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Our garbage: 4 problems and their solutions

Amélie Côté

Analyst, Reduction at the Source

Published on 

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The best type of garbage is clearly the garbage that we avoid creating in the first place. The Quebec Bureau des audiences publiques en environnement (BAPE) is currently examining the state of our waste management and analyzing what the next 20 years may look like.

At Équiterre, we are trying to refocus the discussion around reducing our garbage at the source, in order to have less waste to manage.

Spoiler alert: recycling is not the solution! Recyclable materials account for one quarter of what is thrown out in Quebec - about 1.2 million tonnes!

Let's have a look at four problems regarding our current waste crisis, but even more solutions:

1. Too much packaging ... which is not always recyclable

You’ve noticed it at the grocery store - there is a lot of packaging on our food! Sometimes necessary, yes, but it's important to draw the line between packaging and over-packaging.

Definition of over-packaging: packaging more than the product requires in order to protect it from damage, or for purely aesthetic reasons. Also, packaging in smaller quantities for reasons mistakenly believed to be more practical or efficient.

Some packaging is not recyclable or only somewhat recyclable... which leads to numerous other problems! For example, single-use items such as utensils, coffee cups, straws, take-out containers - the little things that are everywhere and have proliferated enormously in recent years... Many municipalities have undertaken initiatives to address this issue, but work needs to be done at the provincial level.

In any case, recycling is not the solution: we need to first and foremost reduce at the source!

IDEAS 

  • Stop over-packaging. Ban single-use items and develop reusable alternatives.
  • Standardize packaging types. Promote eco-friendly design by reducing the types of materials used, in order to encourage reuse and recycling.
  • Develop refillable beverage containers. The expansion of the deposit refund system to all beverage containers is an opportunity to develop refillable containers, as is the case with some types of beer bottles.
  • Standardize reusable personal protective equipment, such as masks, by developing a certification system that offers a viable alternative to single-use equipment.
 2. It's still very difficult to get things repaired

Only 26% of Canadians repair their electrical and electronic devices... and for good reason! It’s not easy to find affordable repair services.

It’s hard to believe that in a society with such a highly developed level of technical knowledge, our objects and devices have shorter and shorter life spans!

The good news is that there are some upcoming legislative changes that will help Quebec society evolve towards more sustainable products. However, the final details have not yet been worked out, so there is still time to have our say on the issue.

Ideas

  • Establish a product repairability index, based on the French model.
  • Develop and support a repair network.
  • Fund the battle against obsolescence.
3. Food waste is not managed

One-third of the world's food is wasted. Can you believe it?

In Canada, this amounts to 11 million tonnes per year. Though we often hear that food waste occurs primarily in the home, it’s not true. 79% of food waste occurs throughout the production and distribution chain, that is, from the farm to the grocery store. At the household level, the remaining 21% represents roughly 60-70 kg per person per year.

Food waste has a huge environmental impact, because in addition to the enormous resource and financial losses, the organic matter that is buried emits methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

According to the most recent data, 30% of waste is organic matter. While this proportion has been declining over the years as Quebec municipalities have introduced separate organic waste collection, there is still a long way to go... and even further to reduce at the source! 

Ideas

  • Focus above all on reducing waste. The 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) apply to food as well!
  • Better understand the issues related to waste. In order to be able to respond to such a complex phenomenon, we need to first understand it. According to experts in the field, the data we currently have is insufficient.
  • Make a commitment at the provincial level to reduce food waste. The Quebec government could adopt a provincial policy against food waste.
4. Reuse: an underestimated ally

Every year, the date by which humanity has used up all the renewable natural resources that the Earth can produce in one year moves forward, and if the whole world consumed at the same rate that Canadians do, we would overshoot that mark on March 18!

Reusing items that are already in circulation is a solution that must be prioritized to counter excess consumption. Buying used items online or from local thrift stores and sharing items with neighbours are all concrete solutions to reduce our environmental footprint.

Although reuse has important economic, social and environmental benefits, it is somewhat overlooked by decision makers. We need to make second-hand the must-have trend!

Ideas

  • Document reuse and its positive impacts.
  • Raise awareness about the waste of goods.
  • Support social economy enterprises active in the area of reuse.

Do you want to help put these solutions in place?

The BAPE hearings on residual waste are currently taking place! Make your concerns and solutions known.

Provide your input by May 3 -> bit.ly/bapedéchetsutlimes

To find out more go to:

References

Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement. L’état des lieux et la gestion des résidus ultimes
Earth Overshoot Day. Country Overshoot Day
Équiterre. Obsolescence des appareils électroménagers et électroniques : Quel rôle pour le consommateur?
Organisation des Nations unies pour l’alimentation et l’agriculture (FAO). Global food losses and food waste
RECYC-QUÉBEC. Rapport sectoriel de RECYC-QUÉBEC dans le cadre du mandat du BAPE sur L’état des lieux et la gestion des résidus ultimes
Tu vas pas jeter ça? Les plus récentes données sur le gaspillage alimentaire au Canada