ERG Report, Vol 4, No 2, Spring 2004

Talking Trash

TALKING TRASH February 2004


Mr Chairman,


A couple of months ago we heard a presentation on. Plasma Arc technology

for disposing of .. Waste


And this gives me an opportunity.. to talk about one of my favorite subjects

Which is that of Waste ..What is Waste?and what do we do with it?

I have brought along some examples . Of what we refer to as Waste

This is..a PET plastic bottle, PVC plastic thermos, carrot, battery, used oil


To make these things in the first place ..we took virgin raw materials,


And we applied Energy.. from fossil fuels or whateverand Human Creativity


Then we use the products

From anywhere between. a few yearsand a few seconds

and Now ..the stuff is worn out. Its used up


This is "waste"....its garbage..its rubbish...its trash


And .what do we do with it now?

In our modern culture as Producers.. and as Consumers...

we live . in the Space Age


When it comes to Material goods.. we have Everything

Our industrial production lines.continuously spew out

A lot of Stuff.a lot of Product..a lot of the Goods

For example100 billion pounds of plastic is produced. every year


But What do we do with.

the Mountains of waste material..

that are the end result of all this activity

We have really only begun. To address this issue..


So As Waste Managers.

we are not in the Space Age.We are still in the Stone Age

There are basically two different ways that we can dispose of material


There is the traditional .. negative, DE structive approach

Which is still .the current standard of practise

But there are problems with that practise

  1. it uses up a lot of energy
  2. it leaves behind a lot of nasty residual products
  3. and at the end of the process.the original material is no longer available for some other use

However. there is a positive and CON structive approach

To waste management..which is now emerging

Which is called Zero Waste


The basic principle behind Zero Waste

Is to think of a Resource


In other words.Re-create the Rubbish in some other useful form

so as to extend the life of the material.


So that ..Waste management .becomes ..Resource management

First of all though...let us go back to look again

At waste management Destruction


What are the methods?


Well, we can Burn waste either directly .. in incinerators of various kinds

Or. Indirectly, .in machines variously called

Gasifiers.or Pyrolyzer..or Distillators

Which first of all convert solid waste to gas .which is then burned


Or we can try to Atomize the stuff

using a machine.. called the Plasma Arc

Now these machines might be referred to as. Magic Machines


Apparently.. we can just throw our cast off materials

into one of these magic machines

and the stuff will simply. Disappear.

Poof..gone.out of sight.out of mind


Unfortunately the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry

Tell us otherwise

We can change solid waste .into some other form by these methods

but the waste is not going to simply disappear.


And in fact.. it will come back to haunt us again


This is because. Large incinerators.. ..they are highly polluting,

They produce.. and release into the environment.

A wide variety of chemical compounds .

such as Heavy metals. dioxins, furans. HCl acid , Sox, Nox, .

All of these are harmful to human health.

Incineration also produces lots of CO2. which is another problem.


Now we can fit.. the smokestacks of incinerators

with such devices asscrubbers.. baghouses ..electrostatic precipitators

to trap these toxins .before they leave the smokestack

but then we are left with a lot of hazardous waste..that has to be disposed of

and furthermore ,after the waste is burned. A lot of nasty residual ash is left behind

which is also hazardous waste.. that has to go to a landfill


The latest technology to be promoted is the Plasma Arc machine.

This a kind of.lightning bolt

Its a sort of .electric furnace..You put your waste in there.

And you zap it .. with a lot high voltage electric current

Until the stuff disappears


These machines were originally developed

by the US Army to destroy chemical weapons.


They are now being promotedfor the destruction of ..municipal solid waste

So the Arc has moved on from chemical weapons to carrots

It remains unknown what emissions will be released by the process

And .as with incinerators

these machines will be extremely expensive to build and to operate

They are all ..a high tech solution .to a low tech problem.


The other traditional approach to waste management is.of course, that of Landfilling


We dig a huge hole in the ground

And we put the garbage in there..then we cover it over.

.. and let it rot.For twenty or thirty years..not a very elegant method


So when we look as Landfill.and when we look at Incineration

We see examples of the stunning Disparity .the stunning Contrast.

between the high technology .of production of new material

And the primitive low technology of current methods of waste disposal


And here is a Point.which is generally not understood

Landfilling .and Incineration. are essentially one and the same thing

By incinerating. wasted is burned

and a reduced volume of ash is left behind..which then needs to be landfilled.

By landfilling waste is put in the ground

To decompose... over a number of decades

Thereby producing methane and other gases

Which then have to be. burned


So reallythe two methods are one and the same..

They just occur over different time frames. with the same end results


The Irony is.that Communities dealing with waste issues

Often find themselves.. trying to choose

between these two. apparently different methods

Bitter divisions. can occur in the community

As it tries to make what really is an artificial choice between the two options


In conclusion


The fundamental concept. behind the use of magic machines or landfills

In waste a rather disturbing one

The idea is that we take virgin raw materials from our Mother Earth,

We use talent ..and energy. to Create something

Then we use primitive methods. and more energy .to Destroy it

Now I dont believe .that this manner of Living on our Planet

is at all Respectful.. of the Resources .with which we have been Blessed


On the other hand.. the Zero Waste approach to resource management

May afford us .such an opportunity

And I will talk more about that.. next time.


Talking Trash, Part II


On an evening in April 2002

a surprising event.  occurred

at the home of Jo-Ann and Hugh Robertson .

The Robertsons are retired school teachers...who live in Ottawa

That evening he Robertsons put out....on the curb

for garbage collection the next day .....a bag of trash!

That was in April and later that same year in November ..

They did it again.they put out another bag of trash

And for the three years starting in April 2000

that was it.two bags of garbage

went to the city dump..from the Robertson home

The rest of their waste they spent less than one hour per week

Separating out into plastic recycling bins

For weekly collection by the local recycling program


These people took this initiative..because they were fed up

with the usual Negative Destructive approach to waste management

At the Robertson homebecause of a simple decision that they made

Waste management .became ..Resource management

They adopted an exciting new Positive, Constructive approachto WM

.an attitude..not a technology..

which is called. Zero Waste.


I am here today to try to persuade your community

To consider this approach as you grapple with your own waste management issues

As the Robertsons have nicely demonstrated

Our problem with waste management

is not a technical one. it is one of attitude.


Through the use of Zero Waste..Waste is reduced and diverted,

Material resources are recovered.and re used

or re manufactured into finished products.. in the local communities,

The result is constructive development ..within the community.

For the local economy .. Zero Waste is big Bonus.

With the low tech components. of the Zero Waste program

money spent on the program.stays in the community

New businesses .and local jobs are the community

Resources are saved and shared for future use and re use.


Zero Waste therefore combines. ethical environmental practice ..

with solid economic vision

both for local communities. and for corporations.


Landfills and incinerators on the other hand. are an economic Blight

Huge amounts of money.. are put into complicated machinery .. and engineering

Most of that money .goes into the pockets of multinational corporations

Which operate incinerators and landfills


So your money leaves the community.. and probably leaves the country,


You are already familiar with components of Zero Waste


The key element Primary Source Separation of waste

Primary Source Separation..occurs right in your own kitchen or garage

through the use of blue boxes..

for plastics, paper, organics and compost, glass, clothing etc


Source Separation is rather like sorting and folding your laundry

It is easy.. and only mildly inconvenient

And Opens the doorto Zero Waste


SS. leads to Waste Reduction, Reuse, Recycling, Composting

And the diversion of Hazardous waste for special treatment

Materials from the blue boxes.. go to

Material Recovery Centres which are built in the community

Where people are employed. to do Secondary source separation


Our local example is the Quinte Waste Solutions facility in Trenton

Materials which are recovered by source separation .

can be remanufactured .. into a finished product,

or sold directly

Residuals from source separation.. are screened yet again .

And After all that screening any remaining waste ..

Goes..not to a huge leaking stinking regional megadump ..owned by some corporation

But instead.. to a small dry stable landfill . owned and controlled by the community,


And how can such an stable landfill be created?

(and here is a Plum to take home..)


The most important element of source separation

is removal of the organics.or compostables.from the waste stream

It is the organics the carrots, the apples..(yes, the plums)

that mess up waste .If they are not separated out

Organics turn into. a gooey sticky nasty messy liquid .that leaks out of dumpsites

Organics must be removed right at the source

Which is your kitchen..

and then sent to a community composting facility.and not to the landfill


How can you get a Zero Waste program going in your community?


Well, there are 6 steps:


1. set a timetable.the process takes a few years

2. get the whole community to participate in the design of the program

3 . put surcharges ("pay per bag") ..on waste that does go to landfill

4. provide incentives.. to new businesses in recycling and waste reduction  to get started

5. do waste audits for business and industry: will show that they will save money by participating in these programs

6. provide incentives to industry.. to take back their products (and packaging)

when the products are finally thrown out


Does it work?


Well, Some very successful ..Zero Waste programs are underway as we speak

In communities in New Zealand, California , Japan , and Nova Scotia,


In Ontario, we do not have any Zero Waste communities yet,

But the Quinte region, and the city of Guelph are leading the way

In QuinteWaste diversion figures as of Oct 2001

Were in the 2/3 to ¾ diversion range

And they are now claiming (Feb 04) 85% capture..very impressive


Some Corporations which have lead the way include

Interface Flooring of Belleville, Quaker Oats of Trenton, Xerox of Rochester

These communities and these companiesHave shown real leadership.


In conclusion,


Zero Waste is a positive, community based initiative

which combines Community and Industrial Responsibility for waste

The model for Zero Waste is Mother Nature

Nature makes no waste. everything is cycled & recycled endlessly.

Think of the carbon cycle, or the nitrogen cycle, or the water cycle.

We need to reconfigure. our present one way industrial system

into circular, closed loop systems,

so that we recycle,,,,,,,,, discarded resources from communities

back to industries


To do this. all we need is.strong leadership

at the the the political levels.

Its a matter of ethics.

The only ethically sound approach. to waste management

is to redefine waste as a resource.

Zero Waste offers this opportunity.

I urge you in your community

to say No to incineration .and to say No to Megadumps

And to adopt the ethic of Zero Waste


Mr. Chairman..

A.C. Goddard-Hill

Eastern Lake Ontario Environmental Research Group

February 2004