Letter: Our recycling system is failing

The fish starts to stink at the head

Our recycling system is failing

Re: “Hire someone to sort recycling”, (Citizen, Aug. 5)

“Hiring someone to sort recycling good idea”, (Citizen, Aug. 12)

Both letters to the editor show significant frustration, both from the consumer and the municipality, about recycling and getting the blame for not doing it right. Further, we hear continuous complaints, from municipalities all over B.C., that contamination in the recycling is too high and does not meet the requirements. All the materials not accepted for recycling are still disposed of in landfills, causing long-term risk to the environment.

How long have we been playing recycling for? Should we not be able to get it right, if it is a functioning system? Blaming the consumer/end-user for not following the recycling guidelines puts the responsibility at the tail end of the product chain, but the fish starts to stink at the head. It is obvious that the system is failing. The municipalities and the end-users are left alone to solve the issue and get blamed for not doing it right. This is wrong, considering that nothing exists, except confusing guidelines for waste sorting, which are solely based on making a profit from the recycling. We seriously must think about improvements. Thinking about circular economy and climate change issues, we must have proper legislation and/or guidance. We all know, time is running out.

In the past we had a serious problem with workers’ safety. WCB developed and implemented stringent regulations and guidelines. Responsibilities were defined and there are stringent organizational requirements to address safety measures. Based on my experience from Canada and abroad, the WCB safety program is a huge success. Why are we not doing the same for our environment?

We all know about the three “Rs” (reducing, re-using, recycling), but only recycling, the lowest priority of the three Rs, gets attention. Recycling has become an excuse to generate more waste.

Waste management starts with production!

To be most effective we have to put the responsibilities where they belong. We need producers to be responsible for their products, which includes financial responsibility. There must be an adequate environmental fee on the products and/or packaging to cover the costs for recycling and/or disposal. A key component of the waste management system infrastructure must be the handling of plastic waste. As plastic contamination in the environment is a similar problem as carbon, we should think about a plastic tax/fee for products and packaging to fund the building and operation of the infrastructure for safe plastic recycling/disposal.

To implement a functioning circular economy, we need stringent legislation which clearly provides:

• Regulations for producer, business and personal responsibilities.

• A clear hierarchy for the three Rs.,

• Definition of recycling, which allows for most effective and efficient recycling. The thermal use of a waste material must be considered as recycling, if no material recovery is possible and if the material meets the conditions for an alternative fuel in industrial plants.

• Tools/guidelines to provide transparency, which allows for a co-operative circular economy.

• Easily identifiable product labeling for recycling

• Training and awareness programs

• Definition of the roles of the authorities and industry in the circular economy.

To address the challenges of climate change, resource management and contamination of water, land, and air, I hope the government either on the provincial and federal level will do their homework.

It is not acceptable, that we move the environmental and financial burden to the next generations. We are responsible for our actions.

Helmut Blanken


Cowichan Valley Citizen