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Managing Your Personal Plastic Footprint

Plastic vs. Carbon

You’ve probably heard the term “carbon footprint” before in reference to how much your lifestyle contributes to creating the greenhouse gases that lead to climate change. In the same vein, your plastic footprint is the metric used to judge how much plastic you will contribute to the global trash pile.

Obviously, the two go hand-in-hand. In fact, one of the best ways to start reducing your carbon footprint is by diminishing your plastic use. That’s because plastic production is one of the most significant sources of carbon dioxide production on the planet. But plastic’s effect on your carbon footprint is just the beginning.

On average, a regular PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottle takes 450 years to degrade. Other types of plastics can take up to 1000 years. In other words, not only does our plastic consumption contribute to climate change, but our bottles, straws and bags will also outlive us several times over.

While our individual efforts often seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the production and pollution of large corporations, avoiding single-use plastics is a step everyone can take. Here are some methods to help reduce your plastic footprint on a personal level.

Reusable utensils with takeout:

Humans are creatures of convenience, and takeout is one of our ultimate creations in that regard. Unfortunately, takeout is usually packaged in plastic, carried in plastic, and consumed with plastic.

By turning down the single-use cutlery offered with your meal and instead using reusable forks, spoons and chopsticks, you can help cut down on your waste. If you want to take it a step further, bring a reusable container with you the next time you go out to dinner and ask to pack any leftovers in that instead of a single-use Styrofoam box.

Reusable bags:

Plastic bags clog sewers and storm drains, litter streets and contaminate our oceans, where they’re eaten by fish and suffocate seabirds. Keep reusable bags in your home, car and at work to cut back on your footprint – specifically, your plastic footprint

Experts still argue whether or not plastic bag bans and the focus on reusable bags are actually better for the environment, greenhouse gases-wise. After all, plastic bags are small, light and easy to transport whereas shipping an equivalent number of reusable bags takes a lot more fuel, space and energy.

Be Toiletry Aware:

Toothbrushes! Everyone has one, and they’re almost universally disposable. Instead of buying a pack of plastic toothbrushes and tossing them out after you’re done with them, look into a bamboo or electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes are more efficient and produce less waste than regular plastic, while bamboo toothbrushes are compostable (though you may have to trim off the bristles!)

Safety razors are a great alternative to disposable razors and razor heads. Hold on to the dull blades after switching them out, and when you have enough to fill a small glass jar, take them off to be recycled!

Cotton swabs – the eponymous Q-Tips – often end up polluting the environment after being used to clean ears or apply creams or ointments. Next time you’re buying a box, look for the ones with paper sticks instead of plastic. They’re much quicker to degrade and work just as well.

Raise Your Reusable Goblet:

Humans drink a lot. Whether its coffee, water or something in between, the combination of a reusable mug and reusable water bottle can help you drastically reduce your plastic footprint. Bring your own mug to Starbucks or Tim Hortons and ask them to fill it for you. Keep a water bottle handy at your desk to fill at the cooler. You can even pick up a stainless steel or glass straw for those hot days when you’re opting for iced coffee.


Reducing your plastic use isn’t too difficult – but it can be frustrating when comparing your impact to that of corporations and governments. Despite this, by swapping out a few single-use plastics for reusable options, you can significantly reduce your personal plastic footprint and encourage others to do the same. The more that do, the more pressure can be put on the powers that be to do the same.

Where are the commercial delivery drones we were promised?

Picture this: It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon, and you’re getting ready to grill up some burgers in the backyard. You’ve sliced up some onion and tomato, pulled the cheese and lettuce out of the fridge, and ground up your very own blend of 70/30 lean-to-fat beef. Finally, you reach for your favorite brioche buns when you see it: the speckles of blue and green mold.

You could yell for the kids to get out of the pool and get changed so you can head to the grocery store and pick up some buns. You could make an order on a food delivery app and pray they get the right kind to you in a timely manner. Or, you can grab your cell phone, tap a few buttons, and head out to the yard.

