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

Ontario burns Blue Box, gives incinerators green light

Groups from across the province blasted the Ontario government today for passing regulations that will weaken key environmental laws and allow massive incinerators to be fast-tracked without an environmental assessment and with little public consultation. The new regulations are poised to undermine current Blue Box recycling and waste diversion programs by promoting the construction of controversial “Energy-from-Waste” facilities – multi-million dollar incinerators.

“It is truly outrageous that the Ontario government is fast-tracking these controversial changes despite the fact that these incinerators produce 33% more greenhouse gases per unit of energy than coal-fired power plants,” said Sierra Legal Lawyer and Economist Dr. Anastasia Lintner. “Recycling and reuse of waste can save more than 25 times the energy recovered by incineration.”

Quietly released on Friday afternoon, the regulatory changes include the streamlining of approvals for certain ‘pilot’ or ‘demonstration’ projects, such as massive incineration projects. 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.

“The justification for the exemption of energy-from-waste facilities from full environmental assessment seems to be that they somehow will make a contribution to the province’s energy supply. Yet recycling products like newspapers and plastic containers uses far less energy than having to re-create that entire product,” added Pembina Institute Director of Environmental Governance Dr. Mark Winfield. “Recycling programs are simply a far more rational energy conservation strategy.”

“In our view, these regulatory changes are unjustified and contrary to the public interest,” stated Rick Lindgren, Staff Lawyer with the Canadian Environmental Law Association. “Waste incineration is an environmentally significant activity that should remain fully subject to the rigorous scrutiny and public participation requirements of Ontario’s environmental assessment process.”

“Incineration is simply not the solution to Ontario’s waste issues,” said Sierra Legal Senior Staff Scientist Dr Elaine MacDonald. “The province says it wants to stop burning coal because it is a dirty source of energy, but at the same time it is promoting an even dirtier, much less reliable source – garbage.”

Over the past several months various groups submitted formal comments to the province highlighting concerns about the proposed regulations. 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.

“Ontario is not confronted by a waste disposal crisis,” said John Jackson of Great Lakes United. “In fact Ontario has recently approved millions of tonnes of new landfill capacity. The true crisis is one of waste generation – and Ontario has utterly failed in its efforts to curb waste generation and increase recycling.”

Many of the groups’ concerns are documented in an investigative report released today by the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy. The report, Ontario’s Waste Management Challenge – Is Incineration an Option? emphasizes waste reduction and diversion, while calling for Ontario to fund an independent assessment of incineration technologies to better understand the true costs and benefits of incineration before their implementation.

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