Wake up call on waste

A huge increase in waste is about to hit the planet and we need to do something about it fast, but in a smart way. That was the sobering message of a presentation given by Dr Dan Hoornweg, a member of the Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO )board yesterday. Dr Hoornweg is a professor at the University Of Ontario Institute Of Technology and has done work for the World Bank.

The number of people living in cities by 2030 will reach two billion, he said. Within another 20 years (2050) it will reach three billion. People move to cities to find jobs and to get rich. Cities are the drivers of economic growth. Unfortunately, they also cause climate change such as rising sea-levels, impacting other countries in the world whose people are not causing it (for example, low-lying Bangladesh). We are in for a more volatile world as we triple our urban density footprint.

Public policies do matter, says Hoornweg. And we need smart cities to handle municipal solid waste and traffic congestion. The world’s municipal garbage is expected to double by 2025, and then to double again. The World Bank is expected to make a big announcement next month regarding the importance of managing solid waste and the greenhouse gases (particularly methane) that it represents. Open dumps need to be capped. They likely represent 10% of global methane emissions. Open burning is known to give off dioxins and furans. Africa is the big unknown. Africans are moving to cities at a faster rate now than the rest of the world combined. And they want to live like us.

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) might be only the 50th largest “city” in the world, but if it moves smartly and remains resilient and adaptive, it could produce an exportable business plan or plans and show global leadership, he said.

This was a very sobering message. Do you think the GTA is up to it?

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