You’ve laid out all your ingredients in a perfect assembly line, seasoned your patties, and pressed them on the grill with a satisfying sizzle. And just as you pull your burgers off the heat at a perfect medium-rare, you hear a faint buzzing noise above you. You look up to see a large rectangle adorned with six sets of spinning blades surrounding a sturdy plastic case. It hovers above you for a moment before slowly descending towards an empty section of grass in the yard. It lands and the blades come to a halt. You walk over, click open the plastic case, and retrieve a fresh bag of brioche buns from inside. You close the case, take a few steps back, and the rectangle comes to life, blades whirring, and flies off once more into the sky.

Though it may still sound like sci-fi, this was the future promised to us by countless tech CEOs a few years ago, chief among them being Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Back in December of 2013, Bezos announced that Amazon would be flying delivery drones to customers within five years. That deadline has since passed – but not because of the technology. Instead, it’s the regulation and logistics that are holding back the tide.

Alphabet (the parent company of Google) has a startup called Wing, which became the first drone delivery company to gain the FAA’s approval to make commercial deliveries in the United States in April. Other companies are still waiting for their status to be greenlit, such as Amazon Air, Uber Eats, and most recently, UPS.

The shipping giant has formed a new subsidiary called UPS Flight Forward Inc. and applied for their certification with the ultimate goal of running one of the first commercial drone delivery programs in the United States.

In March, UPS partnered with drone startup Matternet to transport medical samples via drone across a WakeMed hospital system in Raleigh, N.C., which became the first FAA sanctioned use of a drone for routine, revenue producing flights under a contractual delivery agreement.

Just last month, Amazon announced its new commercial delivery drone, promising that it would be delivering packages to customers within months. Of course, Amazon doesn’t have a great track record for meeting their deadlines in the air-delivery space. Amazon’s drone design has seen more than 20 iterations since its announcement in 2013, yet it remains the stringent regulatory restrictions holding back the rollout of their delivery program.

In the U.S., the major piece of regulation you’d need to operate a drone delivery service is called Part 135 certification under the Federal Aviation Administration, which applies to “air carriers and operators.” Drones are considered under the same umbrella as airplanes under federal law, and they’re subject to the same certification processes. The Part 135 certification allows for approved drones to fly at night, over people, and outside the operator’s direct line of sight.

Another factor to consider is public perception. In 2017, a PEW Research Center survey showed that 54 percent of Americans polled disapproved of drones flying near residential areas at all.

Whether or not this opinion has remained the same in the past two years, it hasn’t stopped these companies from continuing their preparation for the future. With UPS joining the fray, Wing receiving their Part 135 certification, and Amazon announcing – again – that Prime Air will be up and running soon, the future of a sky filled with delivery drones doesn’t seem all that far off.

Is a compost program right for your office?

You might participate in a municipal compost program at home – or maybe not. Either way, if you’re looking to reduce waste in the workplace, one effective way could be to take the initiative and start a compost program at your place of work. There are a host of good reasons to take this initiative, from reducing your environmental footprint to saving your business money on waste disposal expenses. Here are some tips on how to begin.

In a piece on workplace composting, ToughNickel suggests you begin by putting together a workplace compost committee to get the idea off the ground and answer some of the burning questions. Who will be in charge of keeping the compost area tidy and empty it regularly? Will building management need to be involved? Will the city collect your compost, or is this a garden-type initiative? If you think it is going to be too difficult for your busy office to manage, you can hire a professional composting service to do the work for you. Variables like these will need to be sorted out before any composting can begin.

If you are struggling to find a municipally-assisted or outdoor compost program that works, Earth911 recommends trying ‘vermicomposting’ indoors. Essentially, this is an indoor contraption that allows worms to compost your waste in breathable compost bins, taking up relatively little space. It only takes a few minutes a day of maintenance and is a very sustainable option.

Once you’ve made your macro decisions, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty. You must decide what kind of indoor compost bin will suit your office. If you’re a smaller team, you may have more options in terms of size and kind of bin. For example, in an office with less than ten people, a large-sized coffee tin with a plastic lid – think the kind Maxwell’s or other brands sell – may be converted into a light-use indoor bin for those who have their own garden compost. If your municipality has a green bin waste collection program, this might make the answer even easier. Regardless of size, the important part is that it has a tight seal – to prevent the smell of, well, compost, from permeating your office – and be easy for employees to identify and use. You may also have to decide how many bins you need if your office is too large for just one.

