to
municipalities, who are faced with disposing of it.
A small proportion of B.C.'s solid
waste is burned. Less still is recycled. The great majority winds up in B.C.'s
236 open-air landfill projects, of which 60 percent will reach their limits in
the next ten years.
There have been changes. In 1988,
the Greater Vancouver Regional District's new Burnaby incinerator burned about
10 percent of the province's solid waste, producing saleable steam energy. A
new resource recovery plant in Coquitlam will recover up to 50 percent of the
225,000 tons of commercial waste it will process. Still, most solid waste will
go to landfill sites. Public concern about the safety and appearance of waste
disposal methods will continue to grow.
Municipal waste must be reduced.
How? And by whom?
Most of the briefs submitted to the
Task Force stressed the importance of reducing the volume of materials that
require disposal as waste. The message was clear: it is time for action.
Municipalities are aware of the need for better solid waste management. The
public is prepared to cooperate. The province ought to adopt the five R's of
Municipal Solid Waste Management.
Reduce by promoting
the use of products and packages that create less waste;
Re-use by promoting
containers, such as beverages bottles that can be used again;
separating useful materials from waste materials before collection;
extracting useful materials and energy from waste after collection; and
Residue by disposing
of final waste materials in an environmentally safe way.
The province ought to assist
municipalities with grants totalling up to $30 million over the next five years,
with a follow-on five year program aimed at sustaining the gains. The goals:
reduce municipal waste by at least 35 percent--25 percent or more through
recycling, and a minimum of 10 percent through composting. The Ministry of
Environment should gear up to support local government by creating, and
allocating resources to, a new Solid Waste Management and Recycling Section
within the Waste Management Branch.
It is the provincial government's
job to set environmental standards and enforce them. Local governments--regional
districts and municipalities--should do the job of planning and implementing
solid waste management practices because they understand local conditions. The Waste
Management Act of 1982 allows them to consolidate all their provincial waste
disposal permits by preparing waste management plans that combine environmental
protection with unique community needs. All regional districts, and all
municipalities not covered by regional district plans should prepare waste
management plans by December 31, 1994.
British Columbia will generate 2.2
million tons of municipal solid wastes this year--2.02 kilograms per day for
every man, woman and child. That is about 7000 pounds a year for a family of
four. If you live in our culture for 70 years, your personal contribution to
the solid waste problem would be 60 tonnes.
The Province can help by providing
technical assistance through the Ministry of Environment and funding to defray
the costs of preparing the plans: $5000 plus 50 percent of the next $10,000 up
to a maximum of $10,000 per applicant. Regional districts should be eligible
for this grant for each municipality included in their plans.
The Province should also assist by
conducting studies that will help local governments plan. For example: studies
of the true costs of landfills and incinerators; the composition of waste; and
markets for recyclable materials. The subjects are listed in the
recommendations. The Province should also fund research in solid waste
The Municipal Act should be amended
to equip local government with appropriate authority to deal with this problem.
Solid waste disposal should be made a regional function, and local governments
should be required to establish a capital reserve covering the long term
responsibility for facilities. They should also have more freedom to raise
revenues for these purposes. The Province should show its commitment to sound
waste management by paying for the use of local facilities by provincial
Recycling and Composting
Much of municipal waste is
recyclable. Recent studies suggest that B.C.'s waste is 40% paper, 6% glass, 5%
metals, 9% plastics, 35% organic material, and 5 % other materials. Thus over
half is recyclable and over a third is compostable. Recycling has grown
rapidly, especially in Ontario and the northeastern United States, where
disposal problems have become severe. The programs vary greatly, but are aimed
mainly at single-family dwellings. In 36 curbside pickup programs across North
America, observers found that convenience is important. Collecting recyclables
and garbage on the same day, for example, helped the public remember recycling.
The same is true with special containers. The most common is the Blue Box--a
10-gallon plastic tub with "We Recycle" embossed in white. In five
communities, participation rose from an average of 40 percent to 69 percent
when containers were provided. One reason: their appearance at curbside
generates peer pressure to participate. Mandatory programs did not do
noticeably better than voluntary programs.
What about the costs of recycling?
Revenue from selling recyclables may not cover the cost of collecting them. But
the saving in landfill use fees can generate a substantial reduction in cost
overall. This has been the case in Pennsylvania, where 45 municipalities
achieved an average saving of $26.77 for each ton of recycled waste.
