Great. Thank you very much. This is a new experience for me sitting as a witness, not around the table, but hello to all former colleagues and congratulations for dealing with this issue. It's one I tried as chair and a member of the environment committee to get in the forefront because every single municipality in our country and most other places has this as a problem.
To give a little bit of background, I am 100% opposed to landfills. I think they're ticking time bombs. The liabilities there are tremendous and I began my fight in the early 1970s against landfills.
I used to take my wife on trips to various places. We went to the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Iceland, Denmark, all over the place, and I would always take her out and show her the garbage facilities wherever we happened to be.
The worst was when I took her to Denmark and told her she would get some shopping in. It ended up we went out from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. and she only had time to window shop.
It has been a long time. I sat next to the mayor of Vienna and after our banquet we went out and looked at a garbage facility, so it has been a long time.
I've always been looking for an alternative. I think that if you're going to oppose something you had better have an alternative that's better. I've looked at different things and looked at incineration in detail. When they started in the 1970s they were a disaster with what they emitted. You have to remember that for incineration you always have about 30% of slag that now becomes toxic and you usually end up landfilling that.
While scrubbers have improved, they still haven't improved enough as your last witness told you, so incinerators are out. They use too low a heat. They don't destroy many of the contaminants.
Denmark has a great incineration program using straw and wood chips, and district heating. Iceland has geothermal and incineration. Berlin has been drying sewage for over 50 years and using it to provide district heating. There are a lot of examples around the world of different types of processes and different types of incinerators.
When I arrived in Ottawa in 1993 I asked my employee, Louise, what the federal government does about garbage. She said, “Well, why don't you call Environment Canada?” I did. They told me it was a provincial matter. I wrote all of the provincial environment ministers and I got an answer back from all of them, surprisingly, and they said that they would really like to look at new technologies, but it's a municipal problem so I should talk to the cities.
I wrote to almost all the major cities in Canada and got a lot of replies. The basic reply was, “We would love to try some new things, but we don't have the money, we don't have the technique, and we don't have the staff that can explore it, so why don't you talk to the province?” Then they said, “Why don't you talk to the feds because that's where you are?” It has been a great circle of nobody wanting to take responsibility.
In the early 1990s I visited Barcelona. Spain had put in a law against landfills, so I thought that's the place I had to go to. I looked, with the help of HERA, the big garbage people there, at the mining process and the piping and so on. I also was told about a problem that they had when they opened up a landfill and a chemical cloud came out. In a landfill you never know what the chemical makeup will be. We like to think that people don't put batteries and stuff like that in there, but of course they do.
Then I discovered there was a new technology that they were looking at. It was called Plasco. I found out it was a Canadian company and then I got involved in looking at what their technology was. The big advantage for them was they were using 5,000°C and producing a slag which then could be used for road material and water and so on. In other words they gasified everything with the plasma. I think you've heard about that technology.
In central Alberta I thought I'd better start at home. I went around to all the councils in our area . This is a bit of a case study here. There were about 200,000 people in that area at that time. They were just instituting a new landfill and I was deadly opposed to that and let everyone know.
Then I approached the Red Deer County. They said that they were on side. We had another 10 municipalities on side. The president of Red Deer College at that time chaired the group. We formed a commission and held public meetings. Where we thought we'd get 50 people, we got 500. There was a huge interest.
As a result of that, a contract was drawn up, but then we ended up going back to councils and we heard what the problems would be: “Well, it might blow up. What if it doesn't work?”
It was going to be all private money, but the City of Red Deer made the decision that it would only put 10% of its garbage in because they had a 17-year investment in the landfill. The province put $10 million in, but the project died, largely because of the City of Red Deer. I could give you a lot more details on that.
You have heard testimony from other witnesses which I've gone through. It has been very interesting. If I were to summarize some of that, I would agree with most of it. Garbage is not a waste; it's a resource. Streamlining and modernizing regulations is certainly necessary. For instance, in the province of Alberta, if you have a BSE animal, you have to put it in a designated landfill. You wouldn't be able to gasify it; you wouldn't be able to do anything else with it. You have to change the regulations to modernize them for the 21st century.
We need more data. We need to know what goes into a landfill. I've been part of a team that has opened garbage bags at various landfills. You would be shocked at what's in there. While people know they shouldn't put batteries in, almost every bag contains a battery or two. Of course, those have all kinds of contaminants which seep out.
We should continue the cycle of reuse and reduce as much as we possibly can. I don't believe we should ever end the green box program. We need to change the way we think—now that's a big one—and those public hearings that I went to, I can answer some of your questions later about those.
We need to consider the real cost of a landfill: the cost to the air, what's being given off and the greenhouse gases in particular, and the cost to the water, the groundwater that we are contaminating. The big thing is the future liability from future landowners with the possibility of—and they're finding this throughout Europe and many parts of the U.S.—leachate seeping into their basements, into their land, making their land literally unsaleable.
Technology will be the solution and that's certainly where the federal, provincial, and municipal governments need to focus. You heard about optical sorters, how the seven plastics can be sorted now without using hands. Incinerators are old technology. They use low temperatures to destroy dioxins and furans. You need at least 1200°C. You have air quality concerns. You have so many things being released. You've heard about that.
I would like to tell you a little story. I drove from Orlando to Miami two weeks ago and there were about five or six landfills by the expressway. You could tell at least a mile before you got to one of the landfills and a mile after you went by. The odour from these capped landfills was just unbelievable.
In conclusion, my recommendations would be that we need much tougher standards. We need municipalities, provinces, and feds to stop saying that it's somebody else's responsibility. We need them to take responsibility, to cooperate, and to encourage the new technologies that are out there.
We need more research and development. We need to encourage all of this new technology; some of it will work, some of it won't. SDTC does a great job. Tax credits and accelerated depreciation are other ways that the federal government could be involved.
The big thing that is out there right now, and that you need to look at, is that there are a great many projects. Many people have many ideas. Unless they've gone through the steps of the engineering, the research, the pilot project, the demonstration plant, then the valley of debt where they actually have to commercialize, until they've gone through those steps, you really don't know if you have a technology that will work or not.
I don't think the federal government needs to be cherry-picking one over the other, but they all need an opportunity to really prove that their system will work. You've heard that from other witnesses as well.
In my opinion, from travelling the world and looking at this, including an in-depth study in China of how they can deal with their garbage, technology will be the solution.
With regard to education, we must let people know there's a huge liability out there, that no engineer will guarantee there won't be seepage of leachate.
Finally, the federal government needs to support and encourage, not necessarily with money, but help all of these new technologies to grow.
Every one of us, every single municipality in this whole country, has a problem with garbage.
I hope that gives you a summary. You can see that I'm kind of passionate about the issue.