After deciding on the right bin for your program, your compost committee is going to want to purchase or design posters that are “eye-catching and easy to read.” ToughNickel says that “posters will make it easier for staff to determine what goes into the bin and what stays out.” And depending on what kind of compost program you choose, this might be different to what they can compost at home. Sustainable America also recommends providing training to your staff ahead of time so that they understand how to best use the compost program. Make sure it is clear to your employees that composting is a group initiative, and while some people may have more to do with the program than others, it is everyone’s responsibility to be tidy, eco-conscious, and at all costs, careful to keep the lid of the compost bin closed.  

What Can The World Do With Its Plastic Waste?

plastic earth wasteOn December 31, 2017, China barred the import of most residential recyclables. After importing nearly half of the world’s plastic waste for 30 years, global waste plastic exports to China ground to a trickle overnight. In February 2017, China imported 581,000 metric tons of plastic waste. One year later, that number had dropped to 23,900 metric tons.

Researchers at the University of Georgia looked at how much plastic waste China imported from 1988 to 2016. Using that information they concluded that, by 2030, the ban may leave 111 million metric tons of plastic waste with nowhere to go. So what can be done about it? Many developed countries across the world have put a halt on domestic recycling programs until that question is answered.

On Bornholm Island in the Baltic Sea, the local government is adopting a new system. Bornholm officials say that by 2032, all waste on Bornholm will be treated as resources. They hope that, by using new technologies and methods of garbage sorting, recycling and minimizing waste in general, they can turn Bornholm into one of the first garbage-free communities in the world.

Of course, this requires alterations to the very way of life of people on Bornholm – new technologies aren’t enough on their own.  According to Jens Hjul-Nielsen, the CEO of the island’s waste management company, “How we get to that point is an exciting process, because there is so much we don’t know yet. We have a vision, but no clear-cut plan on how to get there.”

How about burning? Many within the trash industry think that burning plastic waste is the solution to the problem, but waste-to-energy projects pose their own very real risks to the environment. The EU already burns 42 percent of its waste. The U.S. burns 12.5 percent. China itself has over 300 waste-to-energy plants in operation, with the plans for several hundred more in the works.

It sounds sensible after all – incinerators burn plastic and other municipal waste, produce heat and steam to turn turbines and generate power for the local grid. But no one wants to live next to a plant filled with garbage, so finding locations to set up is difficult. They’re also more expensive to operate – so they generally charge more than landfills do. And studies have even shown that recycling plastic waste saves more energy than burning it by reducing the need to extract fossil fuel and process it into new plastic.

Perhaps the most egregious of these issues is the toxic emissions of acid gases, dioxins and heavy metals. While modern plants can scrub and filter these toxins if they are well-maintained and properly operated, experts worry that countries lacking strong environmental laws or enforcement may cut corners and try to save money on emissions. This is all not to mention the production of greenhouse gases. In 2016, waste incineration in the U.S. alone resulted in the equivalent of 12 million tons of carbon dioxide generated – over half of which came from plastics.

“We have a vision, but no clear-cut plan on how to get there.”

One promising new technology is called pyrolysis – plastics are shredded down and melted at low temperatures in oxygen-deprived chambers. The heat breaks the plastic down into hydrocarbons, which can be turned into diesel fuel. Pyrolysis produces very few pollutants, but it is still much cheaper to make diesel from fossil fuel than from waste plastic. However, as the technology ages and more research is done, it could be a promising method of plastic waste disposal in the future.

In terms of methodology, the Canadian West Coast remains unaffected by China’s plastic import ban. Under British Columbia’s 2014 program, plastics are processed within the province, and producers pay for it. Retailers, manufacturers, restaurants – they all pay fees to Recycle BC, and those fees are used to run a province-wide system to process plastic.

Elsewhere in Canada, municipalities are struggling so much to find places to send their recyclables after the ban that those who do find markets for the material are keeping them a secret. The city of Halifax, which was formerly shipping 80 percent of its plastic recyclables to China, refuses to name its facilities out of fear of being outbid.

