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Waste Not. Want Not.

I did not fully appreciate how important garbage and recycling services were until I started working in local government. It came as a bit of a shock when I did a survey of residents to find out what information they most wanted to receive from the City. You guessed it – garbage schedule updates. Since then, I’ve paid a lot more attention to garbage and the increased expectation for recycling. Back in the old days – so let’s say 15 years ago – our family tossed everything into the garbage. I wasn’t aware of recycling programs and wouldn’t know what to do with them even if I knew they existed. Our small family filled two garbage cans up every week and didn’t blink. When I first heard the term “zero waste” I considered it a nice ideal but unlikely in terms of any practical application.

Jump ahead to today. We recycle everything we can, including dropping off items like electronics and paint cans at depots. We separate our food scraps. We make sure that paper, containers and glass are kept out of the garbage. We sort our refundable bottles and cans. We use one small garbage cart that is collected biweekly. We experience guilt if a recyclable item inadvertently makes its way into the garbage. We are converts to the aspiration for zero waste.

This evolution to conscientious recycling isn’t complete. I know there are holdouts. I suspect there is less personal pressure when you’re an anonymous resident in a multi-family complex with centralized collection. But I believe the pressure and the acceptance of the responsibility to recycle will continue to spread. The trick for local governments is going to be keeping up with demand.

In Sustainable Waste: Not an Oxymoron in the summer 2016 Exchange, it was interesting to see how different areas of the province have developed their own best practices to suit the needs and challenges of their communities. It’s nice to know that one solution doesn’t need to fit everyone, and that a mix of approaches can still support the same outcomes in the long term.

Even more exciting to me is the growth in new industries to turn waste into a resource that can be used and/or sold by local governments. Instead of looking at this waste as, well, a waste, these organizations are tapping into  ways to sell their waste as new products. The examples shared in Waste Not. Want Not. Generating Products from Waste, are creating new revenue sources for local governments to help offset their operating costs while also supporting waste diversion goals and extending the life of their landfills. Whether its high tech or low tech, the outcomes and benefits for taxpayers and the environment are impressive. Plus, the idea of turning garbage into a product that adds value is something everyone can celebrate.

Waste management will continue to be a critical service, and residents will likely continue to list it as one of their top priorities. It’s nice to see the progress in how these services are being delivered, the progress towards waste diversion goals, and the potential for creating something new and valuable from garbage and recycling someone else has tossed out. Kudos go to the local governments embarking on these projects and the organizations that support them.

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