Monday, the National Post ran an article entitled, "Recycling mania: A lot of garbage."
It is very sad to note that the paper views the debate about recycling vs. landfilling in such simplistic terms. In addition to betraying a gross ignorance of fundamental principles of sustainability, this article - arguing that recycling is largely a waste of time and money - misrepresents simple economic facts and totally misses relevant economic considerations.
Can the Post really argue with confidence that recycling doesn't save species (as if it's just endangered species that we should be worried about)?
If using recyclables to manufacture new products means that a forest doesn't have to be cut or that a strip mine doesn't have to be excavated, doesn't this protect habitat for potentially endangered species?
If a river isn't polluted because there is far less effluent produced when things are made from recyclables, won't marine life stay healthier longer?
And if we use less energy and produce less air pollution because it is far more efficient to make things from recycled material, doesn't that generally improve the overall quality of our environment?
It's hard to believe that the writer, Jeff White, doesn't consider these important resource-use issues. It's especially surprising because the concept of industrial ecology - one industry relying on the waste of another for its feedstock - is increasingly seen as a competitive advantage in business globally.
But even the Post's argument that disposal is okay because we have lots of landfill space is misguided. Try to find a landfill site anywhere that doesn't produce leachate, a nasty acidic chemical cocktail that pollutes Ontario's groundwater. As well, the gasses emitted from landfill sites are a major source of greenhouse gasses associated with climate change: they also contain various cancer-causing agents.
Open all the old dumps in the Greater Toronto Area and put new dumps in Vaughan and Pickering without even undertaking environmental assessments. This is Jeff White's solution, advanced as though the province isn't already losing enough Class A agricultural lands to urban sprawl. What planet is he living on?
In Ontario, we spend less than a dollar and a half per household per month to recycle upwards of 700,000 tonnes of residential material each year. The total price tag, after revenue, is just over $65-million.
By contrast, Ontario disposes of about 4-million tonnes of garbage in landfills each year at a cost of roughly $100 per tonne ($40 to $50 for collection and $50 to $60 for putting it into landfills). Hmmm ... that adds up to $400-million for disposal and $65-million for recycling. But still, recycling is somehow too expensive on planet Post.
John Hanson is the executive director of the Recycling Council of Ontario. He originally wrote this piece as a letter to the editor of the National Post.
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