Only 31 of B.C.'s 172 regional
districts and municipalities were operating recycling programs in 1986, and
only 14 of these provided curbside collection. They had the potential to reach
just 11 percent of B.C. households. But since 1986 the province has made
progress. Delta began a curbside pickup program that is highly successful, and
the Capital Regional District's curbside pickup program will start operating in
Composting, a form of recycling, is
the natural breakdown of organic wastes into a material that can serve as a
soil conditioner or mulch. This process reduces the volume of waste, as
microorganisms convert much of it to carbon dioxide and water.
How much of municipal waste is
compostable? Leaves and other yard wastes, food wastes, and other organic
material--about a third of all municipal waste--can be composted for use by
landscapes, nurseries, city works departments and home gardeners.
Large scale composting of leaf and
yard waste started in Portland, Oregon eight years ago because of bans on
backyard burning. Today two firms accept 300,000 cubic yards--25 percent of the
city's yard waste. They charge for their service, and market the end product.
At least six municipal composting programs are operating in B.C. today.
For many of B.C.'s regional
districts and municipalities, three primary barriers stand in the way of these
governments tend to underprice their landfill costs. However, full
cost-accounting estimates, prepared as part of their solid waste management
plans will bring out the real cost of disposal, and the real economic value of
governments may not know how to get started. The Ministry can remove that
barrier by developing manuals for recycling and composting, and backing them up
with ongoing technical support.
Third, some local
governments may be concerned about the stability of the markets for recycled
materials. The Province could provide reliable markets through marketing
coordination, regional development of recycling industries, purchasing
preference for recycled materials, and other programs and policies.
The Province should not become
involved in transportation subsidies, alleviating what for some is the greatest
barrier to recycling--cost of transporting recyclable materials. This problem
can be solved by developing new markets, and by reviewing transportation
regulations. The requirement for transportation subsidies will be addressed by
Startup costs, particularly for
curbside programs, may also be a barrier. The capital cost of Blue Box
containers (estimated at $5-$8 each), buildings, public education, and
collection and processing equipment could stand in the way. The Ministry should
set up a five-year grant program for local governments. If their plans show
that recycling or composting are justified, the grants should supply household
containers, and a portion of the costs of other equipment and promotion.
The Province should also set a lead
in recycling by setting up an office paper recovery demonstration project,
beginning with the Parliament Buildings and expanding to all ministry and Crown
corporation offices. The Ministry should also encourage commercial recycling
Business, industry, and the public
need to know what can be recycled and how. One industry can often use the
wastes of another; but neither may be aware of the possibility. The Greater
Vancouver Regional District has set up a hotline to answer recycling questions
from the Lower Mainland. The Ministry should work with the GVRD and other
jurisdictions to expand this to a toll-free service covering the whole
The Ministry should pay half the
cost of the service.
On the industrial side, waste
exchanges--regular bulletins listing wastes wanted and wastes available help
industry to recycle bulk waste. There are seven in Canada and at least 20 in
the U.S. Over six years, Canada's largest--the Canadian Waste Materials
Exchange--diverted 1.4 million tonnes of waste, valued at $44 million, from
disposal to recycling.
The Canadian Council of Resource
and Environment Ministers is soon to release its report on a worldwide review
of waste exchange programs. Until that report is published the Ministry should
fund half the costs of the Recycling Council of B.C.'s Industrial Waste
Recycling programs should be
self-sustaining, and should not depend on government wage and training
subsidies for viability. Wherever possible, however, recycling programs that
are already operating should be integrated into new operations.
Drawing off materials for recycling
before they become part of the municipal waste stream will relieve some of the
pressure on incinerators and landfills. But these materials must have somewhere
to go. There must be an industry to reuse them, and a market for its products.
Government can help. Through purchasing policy and consumer education, the
province can increase the demand for recycled products. The province can
increase the supply of recyclable materials by giving primary recyclers (who
collect and sell them) financial and tax incentives that make them more
competitive with suppliers of virgin materials, and by promoting household
recycling. In recognizing the value of the recycling industry, the province
should give it high priority for assistance by the economic development
programs of the Ministry of Regional Development.
The province's purchasing should
give preference to materials made in B.C. partly, or completely, from recycled
materials, starting with paper and lubricating oil. The province should
encourage other governments, institutions and industries to do the same.
