Human management

Changing our waste management habits is necessary for the good of the environment and our health

Canadians generate more than 30 million tonnes of waste every year. This emits about 27 megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and accounts for 20 percent of national methane emissions. The economy has long idealized the use of plastics for their affordability, malleability, durability and convenience. Due to our human consumption, the environment has taken its toll.

David Passmore is a lecturer in the Department of Geology at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM). He currently teaches ENV320: Managing our waste, a course that addresses “the philosophical, social and management challenges associated with waste in the Canadian and international contexts”. Professor Passmore also explores the evolution of waste management over the years.

According to him, waste management has become a priority concern, along with climate change and societal issues. Indeed, the elimination of waste contributes significantly to global warming. Indeed, the waste sector is responsible for 6% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Part of our failure to consider the seriousness of the waste is that we are unaware of what is going beyond the blue bin. Perhaps most of us would be happy not to know, because it convinces us that we are doing good. Of course we are, but simply engaging in recycling is not enough. “Just about nine percent products that we submit for recycling through our blue box actually end up being recycled, ”says Professor Passmore. So what exactly happens after we sort our waste in their respective bins?

Professor Passmore says most of our “recyclables” end up in landfills and a small portion even goes to waste. This is in part because many of them end up being unsuitable for recycling, either because of the chemicals or their composition. With our current technology and our financial means, this makes a small part of plastics really suitable for recycling.

Our efforts to reduce waste in Canada and around the world have largely revolved around recycling. Professor Passmore notes that this trend is a return to the norm. “Making it, using it and throwing it away: a state of mind that only belongs to the 20th century,” he explains, adding that we must “rethink our way of life”.

Until the 20th century, man has always reused and recycled his products. After all, it was effective, and there’s no point in throwing something away that you can use more of. As Professor Passmore says, industrialization introduced the concept of throwing things away without thinking about it. In other words, we got used to the convenience of plastics.

Many European countries encourage citizens to reuse plastics. For example, Professor Passmore shares that in restaurants, consumers pay a small deposit on their take-out containers. These containers are designed to be reused, perhaps for home storage, or they can just take them back to the restaurant for their next order. Likewise, UTM encouraged students to use OZZI 2GO containers when ordering food from the canteen. However, we have the impression that few students use it. It shows that many of us still need to change our lifestyle choices.

In addition, the disposal of waste in our oceans, beaches and rivers is all too common. That’s why American YouTubers Jimmy Donaldson (Mr. Beast) and Mark Rober launched #TeamSeas, a global initiative that aims to raise $ 30 million by the end of 2021 to remove 30 million pounds of trash from oceans, beaches and rivers around the world, at a rate of one dollar per pound. The #TeamSeas cleaning project is in collaboration with two non-profit organizations, including Cleaning the ocean, a non-profit foundation that aims to “clean up 90% of plastic pollution from floating oceans.”

Half of the funds raised by #TeamSeas will go to The Ocean Cleanup, while the other half will be given to their second collaborator Ocean conservancy. Each of these nonprofits will be responsible for disposing of 15 million pounds of waste.

While Professor Passmore believes #TeamSeas is an incredible and very promising initiative, he notes that microplastics remain a concern. Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that are not visible to the naked eye. These microplastics are digested by marine animals, which contribute to the destruction of marine life. “I was really upset to learn that even paper tea bags also use plastic in these bags,” he explains. “[This ensures that the bag] retains its shape.

Microplastics are a critical issue. While environmental concerns remain a priority, concerns about the impact they have on our health are emerging. So far, research is still ongoing. “It is estimated that the average person ends up ingest five grams of plastic, corresponding to millions of microplastics per week, which is roughly the equivalent of a credit card, ”notes Professor Passmore.

For him and many experts, one of the most important things we can do is build sustainability into our circular economy. This will help change our mentalities. Professor Passmore stresses that our economy and our producers must stop relying on plastics. He stresses that we need to educate consumers about purchasing sustainable products. This could be done by subsidizing biodegradable substitutes – only then will our plastic consumption decrease. We need to continue to expand our range of biodegradable substitutes and change our “throw away when done” mentality.

Since most of our plastic waste ends up in landfills, this creates problems for the government. “Experts have said that Canadian landfills will not be enough,” concludes Professor Passmore. “We will need 16 new landfills by 2050, given our rate of waste disposal.

In 2016, the Ontario government set itself the goal of achieving zero waste by 2050 using a strategy that revolves around the circular economy. This conception of the circular economy involves: designing sustainable and sustainable products; produce them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; distribute said products to consumers; reuse and repair products; and recycling. A key element of this program is that producers will be responsible for their products from the beginning to the end of the product life cycle. This means that they will be responsible for recovering the materials of their products, including packaging. As a result, the amount of waste sent to landfills will decrease.

While we have long known that greenhouse gas emissions from waste are a catalyst for climate change, the newly discovered consumption of microplastics could have additional effects on our health. It is therefore of paramount importance that we move away from plastic consumption and instead choose sustainable products.

Associated Feature Editor (Volume 48) –
Maneka is a second year student pursuing a double major in Philosophy and Political Science. For Maneka, whether during an interview or during informal meetings, the question “tell me a little more about yourself” is the worst. It still scares her because she really doesn’t know what to say or what they want to know. She prefers to know more about them. When not studying, writing, or napping, Maneka is probably binge watching, or rather re-watching TV shows, singing, or listening to music.

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