Ontario has a garbage problem and an ever-shrinking window of time to solve it.

According to a recent audit, the province will exhaust its existing landfill space within 11 to 14 years unless it changes course.

But that isn’t happening.

“We’ve been having this conversation for a very long period of time,” said Peter Hargreave, president of Policy Integrity, a public policy consultancy. Hargreave was an adviser to the environment minister in the mid-aughts and later, director of policy and strategy at the Ontario Waste Management Association, which represents the waste management and recycling sector.

“There’s been some small changes that I think have helped to improve some of what’s happening, but the overall picture really hasn’t changed much.”

Residential waste — those blue boxes of juice containers, soup cans, cardboard and other household items — has been recycled at steadily increasing rates over the past 20 years; about half of what’s tossed from Ontario homes is now recycled.

But for all the effort individuals put into dutifully washing containers and separating wilted lettuce from its packaging, Ontario’s biggest waste generators are recycling at lower rates than they were 20 years ago.

The bulk of the province’s waste, about 60 per cent, comes from what’s known as the industrial, commercial and institutional, or IC&I, sector. That includes grocery stores, construction sites, restaurants, government offices, hospitals and the like. This sector diverts only about 15 per cent of its waste, a drop from 17 per cent in 2002.

The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, which is responsible for waste reduction and diversion, set targets in 2017 to divert half of the total waste produced in the province by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050. But a lack of regulation, enforcement, political will and economic incentive has left the province falling far short.

Ontario backslides on non-residential recycling: some sectors are getting worse, not better, at diverting waste. #recycling #waste #onpoli

“Our audit found that improving waste management in the IC&I sector — which generates and disposes of the majority of Ontario’s waste — holds the key to meeting the province’s waste goals, as well as to avoiding Ontario’s looming landfill shortage,” noted the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario’s audit of the sector released in November.

“Yet, we found that the Ministry has not taken concrete actions to drive a reduction in the amount of IC&I waste generated and disposed of to put Ontario on track to meet its targets.”

Provincial regulations were implemented in 1994 requiring the IC&I sector operate a recycling program and make “reasonable efforts” to collect and divert recyclable waste, the auditor noted. Those rules apply to just two per cent of IC&I establishments — the largest ones, which still only produce somewhere between a third and two-thirds of the sector’s waste. And those regulations, according to the auditor general’s findings, are out of date, weak and largely unenforced.

The other 98 per cent of establishments — almost 1.6 million — aren’t regulated at all. Nor are companies that collect waste required to divert it, so even if an establishment goes to the trouble of separating waste for recycling, it often still ends up in a landfill.

While residential recycling rates have steadily climbed in Ontario, the industrial, commercial and institutional sector, responsible for most of the province's garbage, has gotten worse in the past 20 years. Photo courtesy of Toronto Environmental Alliance

The audit also noted “major data gaps” in information the ministry collects, “which hinder the province’s ability to develop effective waste policies and to reliably track progress toward Ontario’s waste goals.”

Non-residential waste has long been “the black hole of no information, no real action,” said Emily Alfred, waste campaigner at the Toronto Environmental Alliance. “I think most people would be surprised that we don’t have an environmental regulation that requires the IC&I sector to actually divert their waste and to make sure that waste gets diverted.”

Without regulations that demand waste diversion measures, economics rule. The reality in Ontario is that it is far cheaper to haul waste to a landfill than to recycle it. “The economics right now, for IC&I waste, completely point to disposal,” said Hargreave.

The audit noted that the cost of diverting IC&I materials is as much as six times higher than taking them to landfills, and a lack of end markets for recycled materials limits options. “Significantly, we found that the Ministry has not implemented key measures to help address these underlying barriers, such as landfill bans or landfill levies, which have been implemented in other jurisdictions with higher diversion and lower waste disposal rates,” according to the report.

“Land is cheap,” said Steven Young, an industrial ecologist and associate professor at the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development at the University of Waterloo. “So when a politician or decision-makers are scoping out their priorities, these categories of non-hazardous waste don’t come up very high on the list.” Other jurisdictions that have achieved far higher diversion rates, like many European countries and, in Canada, P.E.I. and Nova Scotia, have far less land than Ontario, which also exports about a third of its waste to the U.S.

