British Columbians are familiar with the three R’s approach to waste management: reduce, reuse and recycle. But a new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that while we have made progress in recycling, we need to focus on reducing and reusing in order to protect our environment and climate.
The study, Closing the Loop: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Through Zero Waste in BC, calls for a rethink of the province’s waste management policies, including proposals for new incineration capacity in Metro Vancouver.
“Zero waste means that we proactively reduce the volume of materials entering the economy in the first place while supporting a high quality of life for consumers,” explains lead author Marc Lee. “A good model is beer bottles, which are re-used about 15 times before they are recycled due to deposit-and-return systems.”
A zero waste approach would move B.C. away from an economic system in which raw materials are extracted, processed into consumer goods and then trashed. Instead, in a “closed loop system,” products like appliances would be repaired and reused for as long as possible, then broken down into parts that could be reused in new products or, finally, recycled.
The new model also emphasizes local economic benefits. Currently, most recyclable materials are exported to other countries for processing. Zero waste policies could create green jobs in B.C. by creating domestic capacity for recycling, and by creating jobs in repair, servicing and maintenance, and sorting and reusing bottles and containers.
The authors estimate that if B.C. can move to aggressive reduction and recycling of materials by 2020, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by almost five million tonnes. This reduction would result from diverting organics from disposal and reducing the need for energy-intensive extraction and processing.
“This is an important opportunity to develop thousands of green jobs while wrestling with the big challenges coming our way: climate change, growing waste and resource depletion,” says Lee.
The study’s recommendations include:
Integrate GHG emissions reduction into waste management planning.
Do not expand incineration (waste-to-energy) capacity; incineration not only creates a demand for more waste, but also releases GHGs.
Require province-wide composting.
Phase out single use products and packaging.
Ban or tightly regulate toxic or non-recyclable materials..