Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

Groups trash Ontario’s waste proposal

Groups from across the province blasted the Ontario government today for its controversial plans to weaken environmental laws concerning waste management, including recycling, incineration and the handling of toxic waste. The groups argue that the province is attempting to sidestep much-needed public consultation on these issues and that recently proposed regulatory changes would seriously undermine current recycling and waste diversion programs.

“The proposed regulatory changes represent a huge step backwards in the management of waste in Ontario,” said Sierra Legal lawyer and economist Dr. Anastasia Lintner. “Instead of enhancing recycling and waste diversion programs, it has become clear that Ontario is intent on authorizing massive incineration plants whether the public wants it or not.”

The proposed regulations were released earlier this summer and include amendments to the provincial Environmental Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act that cover a wide range of waste related issues. The groups submitted a formal brief to the government last week highlighting concerns that the proposal overemphasizes disposal, excludes the public and weakens government oversight. The groups argue that the solution to Ontario’s waste woes begins with strong producer responsibility laws and citizen stewardship to reduce waste at the source.

“Those who profit from selling products should be required to take full responsibility for taking care of them after use instead of dumping the problems onto municipalities,” said John Jackson of the Citizens’ Network on Waste Management. “Unfortunately Ontario has not moved forward on this nearly rapidly enough.”

The controversial regulatory changes include the streamlining of approvals for certain ‘pilot’ or ‘demonstration’ projects, such as massive incineration projects designed to burn millions of kilograms of waste each year. This move would curtail public participation and will directly compete with existing recycling programs for materials with high-energy values such as paper, plastics and organics.

“Incineration is simply not the solution to Ontario’s waste issues,” said Sierra Legal Senior Staff Scientist Dr Elaine MacDonald. “Even new incineration technologies have proven to be expensive, are a major source of pollutants such as greenhouse gases, and would undermine already established recycling efforts such as the Blue Box program. Ontarians should be consulted on whether they would rather have massive incinerators or Blue Boxes in their communities.”

“Attempts to produce electricity and heat from the incineration of municipal wastes make little sense as an energy strategy,” added Pembina Institute Director of Environmental Governance Dr. Mark S. Winfield. “Recycling programs are a far more effective way of recovering the energy contained in paper, food and yard wastes, plastics and other components of the waste stream. Even widespread attempts to generate electricity from the incineration of municipal wastes would only make a small contribution to the province’s energy needs.”

The coalition of groups includes the Citizens’ Network on Waste Management, Pembina Institute, Sierra Legal, Provincial Council of Women of Ontario, Northwatch, Warwick-Watford Landfill Committee and the Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society.

The groups have been reviewing experience with incineration and similar technologies around the world and have found that the attempts to use technologies such as gasification and pyrolysis on municipal waste in United States, Australia and Germany have similarly ended in failure. At the same time, the environmental problems associated with conventional incinerators are well known – including the production of a wide range of air pollutants and hazardous by-products.

The groups recommend that prior to advancing any changes to the waste regulatory regime that the Ontario government develop an overall, clear, comprehensive waste management strategy. Some of the changes are expected to be implemented immediately and further proposals are anticipated later this fall.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Sierra Legal (416) 368-7533 ext. 27
Dr. Anastsia Lintner, Sierra Legal (416) 368-7533 ext. 30
John Jackson, Citizens’ Network on Waste Mgmt (519) 744-7503
Dr. Mark S. Winfield, Pembina Institute (416) 978-3486, (416)
Dr. Rhonda Hustler, Warwick Watford Landfill Committee (416) 944-0185

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