Ontario's landfills will reach capacity within 11 to 14 years at current waste production rates. Photo courtesy of Ontario Waste Management Association

In June, the provincial government changed the Blue Box program that currently recycles residential waste to include more products and make producers responsible for delivering the service starting in 2023. It also expanded Blue Box collection to include some IC&I establishments, such as schools and some long-term care homes. But the actual increase in diverted waste from these changes will be “relatively small,” according to the audit, which includes 17 recommendations.

The government also introduced requirements in 2018 for some establishments and multi-residential buildings to reduce organic waste by 2025, but the audit noted a lack of outreach to promote awareness and compliance.

The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks sent an emailed statement in response to questions, most of which it did not answer, that pointed to these recent changes and new producer responsibility regulations for tires, batteries, electric and electronic equipment along with some hazardous products. "Our goals are to improve waste reduction and diversion, minimize costs to our businesses and institutions, improve data collection, and improve compliance," the statement read. No further detail was provided on how the province intends to do that.

The federal government on Friday announced plans to develop new national regulations to set minimum recycled content requirements for certain plastic items — less than 10 per cent of plastic waste is currently recycled in Canada — with the aim of producing no plastic waste by 2030.

NDP environment critic Sandy Shaw pointed to the Ford government’s deep cuts — about a third of its budget — to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks in 2019, leaving the ministry “completely understaffed” to achieve even its “watered down” waste diversion targets.

There are solutions to Ontario’s garbage problem, and most of them come down to government regulation to change the economics of trash.

“If politicians have the political will, you can very easily change things by just increasing the tipping fees at landfills to encourage people to divert their waste to recycling centres,” said Joshua Pearce, an engineer and professor at the Thompson Centre for Engineering Leadership and Innovation at Western University. “But that takes political will.”

Mike Chopowick, CEO of the Ontario Waste Management Association, said the government needs to open up its 26-year-old regulations and develop a modern recycling program with a regulatory framework for non-residential waste. Economic instruments, such as disposal levies, can counterbalance the higher cost of recycling and lead to recovering potentially valuable materials that are now being sent to landfill, he said.

Karen Wirsig, the plastics program manager at Environmental Defence, called for extended producer responsibility regulations in Ontario, similar to those coming into effect for the Blue Box program, to include the IC&I sector. And higher diversion targets are needed to encourage waste producers to change packaging practices to create less garbage in the first place.

“Ultimately, we’re going to need to make [landfill] disposal options very, very, very expensive and last resort,” said Wirsig. “We have to follow the waste hierarchy, which is, first, really redesign and eliminate, which allows you to reduce wherever you can, and reuse wherever you can, and then recycle, and what’s left at the end should be almost nothing.”

Keep reading

The article lists all the measures that need to be done but are unlikely to be taken by a conservative government. However, there is one argument that Conservatives understand: money. Cities who have their own dump sites, like Ottawa, should set the tone for Ontario by immediately raising the dumping fee according to the present value of a future site. This might cause some companies to export even more garbage to the USA, but that is another issue!

The cost of waste handling is always a teeter-tottering game between the nuisance of recycling and the illegal dumping that inevitably follows a cost increase.

The only and hardest resolution is to create less waste in the first place. Waste handling costs MUST be included in the cost of doing business in Ontario (and everywhere else) and must be required in every application for a business license, zoning change request, loan application - every step of the industrial process. What will you do with your waste? How will you recycle, how will you fund your waste costs?
Ontario's current government is so intellectually lazy it has not undertaken any constructive action to deal with our society's most pressing problems:. waste management, industrial, extractive, residential.; Climate change mitigation: shifting energy sources, restoring forest cover, protecting water resources. NO ACTION has been proposed or undertaken by this flaccid, moribund, predatory capitalist enabling political party.

Earth will be re-named garbage planet - unless some bright spark finds a way to insert our garbage into the planet's subduction zones - the ultimate recycling system.