Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday June 1, 2019
It’s time we finally started to ‘get it’ on garbage and plastics
Let’s play a little weekend game of “What if …?”
This week, Malaysia became the second country in recent months to demand Canada take back garbage shipped under the pretense of it being recycling. This at the same time as the Government of the Philippines, dissatisfied with the pace of negotiations to return tonnes of garbage in that country, hired a ship to return the rotting trash to Canada.
Sensing a theme? Canada has an earned reputation as a bad actor on garbage. Our country leads the developed world in per-capita production of garbage. Successive governments at all levels have chosen not to deal with that reality, preferring to let the private sector manage our waste — including what happens to recyclables after we toss them in the blue box.
The private sector has done that in the way it always does: optimize earnings and profit. Most often that has meant paying someone to take our trash and recyclables. We have paid to dump garbage in the U.S. and developing world. We have sold recyclables to the highest bidder. And yes, private players have sold our garbage as recyclables.
The complaining countries don’t occupy any moral high ground here. In years past, they didn’t care much about what was being dumped on their shores as long as there was money to be made. It wasn’t uncommon for waste to be sorted into things that could be recycled and sold again, and trash that was simply dumped, often into the ocean.
That has changed. China, historically one of the biggest buyers, toughened regulations and disallowed much of what would previously have been welcome. Other countries, especially developing ones, became more concerned about environmental management and, therefore, less willing to sacrifice their national environments for profit.
The root of this problem is simple. Canada made the wrong choices on trash and recycling. Instead of investing in developing national infrastructure to deal with the challenges, we sold them to the highest offshore bidder. Now those bidders have shut down, and we need to retroactively build the infrastructure.
What if the international garbage boondoggle leads federal and provincial leaders to finally recognize this and develop policies that facilitate dealing holistically with our own trash? We can no longer dump our problems on other countries. It’s time Canada grew up and owned its own problems with waste.
And speaking of growing up, what if the garbage scandal and the growing mountain of evidence about the threat of plastics pollution is a tipping point for us starting to take meaningful action on reducing single-use plastics?
We are taking baby steps. Plastic drinking straws are being replaced with paper ones. That and a handful of other modest measures are progress, but we’re barely scratching the surface. Check the supermarket or home store. We’re drowning in packaging.
What if public policy-makers finally started to put the onus on manufacturers to reduce plastics in packaging? What if there were incentives to do so or penalties for not doing so? What if consumers demanded change by doing things like buying the goods and leaving the packaging with the retailer?
Harsh, maybe even impolite? Maybe, but we really need to make significant headway on the plastics crisis. Right now, we’re just nibbling at the edges. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)