The Durham region near Toronto, Canada is weighing a couple of options for disposing of municipal waste. One possibility: a landfill, which some are calling a bowl for garbage. Government officials are also considering the possibility of funding what is called a waste-to-energy plant, more simply put a facility that burns garbage in order to generate electricity. While the city was considering its disposal options, the Star newspaper in Toronto went to Detroit, Michigan, to look at that city’s waste-to-energy plant where it discovered that since the city committed to the incinerator nearly two decades ago recycling is virtually unheard of. In fact, Detroit did not begin a curbside recycling program until this summer. Other American cities have had so-called curbside recycling for more than a decade. Detroit, as a municipality, has not shown an interest in recycling because recyclable materials are good fuel for the energy plant.
In his article, “Strategies for Sustainability,” Stewart Barr argues that the energy consciousness of the public is influenced by a number of outside factors. And the likely hood of someone recycling or saving energy can be tied not only to their feelings about the practice but also to situational variables. He argues that those who are trying to influence environmental behaviors need to keep the multiple influences in mind when crafting their message.
Business and industry face calls for more ethical behaviour. This includes taking responsibility for waste. All processes and products create waste, whether directly during manufacturing or indirectly at the end user.
Pierre Desrochers’ article in Geographical Journal (March 2009) looks at industrial waste in Victorian England. He investigates how the residuals from iron and coal gas production were transformed into valuable by-products.
One of the by-products of our own digital age is electronic waste. According to the United Nations, between 20 and 50 million tonnes of e-waste is produced every year. However, manufacturers still have a long way to go to implement safe disposal methods or to recycle it into usable by-products. The BBC World Service’s Digital Planet programme recently featured India’s e-waste workers. Many of them are children, who dismantle unwanted computers and mobile phones; for minimal wages they work with toxic chemicals that have an impact on their health.
The challenge of sustainable development is to find alternative uses for industrial and consumer waste which both minimise environmental damage and deliver economic benefits.