Provincially funded research and development
will help find new users, and new production techniques, for recycled
materials. The Province ought to establish a Recycled Product Research and
Development Fund of $200,000 per year for five years for that purpose. The
Ministry should also become a centre for information about new technical
developments in recycling.
Dealing With Rural Waste
Most people are unwilling to
transport garbage long distances. In rural areas, this has led to numerous
small refuse sites, poorly kept and environmentally unacceptable. Most regional
districts have now accepted responsibility for these sites, but many experience
problems with windblown debris, bears, fire risks, and the insects and other
pests that may breed there.
Some regional districts have solved
these problems by replacing the old sites with transfer stations--ramps and
rolloff containers for smaller volumes, enclosed push-pit systems for larger
volumes. Waste is trucked regularly from transfer stations to a central or
subregional landfill. For example, this approach has resulted in a vast
improvement in waste control in the Upper Columbia Valley, and could provide a
focal point for the start of rural recycling. Many regional districts, however,
cannot afford the capital costs.
The Ministry should establish a
capital grant program to cover half the costs of rural transfer stations up to
$20,000 per site.
About 65,000 automobiles and
200,000 units of white goods--mostly major appliances--are scrapped every year
in British Columbia.
This is a significant disposal
problem for rural areas. Cars and appliances may be scattered around the
countryside at small disposal sites. The need here is to gather them at central
sites in sufficient quantities to make it worthwhile for commercial contractors
to crush them and haul them away. We recommend a new program: Every second
year, rural regional districts will contract to have scrapped autos and
appliances hauled to a central location for processing by a contractor. The
Ministry will pay 50 percent of the collection costs.
Because some appliances contain
substances like freon and mercury, we recommend that the Ministry set out a
clear policy to landfill operators and scrap metal contractors about how they
Remote camps. Most remote camps use
landfills. Some are well run; others are left uncovered and quickly attract
bears, along with the usual problems. When the camps are abandoned, the
landfills remain as eyesores. We recommend that remote camps of less that 100
people be required to 1) incinerate refuse daily. 2) use bear-proof containers,
or 3) obtain a waste disposal permit to which specific conditions would be
Dead farm fish can introduce
disease to wild stocks, or cause other problems, if dumped in the ocean; if
dumped on land they can attract bears or create health problems. Improper
disposal of hunting kills or livestock carcasses can cause similar problems.
The Ministry should provide clear direction.
Building materials. Wallboard and
other wastes from construction or demolition can rapidly use up capacity at
small rural landfills. The Ministry should work with local government, private
landfill operators and the construction industry to develop a corrective
strategy. Solid waste plans should examine ways to recycle or recover rather than
dispose of these materials.
Generating Energy From Waste
Incinerated wastes occupy only a
third or even a quarter of the space required by raw waste. Capital and
operating costs for incineration, however, are relatively high, and emission
control and ash handling complicate the process. The sale of RDF (refuse
derived fuel) or of recovered energy in the form of electricity and steam can
help defray costs.
There is much support in B.C. for
generating energy from woodwaste, particularly in the interior--provided the
energy could feasibly be fed to B.C. Hydro. However, incinerator emissions and
ash disposal must meet Ministry standards.
We recommend that Ministers of
State in regions with woodwaste surpluses make energy-from-woodwaste projects
an economic development priority.
In Ontario, provincial programs
help fund incineration projects that provide RDF or energy for electrical
power. The federal government also provides assistance: the GVRD received more
that $8 million in federal funds towards its Burnaby incinerator, plus $1.5
million in federal sales tax relief on the sale of the steam it produced. The
B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources is developing a program
to provide capital grants to energy-from-waste facilities. We recommend that
the program also include projects that produce RDF.
An Informed And Supportive
The public review made it clear
that many people are anxious about the effects of solid waste management on
their environment and health. They support the principle of reduced landfill
deposits, and are looking for alternatives. All they need is more and better
information. This is recognized by the Task Force and reflected in many of our
The school system is an important
place to start, through classroom presentations and school and community
programs that involve recycling. The Ministry distributes print and video
material on solid waste management. We recommend that the Ministry of Education
incorporate waste management into the curriculum, to ensure that students are
reached consistently province-wide. We also recommend that the Ministry of
Environment provide containers and technical support for recycling programs at
schools, colleges and universities.