The best option, of course, is to reduce the world’s reliance on plastic. It’s hard to feel like you’re making a difference by avoiding single-use straws and cups while mega-corporations dump tonnes of plastic into rivers across the planet, but when millions of people start to reuse bottles and bags, the plastic trash produced every year begins to diminish.

Until then, we can only hope that continued research into plastic waste reduction and recycling can keep our collective heads above water.

Is “unlimited” good for Canadian consumers and businesses?

Guest blog post By Hernan Popper
Strategic-Partner – Schooley Mitchell of Winnipeg

From the early beginnings of wireless services in Canada, Canadians have been counting… Minutes first, texts later, roaming, and, of course data.

With new technologies and enhanced services, we got used to unlimited. Now we have unlimited calls, unlimited texting, even unlimited international calls with a cheap add-on to many plans.

Not having to count brings peace of mind, and previsibility. It’s like an all inclusive vacation, which may or may not be the best option. We don’t really think anymore before making that call or sending that text. We do still worry, every time, when we are using data intensive applications like video calling, online gaming, remote work and other applications.

The response to excessive charges, overages and ugly invoice surprises was data pooling (or data sharing). A shared amount of data to be shared among all users in the account, so heavier users can benefit from the unused allowance from light users.

This works, and has been the norm for many years.

Yesterday, wireless vendors announced “Unlimited Data” as the next big development to help Canadians compete in a digital world. The question is: “Is unlimited wireless data good for Canadian consumers and businesses?”

Rogers announced yesterday the availability of the new “Infinite plans”: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/06/12/1867543/0/en/Rogers-Introduces-Infinite-Wireless-Data-Plans-With-No-Overage-Charges.html

Later yesterday, Telus also announced their unlimited plans: https://mobilesyrup.com/2019/06/12/telus-promotional-plan-75-15gb-byod/

Early this morning, Bell posted their own unlimited plan: https://www.bell.ca/Mobility/Cell_phone_plans/Unlimited-plans

Is it really unlimited? Debatable, as users will be able to use as much data as required, but will receive a significant decrease in their download speeds after a set amount 10GB for Rogers, 15GB for Telus at this time. Speed will drop to almost unusable after this threshold. Of course, you can always buy more!

Is it good for consumers and businesses? Not necessarily.

These new plans come at a significantly higher rates than existing data share plans, starting at $75 without any hardware subsidy.

What this means is that, even if not required to have access to “unlimited”, consumers and businesses will pay significantly higher amounts for the same usage.

All those businesses, consumers and organizations who had actively controlled and monitored their usage, will undoubtedly pay more. Only exception are those users who had no control and kept paying for overages at outrageous rates.

At this time, it is understood that current packages will be grandfathered and not available in the future.

Paying more for something that you don’t need, is simply not good for you, nor any business or organization.

Before adding additional expenses categories and becoming “Your Vendors Watchdog”, Schooley Mitchell was, for over 30 years, “The Telecom Experts”. We’ve analysed invoices for over 21,000 clients. We know every telecom rate available in Canada, even before cellular services existed. Our clients know they are getting the right service, by the right vendor, at the right price.

If we have not had the opportunity to help your business or organization control your expenses, make sure, before signing any renewal, proposal or long term commitment, that you explore all options.

Because simply paying more is not an option.

#spendsmarter

Hernan Popper

Telecom Expert

Strategic Partner – Schooley Mitchell of Winnipeg

Should your business consider mobile payments?

By 2030, experts expect that digital wallets, like those used by Apple Pay, will be the primary source of payments around the world. Mobile payments are often as simple as using a physical card, and you can make secure purchases in stores, in apps, and online. So is it time for you to add mobile payments to your arsenal of merchant services solutions?

One thing to consider regarding mobile payments are the demographic of your customers. According to Big Commerce, which surveyed businesses that added Apple Pay, many of them chose to do so because they had a younger, millennial and Gen Z demographic in mind. This has been especially effective for businesses using online transaction options with mobile payments in mind.  The same business surveyed by Big Commerce answered that Apple Pay improved the outcome of their online sales, with fewer items being placed in a user’s ‘cart’ being abandoned due to a complicated checkout process.  

Mobile payments are useful for in-store transactions as well. With Apple Pay, anyone with an iPhone or certain iPads can utilize this method. Of course, not all of your customers will have Apple Pay equipped on their devices, or use Apple devices at all, so it is important to have a wide variety of POS solutions in this mobile era. Mobile payments are also generally secure, with multiple levels of authentication before confirming a purchase. For example, if you’re using your iPhone to make a payment via Apple Pay, you will likely have to use your thumbprint. This might also be a reason why many customers would be attracted to the option of using mobile payments to make their purchases.

Of course, there are plenty of risks to mobile payments as well. High-profile data breaches make overarching security a large concern for both business owners and customers. While the payments are generally less expensive than traditional point-of-sale systems, most still require you to purchase new technology and upgrade your terminals. With the variety of mobile devices on the market, a one-size fits all option can be very difficult to implement.

In conclusion, if you are willing to outfit your Point-of-Sale terminals with the necessary tech, mobile payments can be a rather convenient addition to your merchant services solutions that can also help improve the customer experience. Online check-out buttons attached to mobile payments have proven to make online sales easier for merchants and buyers. If you are hoping to attract a younger demographic, mobile payment solutions can be a great way to go about it.

Is a mobile payment solution right for your business?

Reducing your Workplace Waste

One way to help make a positive impact on our planet is to think about the ways you and your colleagues can reduce the waste you generate at work. But waste management can be expensive! From printing to drinking habits, here are some of our suggestions for maintaining a cost-effective, waste-conscious work life.

Paper and Printing:

This may seem obvious, but one key area where most businesses could improve is paper waste. With today’s technology, it is easier than ever to maintain a paperless workplace, and doing so could save time and money and reduce waste.

Utilizing services like Google Docs and Dropbox allows co-workers to collaborate, review and send files from person to person without ever using a printer. Even when printing is necessary, printing double-sided, black and white and in draft mode are all ways to reduce the amount of paper and ink you are using. Create a culture at your workplace where printing isn’t the default – it’s a decision made after thinking about whether a printed copy of a document is truly necessary.

When it comes to recycling paper, remember that convenience is key – so make sure the recycling bin is easy to find. If every desk in your office has a small recycling bin, the amount of recyclable paper ending up in the trash will decrease.

Office Supplies:

Many of the products we buy for work come with a lot of packaging. It is possible, however, for you to make the conscious effort to search for products and alternatives with little to no packaging. One example might be buying things like pens in bulk rather than in smaller, individual packages. You can also search for companies that deliver in your area via returnable containers, cutting back on the overall waste and impact of your operations.

Be sure to recycle electronic equipment and batteries that might otherwise end up in the trash. The Balance recommends that small businesses looking to cut back on waste “… don’t allow obsolete equipment to take up space and collect dust. The sooner it is recycled, the quicker that valuable resources will be available for reuse, thus avoiding the processing of more virgin materials.”

You can also change habits to make office supplies last longer. Remind employees to clean the tips of their pens and keep them in a cool, dry place when not in use to expand their life cycle. Losing track of pen and marker caps creates waste and is an unnecessary expense. As well, using supplies that are more environmentally conscious – like paper clips instead of staples – can save money in the long run. Even investing in refillable fountain pens rather than one-use ballpoint pens has a positive environmental and financial impact.

Other important items that are easy to reuse are binders and file folders. By providing your employees with labeling stickers rather than endless folders, you’ll be able to write over old labels and reuse these organization tools again and again.

Personal Initiative:

As much as it is important to change the office culture surrounding waste, you must also lead by example. Packing a lunch, bringing a reusable mug and water bottle and avoiding paper plates and plastic utensils at lunch are all good habits that will eliminate waste. Make a company policy banning plastic water bottles and provide company-branded reusable water bottles to your employees as replacements. These initiatives will save your business money in the long run and leave a positive imprint on the environment in the process.

In conclusion…

There are so many ways to reduce your waste spending and your environmental impact at work. It really is a win-win situation, if you are willing to put the thought and time into changing your habits and your office culture.

Four things you didn’t know your smartphone could do

According to a report by Canalys, smartphone shipments in North America fell 18 percent in the first quarter of 2019 to a five year low of 36.4 million units. That is down from a record high of 44.4 million in the first quarter of 2018.

