EDITOR - TODD LIHOU: To talk about garbage now is hardly a waste of time

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The answer to the $64,000 question is simple: garbage.

The city has hired a Kitchener, Ont. firm to audit our curbside waste here in Fun City, where the company will determine what exactly we are putting in our garbage.

The audit comes with a pretty hefty price tag, the aforementioned $64,000. In a nutshell the city wants to see if there's any way to divert more waste from the municipal landfill and extend its life.

Because there appears to be a monumental problem brewing on the horizon.

The landfill, essentially a huge hole in the ground that we've been dumping our garbage in for years, won’t stay empty forever. The longer we can keep it from filling up, the more time we can take before having to find another one – if we even can.

(It's not really just a hole in the ground, but you see my point).

The city wants to follow provincial guidelines and get to a point where about 60 per cent of our waste is diverted from the landfill and recycled. We're a little more than halfway there right now – some 36 per cent of Cornwall waste is diverted from the landfill.

Not long ago Cornwall hovered at about 24 per cent.

The expense of the audit, the $64,000 the city is spending to get up close and personal with our garbage, is considered by some to be worthwhile, since it's being used as a tool to extend the life of the landfill.

Just how much longer does the landfill have? Rough estimates, according to city staffers, peg the best before date some 15.5 years from now – all things remaining equal.

The good news is there appears to be a desire to recycle more. Environmentalists are slowly but surely winning over the rest of us who simply fill up their trash bins with everything they want to throw out.

Cornwall may even get to a point where the city introduces so-called "green bins" where kitchen waste (known as organics) are placed and collected for composting, instead of being dumped right into the landfill.

But even if we get to a point where Cornwall diverts the recommended 60 per cent from our landfill it will only buy us another five, maybe six or so years, said city officials.

What comes next is about as appetizing as the garbage itself.

Closing a landfill is a multi-million dollar exercise…and when was the last time you heard someone at the city talking about all that extra cash lying around?

There's also the little matter of getting permits from the province to open a new landfill site. Between 1999 and 2011 the Ministry of the Environment didn’t issue a single permit for one new landfill – not one.

In 1999 it was Lafleche Environmental, near Moose Creek, that opened a landfill on a former wetland.

It says here that at some point in the future, maybe even next year, city councillors will have a very serious discussion about forcing residents to by tags for their garbage bags.

By making you shell out money to put a bag at the curb (while a full recycling box won’t require a tag) the hope is that you'll reduce the amount of waste that goes down the hole.

Things are so bad that some communities right here in Ontario are actually mining their landfills.

That's right, crews are digging into the landfill and removing recyclable material in an effort to keep the dump on life support for as long as possible.

In, Barrie, for example, in its early stages about 15,000 cubic metres of old trash was excavated from that city's landfill, enough to fill six Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The old garbage was screened for recyclables like metal stoves and refrigerators, rubber tires, sand, gravel and even wood scraps.

The most valuable find, though, was more space.

It's not a new idea. Conferences have even been held so that experts can exchange ideas on how to prolong the life of a municipal amenity many of us simply take for granted.

With between 15 and 20 years left for the Cornwall dump, the problem is not something we'll be lucky enough to drop on our kids. Most of us expect to be around for another 20 years (at least) and in that time we will have to find something to do with our garbage.

So when you're considering being lazy (like me, sometimes) and dropping that pop can in the garbage bins because it's too far to talk to the blue box, think again.

An extra five seconds now could save us millions in the not-too-distant future.

Organizations: Ministry of the Environment

Geographic location: Cornwall, Kitchener, Fun Moose Creek Ontario

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