P.E.I. not so green any more
- May 9, 2008 4:45 PM |
- By Quirks
By Bob McDonald, host of the CBC science radio program Quirks & Quarks.
After more than 30 years of refilling beverage bottles, Prince Edward Island is removing its "ban on cans" and moving towards aluminum and disposable plastic. It’s an environmental step backwards for the land of Green Gables.
The government of P.E.I. says it’s an environmentally friendly move because they will introduce a blue box recycling program. The problem is, recycling doesn’t re-capture all the material and it takes more energy to produce and recycle cans than it does refilling glass bottles.
This is a complete about-face for P.E.I., which has been boasting about its refilling program for decades and still praises it on its own website.
Our smallest province introduced a ban on disposable containers in the 1970s, in an effort to control litter and save jobs at a local bottling plant. Once introduced, it worked. People got used to returning bottles to the same place they bought them, for a refund. Later, the ban on cans was extended to plastic bottles, giving P.E.I. the highest level of reuse in the country at 98 per cent.
Check out recycling in other provinces.
The capture rate on aluminum cans can be as low as 31 per cent in Manitoba, with an average across the country of about 75 per cent. That means at least a quarter of those cans don’t get returned. They’re still out there somewhere littering roadsides, campgrounds or getting dumped in landfill sites.
Here’s the deal. Glass is made of silicon, basically sand, which is one of the most common elements on the planet. It does take heat to melt the sand into glass but the bottles can be reused more than a dozen times, and then completely recycled into more glass. It’s a very benign material. Even if it’s left in the ground, it doesn’t rust or leave any metals behind. In P.E.I., filling bottles, refilling them and recycling them are all local industries.
Aluminum, on the other hand, takes much more energy and a lot of water to produce. First, it needs to be mined as bauxite, then shipped to a processing plant where it is turned into aluminum metal, lacquered and rolled into cans. After one use, they must be collected and sent out of the province for recycling into more cans or car parts.
Beverage companies prefer cans and plastic bottles because they are lighter and don’t break, which saves on transportation costs. Party animals and picnic people like them for the same reason. But convenience aside, from an environmental point of view, refilling glass bottles has the lowest impact and P.E.I. was the best in the business.
Now the local government is going to spend more money to handle the recycling of more energy-intensive aluminum cans.
What’s wrong with this picture?
— Bob McDonald
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