Adults need to be educated about
solid waste, too. The Ministry of Environment should undertake province-wide
consumer education programs that explain the advantages of recycling, discuss
product packaging, and discourage littering.
A Better Way To Control Litter
The B.C. Litter Act (1970)
made littering illegal and specified a minimum refund for soft drink and beer
containers. After ten years, the Act was reviewed and found to be "waste
management effective". More that 84 percent of 750 million beverage
containers sold annually are recovered. There is room for improvement, however.
The present mandatory refund system
should be extended to include rigid sealed containers of soft drinks, fruit
drinks, mineral water, water, beer, ale, cider and coolers. Dairy products,
milk substitutes and fruit juices should be exempt. Bottlers, brewers, and
distributors should be required to collect a minimum deposit of five cents each
for containers of a litre or less (10 cents each if the Province is able to
work out a standardized price with Alberta and Saskatchewan at that level), and
20 cents for containers of more than a litre. It should be their responsibility
to collect their returned containers from retailers, depots, or recyclers, and
to pay them a handling fee of two cents per container. The Province should encourage
the creation of a system of bottle depots to make containers easier to return,
and to lighten the load on retailers.
This approach encourages consumers
to return empties for the refund rather than discard them as litter. It
remunerates retailers for returning empties to the bottler. And a mandatory
deposit removes the opportunity of using the refund value to manipulate the
cost of the product and create uneven competition among bottlers.
We need to know more about what
litter is, where it comes from, and why. The Ministry should conduct a
comprehensive study, then implement a long-term public education program. It
should also work with the Ministry of Attorney General to draft legislation for
the prosecution of litterers. A two-cent tax should be placed on drinks sold in
non-rigid sealed containers, and the proceeds used for anti-litter and cleanup
programs. We also recommend the printing of anti-litter logos on convenience
Toward Reduced Packaging Wastes
There is a need for a detailed
study of packaging in the waste stream. There is no common approach to this
problem, which is significant. Studies suggest that 30 percent of all
residential garbage is packaging, and that 90 percent of all packaging is
We received clear messages from our
public contact: There should be more control over packaging, and recyclable
packaging should be promoted. Non-recyclable packaging should be degradable,
and non-toxic when disposed of. Manufacturers should contribute to disposal
costs. To what we add: The Minister of Environment should work with ministers
from other provinces to develop a national strategy aimed at this problem, and
the Ministry should promote the recyclable design concept to industry.
Handling Special Wastes
Many consumer products--paints,
automotive fluids, medicines, cleaners--are potentially hazardous to people and
their environment. Biomedical wastes also pose dangers. For these reasons,
collection programs have been organized in a number of U.S. states.
At present, the Ministry can only
accumulate hazardous wastes in its eight regional storage depots for eventual
shipment out of the province. The depots' capacity is strained Radioactive,
explosive, pathological, and biological wastes are handled separately; PCBs are
separated for long term storage.
The Province has been working since
early 1988 towards a treatment facility for special waste. Current effort is
aimed at finding a site. The Province should give this urgent priority by
funding a third of the cost of suitable storage facilities in each regional
district and preparing a manual for use by local authorities.
In principle, whoever creates waste
should pay for its disposal. This should be the Ministry's long-term approach
to costs. For example, the Ministry could impose a tipping fee surcharge of 50
cents per tonne on all waste dumped at landfills and incinerators. The proceeds
should be used for solid waste management support programs.
The cost of collecting and
disposing of certain hard-to-dispose-of products (including special wastes)
should be reflected in an excise tax on their contents--a "waste
initiators' tax". The Ministry should develop a list of these products by
January 1, 1990.
Charging householders and industry
directly for waste disposal according to their volume of waste has proved very
effective elsewhere in reducing municipal waste levels and encouraging
recycling. We recommend that the Ministry review the options in this area and
encourage local governments to implement fees such as householder charges or
To Sum Up
The discussion paper aroused
interest and opinion, and created useful discussion. This public involvement
should continue by appointing concerned people from a variety of backgrounds to
a Municipal Solid Waste and Recycling Advisory Committee. Its purpose should be
to look into the many issues surrounding these subjects and advise the Minister
of Environment on its findings. The public review process has raised public
expectations, and a speedy response is appropriate.