That pile of Styrofoam, moldy carpet, construction glue and plastic containers smouldering at the local dump may smell really bad, but it’s not dangerous.
That little bit of wisdom cost $50,000, which is what the Yukon government paid Richmond, BC-based environmental engineer Chris Marson.
Marson collected data on topography, weather and the estimated amount of waste burned in Yukon landfills. After crunching the numbers, he analyzed 33 potential toxins, and isolated the five worst nasties.
The good news is that, even under the worst conditions, people living in the vicinity have nothing to worry about.
Just because you can smell the stench doesn’t mean it is going to kill you. You’ve got a better chance of catching swine flu. Or dying in a Friday night car wreck.
So the trash can be burned, and residents of Carcross, Tagish and other communities where it happens can sleep without fear.
But, of course, that’s not really the point.
Once again, the Yukon government is using the environment as a dumping ground to cut costs.
In this case, Yukon residents don’t know the true cost of its garbage. Instead, we burn it, which seems free. (It isn’t, of course, but the costs are cumulative and extremely hard to track.)
All people see is a toxic plume rising into the atmosphere, and sometimes you don’t even see that. And because of our low population and large landmass, this isn’t a big deal, as Marson notes in his report.
It’s cosmetic—smells bad, but doesn’t hurt us. No big deal.
But as jurisdictions across the continent are learning, there is a cumulative cost to such behaviour. It catches up with you. Often faster than people realize.
And, of course, there’s the bigger picture—just because burning a small amount of trash in a northern village doesn’t hurt people immediately doesn’t mean society should be doing it.
Again, even small amounts are cumulative over time.
At best, Marson’s expensive report may be used to identify the worst dumps before a promised territory wide cleanup in three years. That is, by the way, a ridiculously long delay.
At worst, its information will be used to soothe public fears about the dump-burning issue allowing the government to shelve its promised reforms.
Fact is, there is a cost to disposing of garbage in the territory. Burning it is cheap, but irresponsible.
Society knows better—converting it to atmosphere-polluting toxins isn’t the right solution. We shouldn’t be doing it.
It’s time Yukoners started reducing the amount of garbage we produce.
Paying the true cost of disposing of it encourages people to cut the amount they produce.
If we don’t, we’ll pay much more in the future. (Richard Mostyn)