So why is the demand for smartphones decreasing in North America when it seems like practically everyone has one in their pocket?

Well – that could be precisely the reason. According to the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of adults in the United States own a smartphone. Paired with reduced innovation from cell phone manufacturers in 2019, the fact that the majority of adults have a phone that they’re content with means they aren’t purchasing upgrades.

Whether you’re happy with your device as it is or you’re waiting for the next big innovation to upgrade – we’re willing to bet that you’re underestimating the capabilities of your smartphone.

Here are some cool things that you might not realize your phone can do.

Identify flying objects:

Powered by Wolfram Alpha, Siri can help you identify any airplanes you might hear or see flying above you. Simply activate Siri and say “What planes are overhead?” In just moments, Siri will give you a chart that shows you the airline, flight number, altitude and degrees off the horizon of all the airplanes in your area. It can even tell you how far away the plane is from you and in which direction.

Now, Siri isn’t actually tracking the planes. Instead, your phone is checking the projection of where the plane should be located based on its flight plan. So while you may not always be able to locate a plane directly using Siri, you can usually get pretty close!

Customize your vibes:

Some texts are just more important than others. And most of us don’t want to seem like we’re always attached to our phones. While individualized ringtones are common, for those of us that like to keep our phones on silent, you can customize your phone’s vibrations! That way, you can tell who is contacting you without even taking your phone out of your pocket – even while it’s muted!

On your iPhone, you can open your contacts app, choose the contact you want to assign a certain vibration pattern to, tap edit, then text tone, then vibration. You can choose from various standard options from Apple or create your own pattern.

Android phones don’t have contact-specific vibration settings by default, but there are several different apps you can download to achieve the same effect. Check out Good Vibrations or WhoIsIt!

Selfie while you Vlog:

Nearly all smartphones have a camera, but did you know that you can actually take pictures and record video at the same time? That way, when you’re filming a video and find that perfect angle, you can take some snapshots without even stopping your recording.

While you’re recording with an iPhone, a circular white button appears in the corner of the screen. Simply tap that white button and you’ll take a photo without interrupting your recording.

On Android, the process is just as simple. While recording a video, just tap the “camera” icon. The photo will be saved to your gallery instantly.

One thing to note: Any photos you take while recording video will be at a lower resolution than if you just took them normally. The resolution is still more than enough for everyday use, but if you’re a stickler for quality, make sure you stop your recording before you start taking snapshots.

See the invisible:

While not necessarily a hidden feature, you can actually use your smartphone to check whether the batteries in your remote controls are dead if they stop working.

The camera on your smartphone is sensitive to IR radiation, which means that the infrared beam emitted when you press a button on the remote can be seen in the viewfinder of your camera despite being invisible to the human eye. Go check it out yourself! Point your remote at your camera and press a button. You should see the sensor on the remote light up in the viewfinder. If it doesn’t, you might want to put some new batteries in that remote! (Or your remote doesn’t use common IR radiation.)

Your smartphone has plenty of other uses – especially when you start to delve into the world of apps. Download a bubble level app to help hang your photos straight. Monitor your heart rate, activate your smart home devices, measure height, distance and width using your camera – even start your car! You can raise your volume by tilting your head, find out what song is playing over the speakers in the coffee shop, or even let your friends track your every move if you’d like.

Before you get wooed by the next big innovation and unnecessarily upgrade your phone, make sure you do your research and learn about all the great things your current device can do!

Where Does Your Waste Go?

Waste disposal is one of the most important services a business needs to function. Every business generates waste, and without proper disposal services, we’d be quickly buried by it. But where does all our waste go when it’s taken away by our disposal provider? Here are a few of the different places where your waste ends up.

Transfer Stations and Material Recovery Facilities

Before your waste arrives at its final destination, it will likely run through a transfer station and/or a Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Transfer stations are a temporary destination for waste disposal vehicles to drop off their collections. At the transfer station, the waste is usually compacted, loaded into even larger trucks, then shipped off to its next destination. These stations help to reduce waste disposal costs and allow the regular garbage trucks to pick up trash more efficiently throughout the day.

