As much as Canadians like to consider themselves to be environmentally conscious people, we willingly choose not to see much of the truth. In fact, it turns out Canada leads the developed world in the per capita production of garbage. On average, each and every Canadian produces 720 kilos of waste annually.
Our waste production is seven per cent higher per capita than in the United States.
Each of us produces about twice of what an average person does in Japan, the developed world’s lowest per-capita producer of waste.
(Transcript of Lawrence Gunther’s bi-weekly 12-minute segment on Live from Studio 5 broadcast over AMI TV and Audio across Canada)
Q. Welcome back Lawrence, I thought we were recycling much of our waste now, is that not the case?
A. We are actually getting better at diverting recyclables out of the waste stream.
A. For example, Toronto diverts 52 per cent of the waste it collects into recycling (compared with 34 per cent for Calgary and 55 per cent in many other Canadian cities.
A. Unfortunately, since the advent of recycling about 30-years back, many researchers now believe the program has given the green light to Canadians to consume at ever increasing levels by giving them the erroneous sense of a clear conscience.
Q. Have we really become that much more wasteful?
A. Each year Canadians as a whole waste seven billion kilograms of food.
A. As much as 40% of the vegetables we purchase and put in our fridges never get consumed.
A. Putting an end to food waste in the developed world would more than take care of any food shortages in the rest of the world.
Q. What about our natural resources, are we getting better at conserving them?
A. Unfortunately, we also compare poorly with other developed countries in the way we use our freshwater resources.
A. On average each Canadian uses twice as much freshwater as do citizens in other developed countries.
A. We use nine times more water than people in Denmark, the developed world’s most efficient water users.
A. It may be the case that our perceived vast water resources encourage wasteful usage.
Q. Are individual consumers largely to blame for our country’s pour performance compared to other developed countries?
A. No, residential waste — basically, all of the rubbish we put in garbage bags, in addition to recyclables — make up a little more than a third of Canada’s total urban waste.
A. The other two thirds come from industry, commerce and institutions.
A. It comes from restaurants, schools, malls, office buildings, as well as construction and demolition sites
A. The problem here is that this sort of waste is collected by private waste haulers that divert only 13 per cent of what they collect due to it costing more.
Q. is it the cities that are to blame?
A. Canada’s urban waste in its entirety accounts for just a third of the country’s total waste.
A. The other 2/3 of our waste comes from mines, agriculture and the military, and in most cases, this is the most toxic waste.
A. The tailings from many mines have simply been left leaking their poisons into the soil and water. We’re talking chlorine, dioxins, and furans, some of the most toxic substances in existence.”
A. There are 28,000 mine sites in Canada that have no owners – that have been abandoned by companies that took all they could from a mine and then declared bankruptcy or simply fled.
A. For example, the Giant gold mine that recently closed near Yellowknife, waste containing a quarter-million tons of deadly arsenic trioxide has simply been frozen in place, a temporary solution at best.
A. Up on the DEW Line in Canada’s Arctic, the U.S. military has left thousands of tons of old vehicles, housing units, batteries, infrastructure, fuel containers, PCBs, and various other highly toxic chemicals. Over 19 years later and the clean-up continue.
Q. it seems difficult to imagine a future where we no longer require landfills to dump our waste. Is such a future even remotely possible?
A. Among many municipal waste departments the mantra is zero garbage — zero landfill — thou shalt not dump.
A. No doubt, recycling is still a meaningful strategy for reducing solid waste, but the ultimate cure for waste lies not in recycling, but in reducing consumerism.
A. By the time waste gets recycled 95 per cent of the environmental damage has already occurred – in manufacturing, in oil extraction, in the poisoning of our rivers and air.
A. We need to get better at consuming more sustainably. Bring your own tote bags, ask for a ceramic mug instead of a disposable coffee cup, drink at the public fountain rather than buying another plastic bottle of water, purchase clothes that will last.