If there is one thing we all have in common, it is waste. Every industry, business and household produces it. How we deal with waste can vary from person to person, city to city and country to country, but from whatever perspective, it cannot be ignored.
For many years, while energy was cheap and disposal sites were easy to locate, it was also easier and cheaper to dispose of wastes than to do
anything else with them. Many landfills, where more than 80% of our wastes end up, are quickly reaching their capacity. The
NIMBY (Not in My Backyard!) syndrome and steadily rising costs make replacement very difficult.
In Alberta, many of the dumps of the past have been replaced with engineered landfills to minimize the impact on the
environment. Alberta is also fortunate to have the Swan Hills Treatment Centre to manage hazardous and special wastes. If wastes are not disposed of properly in controlled facilities, they can be a source of pollution to groundwater when buried or to the air when burned. Soil can be harmed directly when toxic or hazardous waste is disposed of improperly.
There will always be a need for disposal in some form. But disposal can be minimized by reducing the amount of waste generated in the first place, by reusing materials again and again, and by separating out no longer usable materials for
recycling. This is known as the hierarchy of the 4 R's - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover. Recovery - the fourth R - is largely out of the control of the average consumer. It involves recovering the heat energy from the incineration of wastes to power another process. Reducing, reusing, and recycling materials will decrease our garbage, preserve natural resources and lessen the impact on the environment.