Material Recovery Facilities are separate locations where trash is sorted, usually in order to recover useful materials from the MSW stream before it reaches its destination. MRFs use tons of different machines, methods and technologies to achieve this. Some of the methods include running the trash through powerful magnets to collect metals, massive shredders, and even eddy current separators that help separate non-ferrous metals from regular waste.

Landfills

North America is the top producer of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in the entire world, generating about 301 million tons of trash every year. According to studies from the Environmental Protection Agency, anywhere from 52 to 55 percent of MSW winds up in landfills.

Unfortunately, landfills aren’t designed to break down waste. They’re designed to store it. Most landfills are built into the ground and lined with clay or plastic to isolate the trash from the environment. They’re often bisected with drains and pipes designed to collect leachate – the wastewater that drains from a landfill. Leachate has its own rules and regulations for collection and disposal and is a very important concern for any landfill operator.

When a layer of a landfill reaches its capacity, it is covered in plastic and topped with soil and plants. While the garbage will eventually decompose – it will take a very long time. Partially because a large portion of the waste that ends up in landfills is naturally slow to decompose, and partially because the decomposition process is slowed down in the oxygen-free environment underground.

Waste-To-Energy Plants

Most Waste-to-Energy plants are composed of massive, industrial furnaces known as trash incinerators, designed to burn MSW. Around 13 percent of MSW ends up in these incinerators – burned to ash in chambers that operate at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Not only does this process produce extra heat that can be used to heat and power our cities, but it also greatly reduces the volume of the waste, which in turn significantly reduces the landfill space it would otherwise occupy.

Some other methods of producing energy through waste include anaerobic generators that turn organic materials into energy through biological processes, and wastewater treatment plants that use similar microorganisms to contribute to the power grid.

Recycling Facilities 

According to the EPA, roughly 35 percent of MSW makes its way to a recycling facility. This also includes composting facilities, as they operate under the same basic premise – reuse waste to create new products. While recycling facilities primarily focus on items such as paper, glass, aluminum and plastics, composters use agricultural and food waste to create compost.

Recycling rates have been on the rise since the 1980s, and some of the largest cities in North America have extremely ambitious, large-scale recycling systems. In fact, the top five recycling cities in the United States divert 60 to 80 percent of their waste away from landfills and into recycling facilities.

Unfortunately, there are many types of waste that can’t be recycled and plenty of stresses regarding contamination. Recycling facility operators need to be extremely diligent with what they accept. For example, plastics must be clean to be recycled. A plastic container with food waste inside could contaminate thousands of pounds of otherwise perfectly reusable material. Some other items to keep out of your recycling bins include paper soiled by food, plastic bags, electronics, batteries and lightbulbs.

Types of Waste

landfillWaste is something most people don’t want to think about. For the majority, waste is a by-product of what we do want to talk about. It’s something we’d rather not handle, think about, and certainly not smell – but it’s a necessary evil.

Few people have the time to monitor the associated costs on an ongoing basis, and it’s not an easy job if you aren’t familiar with the industry. For our purposes as waste disposal and expense reduction experts, waste is separated into 12 different categories. Below are the types of waste and how they’re typically collected.

Garbage:

Garbage is what most of us think about when we hear the term waste. Regular trashcan garbage created by one or multiple people is known as Municipal Solid Waste, or MSW. Pre-consumer waste is known as Non-Municipal Solid Waste (NMSW) and is generated in the production of products.

Liquid wastes such as wastewater, fats, oil and grease, used oil, gases, sludges, or hazardous substances like cleaning fluids or pesticides also count as garbage, and they are typically collected and taken to a materials processing facility, transfer station or landfill disposal site.

Recycling:

Most people understand the basic concept of recycling – the conversion of waste materials into new materials and objects. Recycling benefits the world by preventing the waste of potentially useful items and reducing our overall consumption of raw materials.

Most cities across North America have recycling programs, and some major recyclable items include paper, cardboard, glass, bottles, jars, tin cans, aluminium foil, and certain plastics.

Compost:

In basic terms, compost is organic matter gathered to allow to decompose in a relatively contained environment. It has many great benefits as a soil conditioner, and it’s very rich in nutrients for plant life.

Compost includes fruits and vegetables, meat (including bones) bread, flowers, leaves, coffee and tea, dairy, hair, egg shells and food-soiled paper towels. Some things that aren’t included are liquids, bio-plastics, sawdust, wood, grass clippings with herbicide, or dead animals.

