ERG Report, Vol 4, No 2, Spring 2004
TALKING TRASH February 2004
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
- it uses up a lot of energy
- it leaves behind a lot of nasty residual products
- 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 trash.as 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 ..by 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 ..technology
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
The fundamental concept. behind the use of magic machines or landfills
In waste management.is 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 ..seven 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 you..in 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 created.in 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 ..is 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 ..it 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.
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 community..at the industry..at 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
Eastern Lake Ontario Environmental Research Group