Comments from the field-trip to EWMC

Hecol 493 DfS#2 class visited the Edmonton Waste Management Center as part of the unit dedicated to the “issues of DfS”, in which energy and waste are involved. Students approached this fieldtrip as problem identifiers. The comments following this post express their findings.

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    • Max
    • June 9th, 2011

    While stockpiling extra resources to recycle by means of a technology currently being developed is both proactive and actively thinking towards the future, I’m not sure if EWM has the resources to overtake something like this. Keep in mind, the inception of EWM was only deemed necessary because of our lack of space in Alberta. We are lucky enough that we aren’t like Phoenix, where hardly anything is recycled and the majority of garbage is buried in the desert.
    Another testament to our lack of space in northern Alberta is the fact that many companies want to join EWM to profit off the business of waste management but aren’t able to because of space. EWM realistically isn’t able to hold-on to things that will one day be recyclable when they are already turning down international companies who want in on recycling currently available.

    • Samuel S
    • June 7th, 2011

    I think some members of the waste management system are overdue for a reading of Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce”. In fact, I think everyone is overdue for such an eye- and mouth-opener. Because, let’s face it, no matter how innovative we become in creating new technologies to deal with all the crap we’ve unleashed onto this planet, it won’t change the fact that our priorities are completely out of whack. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up big-time. And if we’re not gonna change for our planet, we at least owe it to ourselves and the future of our children and grandchildren. Cause the way things are going now – turning the Earth into one large ball of toxic stew, that is – we might not be around in fifty years to experience anything at all… Maybe that’s a good thing?

    • carlosfiorentino
    • June 7th, 2011

    Excellent thoughts Cullen

    • Cullen
    • June 7th, 2011

    I find it interesting that capitalism is seen as a ‘weapon’ that has created a consumer based society (because there is a lot of truth to that statement) but the whole time on the tour i kept thinking that the business of waste management must be a fairly lucrative one. Now imagine if private companies got into this industry and seeing as how waste IS the resource of profit, then innovations and incentives from capitalism would drive companies to be able to harness even more that 90% waste, because that is 10% of potential profits lost. So, i see the burdens capitalism has created but i also see it a ‘tool’ that we can benefit from when used appropriately.

    In regards to the tour itself, i found what EWMC is doing is fairly progressive. I really like the use of bio remediation through the pile of mulch. Natural processes like this should be used more often. But most of the processes there are reactionary to a problem that already exists, and the introduction of a Research and Design department is very responsible.

    One major thing i noticed that was actually detrimental beyond imagination was the discussion about farmer’s using dry wall powder in their soil to decrease acidity. This is unbelievably dangerous and unthoughtful. First, the soil has so much acidity because of pesticides and over farming, all soil breaks down under those strains (and if you listen to 2007 Massey lecture, which is brilliant btw, you will realize that the death of all civilizations past has been due to soil destruction and their landscape not able to support them, example easter island, ancient egypt, etc). Adding another composite and unnatural material to the soil to balance out the damage already done will absolutely not solve that problem, the soils destruction it will only be compounded ten fold later. (Good example of fiscal profits out weighing long term(?) thinking)

    • carlosfiorentino
    • June 6th, 2011

    I’m enjoying this conversation so far guys. I’d like to add that money (and profit) is a very efficient motivator for sustainable practices, as long as it drives to them. For instance, make profit from waste is OK as long as it helps to create LESS waste, which is not the case as we know, it’s often quite the opposite.

    Money however can help to change behavior. For instance, if industry would be capable to make electric cars better designed and CHEAPER than normal cars, we would not be discussing peek oil right now. People buy what’s better and affordable, and the problem of using fossil fuels for cars would be addressed in the short term.

    In a more radical view. Saving money is even more effective than profit. How is it? If you want to make people use public transit massively, as it was suggested in class, make it FREE. The immense amount of money saved by NOT using cars could not only pay for maintaining the transit systems but also to improve them. Not realistic? Is it more realistic to keep manufacturing more cars and roads with no limits?

    I agree with Jackson in something essential: changes from within are more effective, although for that matter you need a radical mind, polarized from the system.

  2. I agree that ultimately we are striving for a society that profits the planet rather than ourselves, and that this will not be a quick or abrupt change. I don’t see the fact that Edmonton participates in comprehensive waste management for profit as a negative. Our society is deeply invested in a profit-based lifestyle, and finding ways of participating in that lifestyle with resilience initiatives is a way of driving an institutional paradigm shift.

    Look at blackspot shoes for example:

    Blackspot is trying to “change the way the world does business” not by thoughtlessly reacting against it, but by participating in it. This is a way of morally and symbiotically affecting change, rather than polarizing the situation. Establishing a rhetoric WITHIN a system is an effective way of changing it.

    There are truths in capitalism that appeal to something very fundamental in human nature. This is partly why it is so prevalent in our society. However, capitalism’s problem is that it doesn’t acknowledge limited resources and assumes that infinite growth is possible. EWMCE and blackspot are both examples of how a shift can be made towards a balanced and resilient society, because they both acknowledge finite resources and exist within business. We should be striving for balance, rather than polarization.

    I agree with Samuel’s observations that the extra 40% could be going to a more temporary place until the new building is up, and that everything EWMCE does is responding to larger unsustainable actions – like electronics companies throwing away old stock or that they still rely on materials like mercury. The plant even had to fight against something as ubiquitous as garbage bag materials. If it’s known that almost all garbage will end up at some sort of waste management plant, couldn’t they be made of materials that are easily integrated into the system?

    • Samuel S
    • June 6th, 2011

    Overall, I would have to say that the EWMCE has managed to develop fairly comprehensive waste management methods. From the quality of the compost to the amount of work placed into dismantling e-waste, there is definitely hope for the way we deal with our waste in the future. Even the 90% landfill diversion rate predicted within the coming years is impressive. However, in the end, the real issue is the consumerist nature of our society – and until that changes, we will continue to deplete the resources of this slowly dying planet.

    With regards to a critique of our tour, I noticed several things. First and foremost, the tour guide continually used the word “efficiently” with regards to waste treatment and technological innovations, whereas we in hecol 493 now distinguish between “efficiency” and “effectiveness” and realize the greater importance of the latter. Secondly, I was disappointed by the poor organization and longer-term planning demonstrated by EWM. For example, knowing that we have the technology to convert three quarters of the 40% waste that currently goes to landfills into biofuels starting 2013, shouldn’t we be sorting through and laying aside that waste into a separate landfill for easy retrieval in the near future? Especially considering that the tour guide mentioned several times that we will probably return to mine past and current landfills for this kind of waste anyway… Also, Japan and Korea have no issues with individual households sorting wastes into five or more separate categories – so why should we? It will make life a lot easier for WM and make us more responsible and conscientious citizens.

    Last, but not least, at the end of the day, this is still a business, and the main, if not the only reason that Edmonton has such a comprehensive facility is that we churn out a crapload of waste and disposing of it is a profitable business. We still have a long way to go if we are to change our mindsets from profiting ourselves to profiting our planet, and unfortunately that could take a very long time.

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