Ontario needs to do a much better job managing organic waste and waste from the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) sectors, says Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe.
It’s a prescription that will come as no surprise to Ontario’s leaders. It’s something they’ve known for well over a decade and the tools to address the problem have been readily at hand for at least that long — some in Ontario’s very own waste regulations.
A 2012 benchmarking report from the Conference Board of Canada rated Canada the world’s worst wastrel, ranking last among 17 countries studied. Statistics Canada’s 2014 figures paint a somewhat more favourable picture of Ontario, ranking it third-lowest in waste per capita among nine provinces and territories that supplied figures. But that ranking belies the unfortunate truth that Ontario has been seeking to cut its waste generation dramatically for more than a decade. While other jurisdictions, notably Nova Scotia, have marched forward with deep cuts in waste sent to landfill, Ontario has done little more than mark time.
Saxe believes Ontario may now be in a position to turn a corner, provided it can find the political will to act on strategies that have proven themselves elsewhere.
The cause for optimism is Bill 151, the Waste-Free Ontario Act, 2016. It has replaced the Waste Diversion Act, 2002 — legislation intended to fuel the development of waste diversion programs and insulate the government from the toxic politics of waste. It did neither particularly well.
As Saxe notes, the Waste-Free Ontario Act, 2016 is mostly enabling. Its impact will be felt once regulations are in place. But behind the Act is a policy document, “Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario: Building the Circular Economy”, that promotes a circular economy where waste is perpetually reused.
Saxe makes eight recommendations in “Beyond the Blue Box: Ontario’s Fresh Start on Waste Diversion and the Circular Economy” — all of which Ontario has endorsed in some fashion in its response to the report — to promote the transition to a circular economy. Two recommendations, however, stand out because of their familiarity.
Saxe recommends that Ontario expand and enforce source separation and diversion obligations for the IC&I sectors. Since 1994, Ontario has had three regulations on the books requiring companies in the IC&I sectors to conduct waste audits, packaging audits and to source-separate waste. They were enforced for a brief period after they were introduced but are now largely ignored.
She also calls for “some form of disposal ban on food waste”. Here, Ontario can steal a page from Canada’s uncontested waste reduction leader, Nova Scotia. That province banned the disposal of organic waste in 1998, part of a series of disposal bans that were implemented once a sufficient number of alternatives (e.g., regional or municipal composting plants) were in place. Nova Scotians send roughly 40% less waste per capita to landfill than Ontarians.