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            A Debate We Need To Have 

 

By Terri Chu

If we look across the pond toward Europe, a land of high population density and little free space, what we find a very efficient use of resources when it comes to disposing of day to day garbage. 

Partly, this is due to the fact that Europe is no longer brimming with things to burn for heating fuel, nor is it overflowing with oil.  It imports much of it's energy (expensively) and therefore has learnt to use it well. 

For our part, the access to cheap resources has made the upfront investment in efficiency less imperative.

Garbage is not dumped into landfills in Europe as it is here.  It is far too valuable a resource for energy.  Facilities in the middle of cities are given the task of converting trash into both electricity and heat for office, industrial, and home uses.  Legislation (in addition to the lack of space) is largely the reason landfills have not proliferated there.

As a result, Europe is a leader is Energy From Waste (EFW) recovery.

When it comes to EFW here in Ontario, there are both pros and cons. 

Though landfill produces more greenhouse gases (GHG) in the longer term, EFW will produce more particulate matter and GHG in a localized area.  So finding a suitable site for a facility without significant local opposition will be the biggest challenge. 

Though dealing with municipal solid waste is, as the name implies, a municipal issue, generating electricity is a provincial one.  And herein lies a major complication to effectively turning our garbage into a useful commodity.

“Why Should I Care?” - a community engagement group - recently held a forum on EFW.  Not surprisingly, there was as much support as opposition to turning garbage into useful energy. Much more comforting than a smoke stack in our own backyards are trucks driving 200km down a highway to the Greenland landfill where we neither have to see nor think about it.

Garbage slowly decomposing in the landfill will cause more greenhouse gases than residual waste getting incinerated at a high temperature.  As the nightmare landfill fire in Iqaluit has shown us, a single dump fire will fill the air with many more toxins than incineration. 

Controlled, high temperature burns are the cleanest way to deal with the garbage generated by our day-to-day lives. 

While opposition to the idea of burning garbage remains strong, opposition to packaged goods from and daily lattes are non-existent. 

Enwave, Toronto’s district heating company known for using lake water to cool city buildings, would like the opportunity to explore EFW right in the heart of Toronto. 

The real thing however missing from the debate is the debate itself.  Former City Councillor Dennis Fotinos and current CEO of Enwave points out that there has been absolutely no discussion in council or Queen’s Park about EFW. 

Dumping our trash in landfills can only go on for so long, as it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find sites for all the garbage we are producing. 

Little progress can be made as long as politicians at all levels treat this issue as a political third rail.  They forget that in real life, the third rail is where all the power is. 

If we are to make bold changes as a society, we need the political leadership to at least hold debates and listen to constituents and experts on the topic.

The issue of dealing with our trash should not be punted to the next generation.  Wildlife is dying by the millions as they are caught up in our non-decomposable plastic (recycling for many materials remains elusive).   

Let the debate begin. 

 

 

About terri chu

Terri is a specialist in urban sustainability with a Bachelor of Science and a Master in Engineering. She has worked on district energy projects across Canada. In her off hours, Terri founded a not for profit called “Why Should I Care?” to engage everyday citizens into the political process.
Posted date : April 26, 2015

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