April 20, 2005

Blue Box, Black Box ... Green Box?

The City of Ottawa has released a report setting a target of diverting 60% of its garbage from landfills by 2008 (the current rate is about 31% according to an article in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen).

Proposals/initiatives included in the report apparently include user-pays garbage bag fees and a green box composting program (to be in place by 2007). Sadly, the Citizen article seems to suggest that a return to full plastics recycling is not part of the package (see my earlier post on this subject).

More to follow ...

Posted by anatole at April 20, 2005 12:13 PM

Toronto has just expanded its plastic recycling to include these larger tubs (yoghurt containers, etc.), so I can't really see why Ottawa couldn't as well. Toronto also adopted a green box programme within the last year, but then Toronto is facing a major landfill crisis. There's nothing more motivating than a crisis...

Posted by: Mark at April 20, 2005 05:38 PM

Recycling is good, but just not using pointless quantities of packaging would be even better. Do you know if the city sponsors canvas shopping bag plans or anything like that? Does anybody know of any city that does that?

During some phase of the studio research this semester I read up a bit on RFIDs, and came to the realization that, while they have some nasty implications for personal privacy, they could be a boon to recycling and waste management. E.g.

A: "Look, hon, a milk carton floating in the canal."
B: "Oh, the RFID in the milk carton indicates Jim Smith bought it seven days ago at the IGA at Bank and Somerset (is that still an IGA?)."
A: "Oh good, we'll just FINE JIM then."

Better tracking may be taking us towards a future where buying a package implies the responsibility of returning the husk.

I wish I had time to actually read your Citizen article.

Posted by: George at April 20, 2005 09:08 PM

Uh, George... Your garbage-fine scenario IS a nasty implication for personal privacy!

Posted by: Alasdair at April 21, 2005 03:11 PM

Well, sort of. Assuming you consider it my right to dispose of my garbage privately. I think it's a n issue where a middle ground could be found. If I want to avoid RFIDs, for instance, I can bring my own bottle to some store that will fill it with milk for me. Obviously I'm talking about a change in the whole idea of what a consumer is responsible for. It's unlikely to happen quickly or with any kind of focused political intent, unfortunately. It's more likely that govts. will force companies to be responsible for the waste, and then companies will use all kind of surreptitious means of tracking their goods over their entire lifecycles, and needling consumers with irritating incentives to return or recycle the products.

But there seems to be very little question that milk cartons WILL have RFIDs in them. I would prefer, therefore, that Canadian citizens take a covenant of some kind to become responsible for where they chuck the things, and let RFIDs be the way it's tracked.

If you buy the milk with cash, of course, no problem at all! I love cash.

Posted by: George at April 21, 2005 08:23 PM

George: You're making a lot of assumptions about the technology here. The RFID tag would track the product, not the "owner". I might dispose of my milk carton properly but it could still end up somewhere it shouldn't. It's not that I'm against consumers acting responsibly and, more explicitly, being responsible (although I'm also in favour of the extended producer liability / product lifecycle concept), but this is a pretty strong (and not necessarily effective) form of responsibility. Let alone the privacy issues.

I'm also not sure I understand why we need to assume "surruptitious" company tracking and "needling" with "irritating" incentives for product lifecycle management. There are programs in place today for these sorts of things that are not necessarily irritating, nor do they involve big brother. In fact, often the company does not monitor at all -- hence the incentive (i.e. it's up the consumer to bring the product back -- beer bottles, computers, etc. -- and in many cases they have a strong incentive to do so.)

Of course, part of the issue here should be preventing the waste in the first place. And putting in place infrastructure that facilitates recycling (writ large). That's why the corporate side is so important. Even if you assume the ultimate altruist responsible consumer who appropriately disposes of all their goods, those goods must have been manufactured so that they can be somehow recycled/reused.

Rant, rant...

Posted by: Anatole at April 22, 2005 12:03 AM

I agree fully with your comments about manufacturing with re-use in mind ("recycling" would then no longer be the best word, perhaps... of course there's the whole rhetoric of "upcycling" from that book Cradle to Cradle, which is fun but perhaps a bit pie-in-the-sky).

Also your example of the bottle return scheme is good.

But to return to my silly example: If I dispose of my milk carton properly, how would it end up in the wrong place? I suppose that when I drop it off at the recycling center, it will be scanned and I am relieved of my responsibility for its location from then on.

I remember reading something five years ago or more about how in Japan they have (had?) a system where companies had to pick up appliances like refrigerators from consumers houses. Apparently the policy was not well implemented so a lot of fridges were then dumped by the sides of roads, for some reason. Let's hope we could do better with regulating our companies. But I think the more responsibility and knowledge the consumer takes on the better. Without a consumer culture of knowing where things come from and where they're going, it will be hard to watch the watchdogs, and keep up with the environmental implications of technological change. In other words I like the idea that in order to buy a fridge, I should know something about fridges (namely, where and when they need to be recycled... which might also include a little sliver of why, too). This last point seems fundamental. Unfortunately it is hard to legislate or even encourage at a large scale.

Anyway all of this was just meant to be brainstorming on how RFIDs could be a useful part of recycling plans.

Posted by: George at April 22, 2005 10:00 PM