Friday, 16 June 2017


     Scientists, studying such things, tell me that Canada leads the world in the per capita amount of garbage they donate to land fills (777 kgms annually vs the 578 average of the top 17 countries). It was not always thus.
      I fondly recall from the 1920s young relatives of the McGirr-Brodie-Sullivan half of my family in North Bay, Ontario, exchanging as Christmas gifts fancy peanut-butter jars, empty of course, having fulfilled their designed purpose. Why discard pretty glass jars?
       I also recall, while a boy living in Ontario cities and towns, following horse-drawn delivery carts, often disturbing feasting sparrows, as I scooped up manure for my Dad’s backyard garden.
       Canadians did become wasteful. One day in 1943 I was strolling across my POW compound with Luftwaffe Hauptmann Hans Pieber. Yes, I was violating protocol by fraternizing with the enemy, but I make no claim to being a good soldier. Pieber was a cheerful, likeable, Austrian who did a difficult job well - trying to keep 2,000 of us highly restless, intelligent, capable, active, and troublesome aircrew prisoners from 33 nations who flew in the five Royal Air Forces plus the Polish, Czech, and Free French, plus USAAF from creating too many problems for his small staff. He was the sort of man we would need in a post-war world.
     Well ahead of us we noticed a Canadian POW discard something. When we got up to it, Pieber was shocked at such wastefulness. The discarded item was a snot-filled handkerchief. Pieber picked it up, saying he would wash and use it. The mighty German Wehrmacht suffered many shortages. When we received UK, Canadian, or US Red Cross food parcels we ate better than our captors yet they never stole a single item from us. There was never a scrap of that food left uneaten. Nor did we possess any garbage cans. 
      At different times on different assignments I was to total about 5 years in the Arctic where waste from commercial and military sites was an eyesore. Rusting machinery, vehicles, oil drums, and buildings littered an otherwise pristine environment. Earning the trust of Inuit families is a slow process, but when I did I was impressed at how adaptable they were in scrounging and putting to good use our garbage. There was always a little oil left in each of the innumerable empty oil drums that littered our commercial and military sites. They would select a few drums into which they drained the remaining oil from other drums, some of which they made into efficient stoves to heat the wooden shacks they made from our discarded lumber.
    Official policy was not to destroy local economies by giving away discarded assets. We were supposed to destroy surplus equipment such as pushing off a cliff into the Arctic ocean a working truck. As commanding officer of a 500-mile stretch of the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW line) I opposed this policy especially when the government itself was allowing the removal of Inuit children to distant boarding schools, then on graduation dumping them back into their remote communities, fit for neither world. I kept advising my Inuit friends not to allow us to steal their land and the way to beat us at our own game was to glean the best from our education and to get into politics. Some have and are flourishing in our now more enlightened policies that include asking the Pope to apologize for the decades of forced religious schools.
      In 1963 I was transferred to Colorado Springs, a growing, affluent city in a scenic location. It was amazing to see its high schools with large parking lots full of student-owned cars whose upkeep demanded part-time jobs after school thus dangerously limiting the time they could devote to homework. Our daughters walked several long blocks to their schools. They preferred to use the alleys rather than the streets because the overflowing garbage cans along the way held a wealth of tempting new or repairable articles that they often brought home.
     It was our first experience with a throw-away economy embracing entire families. 
    Historically, there are few records of garbage prior to 5,000 years ago. The first documentation of solid waste management was about 500 BC in Athens, where the first municipal dump in the Western world was organized. Regulations required trash to be dumped at least a mile outside city limits.
   Troy is said to have risen five feet per 100 years, due to 1.4 million tonnes accumulation per century of garbage thrown into the streets. That gives us ten layers of Troys to excavate.
      Waste in that era was easily biodegradable.  Crete cities had trunk sewers connecting homes as early as 2100 BC.    In the 5th century BC Greek municipalities began to establish town dumps  for garbage such as food waste.                          
   The first record of garbage collection is in the Egyptian city of Heracleopolis, founded 2100 BC. The waste created by elite and religious sections of the city was collected and disposed of, but waste created by non-elite sections of the city were ignored and left in the streets to degrade.
   Today, even though half the world’s population has no access to organized garbage collection. Waste management is a mammoth, and vital, task worldwide. It employs 382,000 people in the USA alone and 128,000 vehicles to move garbage to 1,754 landfills and 87 incinerators. Recyclable facilities exist in 8,660 communities sharing 545 facilities. Solid waste management costs $47 billion annually, a sum considered needed to triple - and soon.
     Of all trash, 50% ends up in Landfills, 33% is recycled, and 12% incinerated.
    From landfills, over 10 toxic gases escape, including methane, the biggest contributor to global warming, 21 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide. Landfills emit 12% of the world’s methane supply, due to be surpassed by melting tundra. Some 83% of landfills have been detected emitting methane.
    It was massive blowouts of methane 12,000 year ago that hastened the death of the last ice age. Retreating glaciers in the Barents Sea off Norway exposed seabed pingos that gave a huge collective fart of methane.
    In 1958 the Mauna Loa Observatory measured the world’s carbon dioxide content as 310 parts per million. In April 2017 it was 410.
   James Hansen, ex-NASA, and now at Columbia University, argues we need to spend $100 billion for 80 years, plant many more trees, and increase soil fertility.
    In 2016 in Paris, 175 countries agreed to a voluntary pursuit to reduce warmings to 1.5ÂșC over pre-industrial levels. In 2017 the US government dropped out, yet US states, municipalities and industries vowed to remain committed. 
   Groundwater pollution from landfills remains a current danger from toxic leachates. This is not only harmful to humans but also to plants and animals.
  The EU enforces rules and regulations on waste disposal and has recently cracked down on Romania, Belgium, Slovenia, Poland, and Finland for violations or tardiness in complying. 
   The Pacific Ocean Trash Vortex is a huge floating and moving island of trash the size of Texas.
  China vs Taiwan: China’s gleaming symbols of growth have uncontrolled trash - like the 500 landfills that circle Beijing. Meanwhile, Taiwan forced residents to sort garbage, buy trash bags, and recycle. This gained a 40% drop in garbage output. Taipei now produces 0.37 kilograms of daily per capita waste compared to 3.2 for Hegang on the NE border with Russia. China’s average is 1.12.
  A sample of daily tons of garbage deposited in landfills: Sudokwon, South Korea, 20,000, Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico 12,000, Los Angeles 12,000, Lagos, Nigeria 10.000, Las Vegas, USA, 9,000. 
   The World Bank has, since 2000, contributed $4.5 billion to over 300 solid waste management programs around the world. 
    The annual generation of 1.3 billion tons of waste is expected to soar to 4 billion by 2100 with the top five producers being the USA, China, Brazil. Japan, and Germany. 
    Unregulated or illegal dumpsites serve 4 billion people and hold 40% of the world’s waste.   Scavengers find sustenance and livelihood in such dumps as the 100-foot-high Ghazipur landfill in India.
   Some grocery stores offered a 5-cent discount for each shopping bag used, only to drop the inducement and replace it with recycling bins that provide some relief as too few shoppers return their empty bags.
    According to Environmental Protection Agency research, between five hundred billion and one trillion disposable bags are used each year around the world. Plastic bags, while only used for an average of about twelve minutes, remain in landfills, oceans, and other places for thousands of years.
     Russia creates 60 million tons of garbage annually. The Ministry of Environment plans to increase recycling from the current 11% to 40%. Their current 243 recycling, 53 sorting, and 40 incinerator facilities are far from adequate. The Russian navy has disposed of nuclear waste at sea, making pars of the Barents, Kola, and Sea of Japan heavily contaminated.
    To end this parade of facts in an upbeat note I need to turn to Sweden that is processing its trash into heat and electricity and could even take trash from nearby countries.

 Ye Olde Scribe