Is it Trash, Or Is It Treasure?

Big changes are preceded first by a big change in attitude. This is evident from looking at different attitudes to garbage on opposite sides of the Atlantic. In some places, we’re beginning to reconsider the value of what we’ve tossed and buried as ‘trash’. In some other places, virtually everything is ‘trash’ if we’re finished using it. And a new idea is also emerging – nothing is trash, unless shown otherwise.  

In the past ten years, as energy and resource prices rose, people started to think about old dump sites as a potential resource. According to Wikipedia, the process of mining garbage dumps even  has its own acronym, “Landfill Mining and Reclamation (LFMR). In Ontario, Durham Region recently approved  a project to mine one of its old garbage dumps:

Durham to start landfill mining by 2014, DurhamRegion.com, Sep 27, 2012

A scan on the internet shows that much more ambitious projects are going on in Europe. One in Belgium aims to recover 45% of useable material from a site containing 16.5 million tons of ‘waste’.

Trash To Cash: Mining Landfills For Energy And Profit, Fast Company,

According to an article published on the Freakonomics web site, Americans lag far behind  other societies in recycling and recovery:

“American communities spend more on waste management than on fire protection, parks and recreation, libraries, or schoolbooks… The average American is making twice as much trash today as in 1960…  7.1 pounds of garbage a day …”

Your Garbage Questions, Answered,  Freakonomics, Jun 5, 2012

For comparison, the average in Simcoe County is closer to 2 lbs of waste per person per day. We divert 58% to recycling or composting with a target of 71% diversion from landfill by 2020. But what if we shifted our perception of the things we use every day? What if almost nothing was considered to be ‘garbage’?  That’s the idea being discussed in the UK. Similar to transfer and recycling depots here, Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRC) currently operate in Britain. A significant change in attitude would transform the way they operate:

“An HWRC constructed as a reuse hub on the assumption that all items brought to site are reusable or recyclable until identified as not being suitable would be a very different site to a traditional HWRC… Reuse shops could also be located at HWRC sites, along with refurbishment services.”

Community reuse hubs of the future could be sited at HWRCs, EDIE News, Nov. 14, 2012

This is an idea currently in the talking stage and worth following its progress. Does it make you wonder what else could be different, starting with just a change in attitude?

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2 thoughts on “Is it Trash, Or Is It Treasure?

  1. Wow a total change in mindset in Simcoe County. I know some use trash as a source of energy.

    • Welcome, Carlos. I’m not sure you caught that this is at the idea stage in Britain. Ours is still very much a transfer station in Simcoe County where Council had to approve the ‘export’ of garbage outside the County after the Site 41 dump was cancelled. Waste-to-energy is a growing practice in Europe because it deals with two issues at once.

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