Ideas so useless they should be put in the bin

It’s total garbage! Complete garbage!

What is? Garbage is.

Okay, we have different names for it now, waste management, recycling, waste reduction, organic waste. Stuff we don’t want anymore – garbage.

Dealing with it has always been a problem. Once upon a time we just threw it in a dump. I am old enough to remember the St. John’ city dump on Empire Avenue. Today the big Revenue Canada building sits on top of it (which my father never tired of pointing out.)

Let’s face it, waste management is not interesting (with the possible exception of Tony Soprano, who you may remember, was a waste management consultant). Nonetheless it is a problem in need of solutions.

Here in this province, we have a stand-alone government agency that deals with recycling called the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board, the MMSB. Now there’s a mouthful. I can just see the bureaucrats sitting around a board table coming up with that humdinger to make themselves sound important. Much more important than my name for them, the Garbage Peeps.

The Garbage Peeps job is to make it look like government is doing something about recycling and the environment. To be fair they do recycle some things, based on taxes the government imposes on bottles and tires. The idea is to tax these things (they call it a deposit) to keep them out of the landfills (which is another highfalutin bureaucratic word meaning dump) and to fill the coffers of the Garbage Peeps. Keeping stuff out of dumps is their goal.

Which is why I want to make an argument for composting. I hate statistics but I am told 30 per cent of landfill waste is organic. Sounds like it would be good to divert that stuff.

A while back I read in this newspaper of a town councillor speculating about the cost of trucking organic garbage to the dump. I remember thinking I should make a note of who made this comment (I didn’t) because I had been wondering the same thing.

Hear me out. My wife and I compost about 100 kilos of waste a year. We are vegan so ours might be on the high side, but for the sake of argument say each household creates 50 kilos of organic compostable waste a year. The census tells me the town of CBS has roughly 10,000 households, and it’s a little more than 25 kilometers to Robin Hood Bay. So, what’s the annual cost of trucking 500,000 kilos of compostable waste 25 kilometers? That’s tax money not spent if people composted. Then multiply that by the rest of the province. Could be a fair chunk of change.

But the Garbage Peeps don’t make it worthwhile for anyone to do so. There’s no money in it. There’s no real motivation for anyone, other than a vague personal satisfaction.

I recycle and compost whatever I can, but on my street in downtown St. John’s, I appear to be one of only three who does.

We need some way of motivating people. During the Second World War, resources were scarce so folks scrounged what they could for the war effort. Faced with the real prospect of losing everything they held dear, people back then wanted to pitch in and help win the war. Everything was recycled (they called it salvage) for the war effort. They were highly motivated not to save the planet, but to save the free world.

Today there is no real motivation, other than cheesy upbeat government ads saying, “Come on gang! Let’s save the planet!” or some such nonsense, with lots of photos of hands holding seedlings, smiling (and diverse) children, and vaguely scolding reminders about the environment. Be still my heart.

What to do? How to get folks to recycle? I don’t know what will work, but I do know what doesn’t. Creating a large government agency that pays top salaries.
Politicians paying lip service to environmental issues. Lots of cheery ads. We’re doing that now. It’s not working. (Speaking of that, the Garbage Peeps have salted away a surplus of $22 million. Something seems to be working for them! A column for another day).

What I have learned about governments is they rarely see themselves as the problem. People aren’t catching on? They must be stupid and not care about the planet. We should force them!

My council and others have made recycling mandatory and ordered us all to use clear plastic garbage bags. The idea seems to be to turn municipal workers into garbage police and fine people caught with recyclables in their clear bags. Bet the union loves that idea.

Forcing people to sort their garbage. That’ll show them who’s the boss. It’s so dumb, its actually funny.

Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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