Merlin Nichols: Garbage, garbage, garbage


Believe it or not, but Rodrigo Duterte, also known as Digong, president of the Philippines, and a really tough guy, has threatened war on Canada over garbage. Mr. Trudeau, you still got your gloves?

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As if we didn’t have enough trouble with China and the USA. But the Philippines? Do we have ships long enough to get us there? And an army big enough? Over garbage? Indeed, wars have been started over more trivial matters and by the time they’re over the contestants have forgotten why they started. Granted, garbage can be a fighting matter and it’s past time that we took it seriously.

It seems that Canada delivered about 72 shipping containers of garbage, falsely labeled as recycle plastic, to the Philippines and they’ve sat internally smelly and oozing on the dock in that beautiful land for six years. That’s a long time to have a pile of garbage stuck in your port of entry. Some precocious kids reading this piece had scarcely been born when the ship upped its anchor and headed west with our garbage.

Well, after Mr. Duterte rattled his sabre and threatened to make us eat the stuff, our Mr. Trudeau did the right thing and promised to take it back. Good on you, Mr. Trudeau, you’ve averted a very messy war. Get ready, Port of Vancouver! We don’t want any of that stuff dripping into Vancouver harbour.

Imagine if you can, all kinds of noxious substances not to be named have been digesting in the heat of a tropical paradise for six years. But I should name a few: baby diapers, candy wraps, potato salad, old shoes, paper plates, plastic lunch bags still holding the liquid remains of a cheese sandwich. Ah, use your own imagination. We just have to figure out how we are going to dispose of the stuff in an environmentally sustainable manner – something we could have done more than six years ago had we the political will.

Anybody with a nose knows that a landfill is not the place to have a picnic. So let’s have our picnic elsewhere and put our neurons to work on solutions.

All municipal or regional district elected officials and their administrators know very well the fighting words that can be generated when solid waste is on the agenda. (Problem with the stuff from the tropical islands, probably much of it is not very solid any more.) As the largest by far of the budget items, and doubtless the most contentious, proper solid waste disposal is crucial to a community’s health, safety, and eye appeal.

We’ve tried various solutions to our garbage problem: toss it into the dump and let the wind and the bears and the ravens and the gulls deal with it; bury it to be digested by the good earth – eventually; haul it to Cache Creek; sneak out in the dark with that old fridge or recliner and ease it over a bank in our once-pristine wilderness – shame on you.

Don’t suppose that there’s not a little shame on all of us. Why don’t we insist on more productive methods of disposing the stuff that we don’t want, can’t use, forgot we had, or wish we hadn’t bought?

And then there’s the packaging that is almost impossible to penetrate and the plastic grocery bags where once we had biodegradable paper bags.

Ready for a little humour? The next time you buy a jug of milk or water or vinegar in a large plastic container and the smiling clerk sweetly asks, “Would you like that in a bag?” Your answer should be, “Better leave it in the jug; it’ll be kinda messy in a bag.” Note the confusion.

Now, to a solution for our mountains of solid waste: It’s been talked about for years and some jurisdictions actually have put it into practice successfully. We just need to do it now and do it here in the North.

Most solid waste can be safely incinerated. With the technology we now possess it is possible to convert the junk into heat energy while containing most of the emissions, emissions that also are given off by the landfill.

But we don’t just satisfy our green instincts by incinerating stuff we don’t want instead of throwing it to the bears and the bugs. We use the energy to generate power for the grid.

Try to imagine collecting the garbage from Prince George to Grande Prairie and all points between and releasing its massive store of latent energy somewhere about half way between the two cities. Try to imagine the level of co-operation between two sometimes fractious neighbors that would be required to pull off that stunt.

Maybe it’s just a dream that will never end. I’m an old man now, although in denial. I have been recycling for years but some plastic is no longer accepted. Guess I’ll just have to send it to the landfill until I join it there.

What a way to end a perfectly good thought!

Oh, by the way, as the ancients would say, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.”

Merlin Nichols is the former mayor of Chetwynd. 

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