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Talking Trash to Transform Communities

Interesting how the word ‘waste’ has become benign in common use and the behaviour associated with creating waste has become socially acceptable. Consider that waste is defined as the “wrong use of money, substances, time, energy, abilities”, etc. Clearly having waste built into our daily operations and lives is not an effective strategy for running a business or a household, yet, every day huge volumes of waste are created  by both.

Simultaneously we are growing very aware that there are finite amounts of resources on this planet and we are extracting them at an alarming rate. In fact, we are even extracting sustainable resources faster than can replenish themselves.

Clearly we have to change, and we must do so quickly. As a first step, we need to stop accepting waste as part of daily life. Secondly we need to see “waste” as a resource that can be mined and transformed into products we need/want. So how do we do this, and are there additional opportunities to be realized through mining the waste stream?

One very successful approach is through Resource Recovery Centres. These centres are designed to mine resources from the waste stream that would otherwise be dumped into a landfill. The range of materials that can be viably extracted from typical waste streams includes compostables, metal, glass, paper, Styrofoam, cardboard, electronics, and plastics. A well designed Centre can be scalable and flexible to evolving needs, and can be a “One-Stop-Drop” zone for receiving recyclables, compostables, and other resources. But Resource Recovery Centres can achieve a lot more than just extracting valuable resources It can also serve as a transfer station where resources are collected then transferred to processing stations. Other uses include a Reuse and Repair Zone for various items such as bicycles, an Education Centre and Community Meeting Place that provides up-to-date information on resource recovery developments and sharing experiences - to list a few. But can this solution meet everyone’s needs?

First the downside. There are essentially three major drawbacks to Resource Recovery Centres.

  • First, if resource recovery efforts are 100% successful, then there will be no garbage to fuel garbage incinerators designed to generate electricity.
  • Second, it requires individuals and businesses to assume responsibility for their own waste, which may be difficult for some to accept.
  • Third, It undermines the principles of consumerism, wherein “single use and toss” is the mantra.

Now the upside. The multitude of benefits of Resource Recovery Centres far out way the downside.

  • First, they are an effective means for achieving Zero Waste Goals, which means no expensive landfills and their related environmental degradation through ground water contamination and greenhouse gas creation, not to mention their unpleasant appearance/odours and attraction of pests.
  • Second, they form a basis for local economic development through job creation and training. There is money to be made by extracting the resources and selling them rather than throwing them in the landfill (a euphemism for garbage pile).
  • Third, they eliminate costs associated with existing waste collection and disposal solutions.
  • Fourth, they can actually create community as it becomes a gathering spot for people to meet, learn,exchange and engage with their neighbours.
  • Fifth, a centre can effect positive behavioural change wherein it is no longer acceptable to simply throw things away, which leads to a community of conservation, rather than a community of waste.

In developing sustainable solutions to address the challenges we face in the 21st Century requires innovative solutions that offer alternatives to the existing infrastructure, changing people’s beliefs and behaviours, and quantifiable results that benefit everyone. A Resource Recovery Centre is one example of how we can turn “waste” into “resource” and even make money doing it.

A senior executive and seasoned entrepreneur with an extensive background in Sustainability, Erich has been providing effective leadership and international project/business management for over 15 years. Erich’s approach to the “Business of Sustainability” began in the 1980’s when he taught… [Read more about Erich Schwartz]

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