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Ontario Environment Minister's remarks to WDO


I thought readers might be interested in reading remarks that Ontario’s Environment Minister John Gerretsen made at the AGM for Waste Diversion Ontario on April 27, 2010. It sounds like the review of the Waste Diversion Act is a serious undertaking and that the minister plans to push for further Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
The Honourable John Gerretsen
Minister of the Environment
Waste Diversion Ontario
Annual General Meeting
April 27, 2010
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Thank you, Cliodhna.
I’m pleased to be able to join you once again this year for your annual general meeting.
I want to take this opportunity to recognize your efforts over the past year, especially all of you who put considerable time and resources into delivering new programs under tough economic conditions.
We saw real progress because of your efforts.
You delivered:
• a new program for tires
• expanded programs for waste electronics and municipal hazardous or special waste, and
• the province’s first alternative industry stewardship program for mercury thermostats.
You also oversaw continued improvements in blue box program diversion rates.
This is complicated and complex work, even at the best of times.
On behalf of the Premier and our government, let me say we very much appreciate all that WDO and the Industry Funding Organizations have achieved.
Last year when I spoke to you, I talked about the need to significantly re-tool waste management in Ontario.
I can’t over-state how critical this is — not only for the sake of a cleaner environment and healthier communities, but also to ensure Ontario is poised to take a leading role in the transition to a stronger, more sustainable economy.
Today, I would like to provide you with an update on where we are and offer a glimpse of where we are heading.
Moving forward
I can tell you unequivocally that how we view and manage waste in Ontario is changing.
Frankly, it has to.
Ontario has a real waste problem. We make too much of it, around a tonne per person per year, and too much of that goes to landfill.
I hear from Ontarians all the time, asking how we can do better —
especially when it comes to things like reducing packaging.
Consumers are trying to do their part by recycling and composting. They are telling us to go further and go faster.
I couldn’t agree more.
We can’t continue doing things the same way and expect different results.
Diversion rates are abysmal. Combined residential and industrial, commercial and institutional diversion rates are stagnating at around 22 per cent.
Our government is determined to increase waste diversion rates dramatically.
The fact is, the world has changed and we need to change with it.
People have a much greater awareness than ever before of our need to recycle more and divert more.
There is no longer tolerance for the old ways of dealing with waste. We all know we can do better than digging holes and burying it.
It’s obviously time for a new approach: one that recognizes the need for sustainability in all our actions.
I’ve said this many times before and I’ll say it again here.
We need to recognize the value of waste as a resource, where second and third generation products become the raw material for new products.
The upside is — this benefits both business and the environment.
A recent U.S. study demonstrated how the recycling and reuse industry creates a large number of jobs that pay over the national average, generates gross revenues of more than $236 billion a year, with $173 billion a year in indirect economic activity.
Similarly, research shows Ontario diversion programs result in significant net economic benefits including a large number of jobs that pay above the provincial average.
We intend to make sure Ontario has a significant presence in the growing recycling and reuse sector.
That is where our review of the Waste Diversion Act is taking us.
Waste Diversion Act Review
We see a renewed waste framework for Ontario that centres on three things: it’s about extended producer responsibility, it’s about increasing diversion to better protect our environment … and it’s about efficiency … creating cost savings and opportunities in a new, sustainable economy.
By moving toward full, extended producer responsibility, we move away from having municipalities, taxpayers and businesses pay to manage waste they didn’t create in the first place.
This is a realistic and logical step.
Producers control the decisions surrounding products and packaging.
Instead of putting the onus on consumers, whether business or household, and municipalities to deal with this material at the back-end, we are putting the responsibility at the front end of the process.
As you know, our proposal makes individual producers responsible and focuses on outcomes, rather than processes.
We want to encourage flexibility on how to reach those outcomes.
And we are proposing supporting measures such as a landfill levy and even banning certain materials from disposal to help meet those expectations.
We are also proposing transition plans for existing diversion programs.
Thanks to all of you who provided your input and who took part in the consultation process.
We have heard what you have to say and many good ideas have been generated that we can use going forward.
During the consultation period, the comments we heard were generally supportive of our approach, including the philosophy of producer responsibility, flexibility on meeting obligations and the supporting measures we proposed.
