Friday, February 16, 2007

Averill Baker and garbage generation

According to Averill Baker in her latest column, each and every community should have it's own landfill because it's their right.

Now keep in mind that in this province we have 286 municipalities and 182 local service districts which represent approximately 96 per cent of the population. There are also 137 unincorporated communities.

It used to be that landfill sites and garbage dumps or whatever you call them, used to be easy. You filled up a truck, drove out into the woods and dumped. When it got too smelly, you found a new site.

Today things are more complicated. Over time we've learned that we need to be mindfull of toxins leeching into water supplies and the western world has discovered principles of basic public sanitation. Landfill sites today are less selected by where's a good spot for the truck to go and dump and more selected and constructed according to engineering principles.

If every settlement in this provinces had it's own site then we would have a total of 605 landfill sites around the province. That would be 605 sites to maintain and monitor for the purposes of public sanitation. By tradition, most of these sites have little to do with public sanitation and much more to do with where's the convenient place to dump because that was the operating principle when they were established.

Never mind all the places that use low temperature incinerators, basically just big fires in a can, to burn municipal garbage which produces air pollution and pretty nasty charred remains.

So what are we to do. Well, right now Newfoundlanders and Labradorians generate more than 400,000 tonnes of waste materials at a rate of approximately two kilograms per person per day which is simply sent to one of the 240 landfill sites throughout the province. That's better than 605 but it's still an awful lot for just over 500,000 people.

Government's response has been a waste management strategy to divert 50 percent of the materials currently going to disposal by 2010, to reduce the number of waste disposal sites by 80 percent, to eliminate open burning at disposal sites by 2005 and phase out the use of incinerators by 2008, to phase out use of unlined landfill sites by 2010 and to implement full province-wide modern waste management by 2010.

Now it's anybody's guess if the province's strategy will work out on scheduled as planned but that's besides the point: this is a big problem and getting bigger all the time.

We need to do something about it.

But in Ms. Baker's world, it's not a problem at all. She advocates a funny kind of rural Libertarianism to conclude that that the stupidity of such a policy is mind-boggling, she charges that the brains-to-body mass ratio of our politicians must be getting smaller* and argues that consolidating landfill sites in the province is tantamount to resettlement.

It's fine to believe that this province is a vast collection of sovereign villages each of whom has the the unqualified and unquestioned right to exist offering every service which municipalities offer, that each have their right to an exclusive economic center (fish plant, for example) which must stay within the municipality and employ only members of that municipality and that every collection of houses has a right to have government offices, schools, hospitals, police you name it.

Averill Baker is a romantic and a provincial idealist and that's a great quality in many fields of human endeavor. But in the area of public policy formation, she is not only blatantly wrong but she is is advocating regressive environmental policies which will continue and extend the practice of uncontrolled, unsupervised and dangerous dump sites across this fair province.

CBC recently had some images like these:

It's that kind of facile, glib rhetoric that leads one to conclude that her grounding in the real world as we know it is pretty tenuous.

Let's see if she manages better in two weeks time.


*Far be it for me to defend the intellectual powers of our political class but she should careful when shes says that; she might get sued.

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