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Ontario's first Zero Waste conference a success!


EZW_FINAL_logoOntario’s first Zero Waste Conference took place yesterday (Monday, August 11, with a reception and a bit of program on the Sunday evening before) at the new, modern Lakehead University campus in Orillia, Ontario.

The team that put it together, inspired and led by private citizen and activist Kelly Clune, are to be commended for a job well done. The event went smoothly and — gauging by the audience — was inspiring for all participants. Many fresh ideas to reduce and eliminate waste were presented that affect almost all areas of consumption and the economy.

I was on-hand as a speaker and workshop leader, along with contributing editor David McRobert — the well known environmental lawyer, academic and former legal counsel for the province’s environmental commissioner, as well as a policy advisor to former Environment Minister Ruth Grier in the NDP government. Jo-Ann St. Godard, Executive Director of the Recycling Council of Ontario, was the keynote speaker on Monday morning, and the afternoon was kicked off by incineration opponent and waste expert Paul Connett, Ph.D.

Connett inspired throughout the event, with his articulate ideas about what more we could be doing to prevent waste creation dominating the discussion. At times he railed against the incineration lobby, and presented delegates with innovative waste diversion projects around the world. He was particularly outspoken against the misappropriation of the term Zero Waste and it’s use to mean “Zero Waste to landfill,” which he said contradicts everything the movement is about.

Books were on sale in the hallway, including Connett’s new book The Zero Waste Solution and David McRoberts’ book My Municipal Recycling System Made me Fat and Sick. The latter  documents how industry got rid of refillables for soft drinks and has resisted deposit-refund systems since the late 1980s, despite repeated calls for them.

I will report more detailed highlights from the conference in this space another time, but it’s worth mentioning that PowerPoint presentations from the event will be made available at the event website in the near future. Visit http://www.zerowasteconference.ca In the meantime readers can also read a decent article about the event from the local newspaper (the Orillia Packet and Times) here.

One key outcome from the event came from the workshop I facilitated, in which I challenged participants to come up with a single, focused issue that Zero Waste proponents could rally behind as a “flagship issue” similar to the Greenpeace campaigns from the 1970s that succeeded in ending (mostly) commercial whaling and the Canadian baby seal hunt.

The group agreed on the recommendation that the Province of Ontario should adopt a deposit-refund system for beverage containers (e.g., soft drinks, water bottles, milk and juice containers, etc.) similar to the very successful program The Beer Store operates for beer, wine and liquor containers. (Ontario is one of only two provinces in Canada that don’t collect such containers on deposit — a throwback to the days when the Blue Box curbside recycling program was launched in Ontario in the 1980s in exchange for funds from the soft drink industry that was anxious to dismantle its refillable bottling system.)

Stay tuned for future announcements about the call to action from the current Liberal provincial government to introduce deposits for all used beverage containers, the overall recycling rate for which has flatlined in recent years. And I’ll provide more conference highlights once the notes from facilitators have been tabulated.

 


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