I have time to think. And I exercise that option a lot. I have the added bounty of being a lateral thinker, and an aggregator of information. This drives most people around me a little bit crazy. In fact most think I am a little batty. The ideas appear outlandish at first glance. But I have the time to think things through.

This post is prompted by an editorial that appeared in the Toronto Sun penned by John Snobelen. He was the Minister of Education in the Conservative government of Mike Harris. It was a very controversial government. The Toronto Sun is not one of the better papers, but its standard is elevated substantially by Mr Snobelen.

He wrote an editorial recently on the need for the City of Toronto to take care of its garbage in its own back yard. All cities suffer from the interference of a vocal group who insist on keeping everything out of their back yards. They all belong to a group called NIMBY as in Not in my Back Yard. Politicians often cave in to their demands. They are very vocal about what they do not want, but rarely offer alternative suggestions. Mr Snobelen suggested that the garbage issue be made a Provincial one, not a municipal one. This has a lot of merit.

We lived in Ethiopia between 1953 and 1963. We spent 7 years living in a compound that consisted of two buildings housing 8 families. These were not large facilites, but they were great for us, specially the children. We had a huge garden to play in, and the company of all the other kids in the buildings. We also had a land fill in our back yard. And I mean our back yard, close to the house. It serviced all the families and was covered by a wooden structure with a trap door in the middle through which we disposed of our garbage. No trucks required. The land fill never filled up in all the years we were there. Rats? Mice? The feral cats took care of those. Our garbage issue was as local as it gets. Times have changed.

But those were simpler times. No junk food, no packaging like we have today. No plastics. Just about everything was re-used. Made for very little garbage, mostly of the green variety.

Ask anyone what is the population of Toronto, and you will get answers varying in number up to 5.5 million (Ontario has a population of about 9 million). The city itself has a population of about 2.2 million. But once you add all the cities around us, the number jumps. This includes cities within a radius of about 50 to 60km. That is quite a wide net. It also shows that our garbage is generated, not just by us, but by all the commuters who come into the city every day. Our highways are clogged, as is our public transport system with the commuters. This makes the garbage issue a Provincial one.

No solution to anything does not have some side effects. The question is, how can you mitigate the side effects?

Technology has long been touted as the God of solving all our problems. Throw enough technology at anything and a solution will come up. I will add that politicians with vision and gumption is the second half of the equation. Second half. Without their approval, no amount of technology on the table will be applied. We have to start breaking out of our comfort zone, take a leap of faith and try some amazing solutions that are presenting themselves. Some are proven, some are on the books and have not had the pleasure of being tested in real life situations. But they are amazing solutions.

Put them together, and your garbage crisis disappears. I am willing to bet that landfills will be virtually empty in a very short amount of time.

The first way to reduce garbage is to reduce, reuse, and of course recycle. This is a lot easier said than done. The facilities to recycle have to be built. The plastic industry does not help. Only because they break their own rules. They came up with standards, those little unreadable numbers that is included in almost all plastics. Would it kill them to make the numbers larger? They then break their own standards by adding additional compounds to the plastics. So not all number 1 plastics are the same. This makes recycling plastics almost impossible. It forces the authorities to review every single plastic product made and make a case by case decision. This is silly. The first order of the day is for the plastics industry to revamp their standards, and the manufacturers to stick to the standards. Don’t care how many numbers they create.

Putting in place a number of technologies will help mitigate some of the more pressing issues. Can the trucks that dispose of our garbage generate electricity? Either through technologies built into roads, or by changing the types of trucks we use?

I understand that some technologies have to be tested before they are implemented. Many years ago, someone started using plastic bags along with asphalt to build roads. The plastic bags were turned into plastic pellets first, then used to make the road. These were supposed to last 10 times longer than traditional roads. The technology was being tested on one our busier highways. We have heard nothing about it since.

Every city has its own fair share of problems. I was visiting the Science Center in Toronto, on year. Yes, year. Do not go on a regular basis. There was a display that looked like a lot of bridges and their supporting structure. The man in charge proceeded to talk to me about the technologies involved in building a bridge in Toronto. Turns out that the bridges contract and expand up to seven times a year. That is the number of times the weather changes sufficiently to cause the expansion and contraction. He went on to explain the strain and damage this creates on our infrastructure. Roads cracking, water mains bursting and so on.

We lived in Iran between 1963 and 1965. I remember the roads were buckling under the 40 degree Celsius temperatures that pounded the city. Nothing could be done about it. The heat melted the asphalt. The evenings would could it down and it would harden. This would go on every day during the summer months. Different city, different climate, different problems.

We can surely still experiment with some of this stuff. One of the major irritants is the number of people who say to me that the solution will not help solve the problem. I get the distinct impression that people are looking for the one stop solution. I do not believe there is one. A bunch of smaller solutions will add up to make the solution easier to handle.


Converting waste to electricity

Burning garbage in Tokyo

Building roads using recycled plastics, Grade 10 project

Electricity from vibrations, BBC article

Solar powered roads, Treehugger article

Energy from cars driving on roads, New Energy Technologies, Inc.

Charging electric cars while driving, Ingenieurgesellschaft Auto und Verkehr (IAV)

Roadblocks to high speed trains in the US, The Wilson Quarterly

© 2010 I Have Cancer Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha