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2004 October Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

October 2004 Report—Chapter 3

Insert 3.2—A primer on waste management

When waste is not managed properly, its by-products can have serious effects on human health and the environment—they can enter the air we breathe and the water we drink. To avoid the economic and environmental costs of transportation, landfill sites must be located close to the people that generate waste; however, the cost of real estate near urban areas is high and people do not want landfills close to where they live. These issues underscore why effective waste management programs, practices, laws, and regulations are important for individuals, industry, local governments, provincial governments, and for the Canadian federal government.

A machine covers garbage at the Trail Road landfill site, City of Ottawa

A machine covers garbage at the Trail Road landfill site, City of Ottawa

Photo: Solid Waste Services, City of Ottawa

The 3Rs

There are many things that individuals, organizations, and manufacturers can do to minimize waste.

Reducing. The most desirable option is to reduce initial consumption and the amount of waste generated. Individuals and organizations can reduce by avoiding packaging and single-use products and purchasing reusable, repairable, rechargeable, or refillable products.

Reusing. The next best option is to reuse goods and materials.

Recycling. Recycling reprocesses an old or used product to make a new product.

Reducing consumption and reusing goods are preferable to recycling from an environmental standpoint and is embodied in the 3Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. The 4th R, recovery, takes useful materials from products that have been discarded.

The value of waste

Recognizing the valuable materials that are in waste has led to a new way of looking at waste management and involves taking lessons from nature. "Cradle to cradle" design emulates natural processes; it uses manufacturing methods to produce products whose biological and inorganic components can be used again and again for other useful goods.