We heard that the current system needs to focus more on outcomes.
We heard industry is looking for greater flexibility.
And along with flexibility, we heard we need to be clear on accountability and determine who is responsible for outcomes.
We also heard that there needs to be consequences — without consequences there is no pressure to meet the outcomes.
That all makes sense.
It’s important that we continue to keep the lines of communication open and hear your opinions.
We are serious about making progress — and you’ll be hearing about next steps very soon.
While nothing has been finalized at this point, we don’t expect much deviation from our proposed approach.
We want to leverage new businesses opportunities in the evolving new economy as quickly as possible.
Changing our approach and challenging assumptions
It’s clear we are in a transition period and there are changes coming.
At the same time, I want assure you that we recognize the need to dig into the issues more deeply to make sure we make all the links and connect all the dots.
We will be consulting with you on the changes as they occur, on existing programs and new requirements.
Let me assure you we are not going to throw out all the work that’s been done to bring in new programs or make wholesale changes just for the sake of change.
There are many different views. We respect that.
Let me also say that some assumptions may no longer be relevant or accurately reflect our 21st century world.
For example, many still assume that all energy from waste is bad for the environment. But modern technologies are greatly improved.
On a recent trip to Holland, in advance of the climate change conference in Copenhagen, I had the opportunity to tour the City of Amsterdam’s Waste and Energy Company.
This is the largest energy from waste facility in the world. It can process 1.5 million tonnes of waste and sewage sludge annually, supplying 30 per cent of Amsterdam’s electricity and hot water.
On many fronts, we need to challenge the old assumptions and look for new innovative processes that are more sustainable and fully protective of the environment.
Surely it is better to recover some value from waste that can’t be recycled, than to landfill it and get nothing.
Recycling is the number one priority — energy from waste may have a role, but not at the expense of the 3Rs.
Keeping up the pace
As we move to a new waste management framework, there will be a natural transition period between what we have now and what will be coming.
That doesn’t mean we take our foot off the pedal.
We need to keep up the momentum.
In fact, we see this as an opportunity for producers to get busy, get creative and come up with their own plans.
Don’t wait for the government to regulate — take a pro-active approach and develop your own plans ahead of the curve.
Momentum is building on extended producer responsibility and Ontario is leading the way towards well-developed and accountable diversion practices.
We’re also seeing action on EPR in forward-thinking North American jurisdictions like Maine, Vermont, and Quebec.
And we’re already seeing the economic spin-offs of our new diversion programs.
New innovative businesses are setting up here to take advantage of the opportunities in the recycling sector.
Companies like Entropax are innovating in plastics recycling.
Many new tire and electronic recycling facilities are expanding and setting up shop in Ontario — creating jobs and fostering economic growth.
These companies are seeing the opportunities for growth in the recycling industry.
There are many businesses taking the initiative and looking seriously at incorporating sustainability throughout their operations, and not just in the recycling sector.
Just last week, I attended Walmart’s fourth annual Earth Day Sustainability conference.
Walmart and a number of other large companies and their suppliers, are taking a stand on waste, on packaging and on procurement processes that consider the environmental costs.
That kind of leadership needs to be recognized and applauded.
It also needs to be expanded across the board to other products and other businesses.
Open Ontario
Our government is fully committed to helping support the innovations that protect the environment and power a strong, lower carbon economy.
We’re open for the kind of business that will leave a better world for the next generation.
Our five-year Open Ontario Plan is going to help get us there.
The plan is about boosting our competitiveness, encouraging investment in the province and creating jobs for Ontarians.
It’s about making the most of the leading-edge, clean industry solutions and products Ontario has to offer.
It’s also about modernizing approvals to make it easier and more convenient for business and to encourage investment and growth.
We need and want Ontario businesses to be successful. That’s a given.
But, at the same time, let’s pause and ask ourselves “what kind of legacy do we want to leave for the future?”.
How can we, in our own way, make a difference?
So, today, I want to leave you with a challenge.
Take the initiative, don’t wait.
Be innovative, be bold and be creative.
Find the opportunities in the new, green economy — and do the right thing for your business and for the environment.
Thank you.
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