Sunday, April 09, 2006

Spreading the Garbage Gospel

There's an almost evangelical aura surrounding Mike Walters when he talks garbage.

As he speaks, he becomes increasingly animated, obviously excited about the topic, polished in his delivery.

Tanned, with his French-cuffed, crisp white shirt open at the neck, Walters -- the senior district manager of landfills with Waste Management -- talks in feverish and fast tones when speaking about all things garbage.

It's almost hard to believe all he's talking about is trash.

That's everything from the stuff you throw out, to the stuff you shouldn't be throwing out, like recyclables and compostable materials.

As excited as he gets, his problem is that in the final analysis, it's still garbage and it seems no one wants it in their backyard, in their neighbour's backyard, or anywhere near their neighbourhood.

Faced with opposition to expanding its landfill at Carp Rd. which refuses to go away, Waste Management is taking its dog and pony show on the road, putting a positive spin on their plans to enlarge the landfill.

Four senior employees with Waste Management met yesterday with members of the Sun's editorial board.

With politicians at both the provincial and municipal levels dithering, with neither a real vision or some solid leadership showing the way, Waste Management is left to its own devices to put a positive spin on the expansion of the Carp Rd. dump.

Er, make that the Carp Rd. landfill.

"It's not a dump," one of the suits says.

Dump. Landfill.

You say po-tay-toes, I say po-ta-toes.

To be clear, Waste Management is in the business of making money. And they do that through hauling, landfilling and recycling garbage in cities across the country.

So they clearly have a vested interest in people's acceptance of the lowly landfill.

It's a lot easier to do their job if they don't have the public working against them; if they don't have residents ranting and raving about living next to a landfill; if they can work in partnership with the different levels of government they must work with.

That's why they meet with members of the media, that's why they're involved in public education, why they even go so far as to spread their message of good waste management in the school system.

And it's part of the reason that when they're in front of Ottawa city council, and politicians like Goulbourn Coun. Janet Stavinga decide it's appropriate to badmouth them publicly, they do their best to just sit there, to grin and bear it as best they can.

"It's all part of the process," one says.

"It's an election year," says another in explaining their silence.

Playing politics is clearly part of what they do.

So they don't fight back -- publicly, at least -- when their reputation is besmirched.

And they certainly don't go on the attack, as they could.

Sure, they hold their ground.

(Okay, they did diss some CUPE members who attended a public meeting, suggesting they were mouthpieces for mayoral candidate Alex Munter, but that's as nasty as they got.) Truth is, and they know it and Ottawa city council knows it, the garbage has to go somewhere.

Just what would happen if they threw their hands up in disgust, and said fine, you don't want the landfill site, we won't take your garbage.

What then? Here's the thing.

Waste Management, and we can only presume companies like them, know that Ottawa city councillors haven't done nearly as much as they should have in working to solve the ongoing and mounting garbage crisis.

They don't say that, not exactly, but it's relatively easy to read between the well-rehearsed lines.

"Ottawa has a strong integrated waste management plan," several officials from Waste Management say, almost in unison at one point during the meeting, and several times throughout.

Problem is, of course, that while the strategy is a good one, it's not being implemented as quickly or as well as it should be.

No doubt about it.

If it's a campaign between government and Waste Management, score one for WM.


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