Keeping our communities clean means that we all need to do our part to reduce the amount of natural resources that we consume, and ultimately throw away as waste. This waste either ends up as litter on our land or ends up taking up space in community landfills.
The Hierarchy of Waste Management
In waste management, we refer to the four ‘R’s—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover to help remind us of the actions we can use to prevent and minimize waste. These ‘R’s are arranged in order of importance:
When it comes to waste management, the best action we can take is to prevent waste from being created in the first place.
Reducing the amount of products we use means that fewer resources are consumed (including the fuel and energy required to manufacture, package and ship those goods), and fewer resources are required to recycle, or dispose of, what we discard. Reducing what we consume reduces the amount of garbage that litters the land and occupies space in community landfills. It also cuts down on the amount of transportation that is required to have our goods delivered to our communities, and for our recyclables to be shipped elsewhere to be transformed.
Reusing things before we recycle or discard them is the next best way to decrease the amount of resources we consume, and the amount of waste we produce. Reusing offers similar benefits as reducing—we use less new materials, we transport less and we waste less.
When an item is recycled, it is broken down and physically or chemically altered in order to make a new item. This new item could be the same as its original form or it might be an entirely different product.
When a product is recycled into something of greater quality than its original form, it is called ‘upcycling’. Conversely, when a product is recycled into something of lower quality than its orignial form, it is called ‘downcycling’. A plastic bottle that is recycled into a fleece sweater would be an example of upcycling, while that same plastic bottle mixed with other plastics to make a lower quality plastic would be an example of downcycling.
Recycling, unlike reducing or reusing, is not considered waste prevention, since we still need to create waste before we can recycle it.
Recycling a material requires resources to ship and transform it into a new material. The manufacturer then turns it into a new product, and ships it to consumers. This can add up to a lot of shipping when you consider the remote location of the NWT and our reliance on manufacturers from elsewhere.
Making products from recycled materials is better than making them from virgin materials, but when possible, it is best not to create any waste at all.
After we have reduced, reused and recycled all the products and materials we can, the garbage that remains ends up in NWT landfills. This is where RECOVERY comes in—it is still possible to recover some of these resources from the landfill. Using a variety of processes, we can transform waste into energy. For example, by capturing and combusting gases emitted by the decomposition of organic materials in a landfill, we can produce electricity.