Many cities have Green Bin programs that keep food waste out of our landfills. Instead, it’s used to help growth in our gardens and parks.

Metal:

Unlike a lot of the others on this list, metal has monetary value, especially recovered metals that can be melted down and reused. Many major metal manufacturers end up selling their leftover scrap metal to recyclers who know the market value and will pay to take it off their hands.

Many places across North America also require scrappers to carry a scrap metal license before they can handle scrap professionally.

Electronics:

Electronic or e-waste is mainly comprised of discarded electrical or electronic devices. Some examples include appliances, light bulbs, TVs, computers, screens, phones, alarm clocks, and watches.

While these items also have monetary value, they are also intrinsically more dangerous to handle and dispose of than your average metal waste. Potentially harmful substances like lead, beryllium and cadmium are often used in electronics, and great care must be taken by those who handle e-waste in order to avoid unsafe exposure.

Shredding:

Most businesses shred files for safety reasons. Unfortunately, paper shreds cannot be placed in the recycle bin with the rest of your paper waste. Most recycling centers don’t accept small strips of paper because the large scale recycling facilities use very large screens to dry recycled paper, and the small shreds tend to fall through the screens.

Alternatives to office shredding include professional shredding services, which are available for around $1 per pound of paper. Professionals shred on a large enough scale that the shreds can be combined and recycled.

Wood:

Wood is a solid waste, and while it can be disposed of in a landfill, there are better options. While you can reuse and recycle wood, there are also options such as biomass-to-energy and wood processing facilities. Burning wood is fairly clean compared to most fossil fuels (though it still does result in emissions!) and taking your wood to a processing facility will often cost less than simply disposing it in a landfill!

Hazardous:

Corrosive, explosive, poisonous, flammable – hazardous waste is, well, hazardous.

Some examples include paints, chemicals, tires, batteries, light bulbs, appliances, aerosol cans, fertilizers and freon.

Most cities and towns have dedicated acceptance days for hazardous materials – check your cities website for dates. When transporting hazardous materials, they should be tightly sealed in their original containers and never allowed to mix. Trained professionals should be available to accept these materials on those assigned days, and they will be ready to package, transport and store these materials safely.

Toxic:

While all toxic waste is hazardous, not all hazardous waste is toxic. In waste terms, “toxic” is used to describe waste that, when ingested or absorbed, is harmful or fatal to living organisms. While the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is able to designate any waste hazardous as they deem fit, and many toxic wastes would fall under that general umbrella, they also have another law for mitigating harm to the public caused by specifically toxic wastes.

Some examples of toxic waste include lead-based paint, radon, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, pesticides and herbicides.

Biomedical:

Biomedical waste is any that includes blood or tissue from operating rooms, morgues, laboratories or any other medical facilities. It could also include anything used in treating a patient – from bedding to hospital gowns.

Biomedical is further separated into four categories (general medical waste, infectious medical waste, hazardous medical waste and radioactive medical waste) and has incredibly strict laws surrounding its handling and segregation.

Medical waste is handled by specifically trained, license-holding professionals.

Agricultural:

Produced as a result of various agricultural options, agricultural waste includes materials such as manure, poultry and slaughterhouse runoff, harvest waste, fertilizer runoff, and pesticides, salt and silt drained from fields.

It also includes general farm waste related to the growing of crops or raising of animals – vegetable waste, grape vines, fruit bearing trees and palm fronds.

Most agricultural waste, including animal carcasses, is handled directly by the farm owners and workers, but is still regulated by the government for safety.

Industrial:

Industrial waste is generally described as waste that was produced by an industrial activity, and includes materials that have been rendered useless during a manufacturing process. Factories, mills, mining operations and industries all produce industrial waste.

Dirt and gravel, solvents, chemicals, scrap lumber – these items can be hazardous or benign, and are often mixed with regular municipal waste.


Each of these categories are composed of sub-categories, all with different rules and regulations in regards to disposal, storage and care. At the end of the day – no matter how much we want to brush it under the rug – waste will be with humanity until its end. So it’s best that we keep it in mind.