A garbage truck empties its load at a Peel recycling plant in 2012. A report from the Ontario Waste Management Association says new provincial policies that dictate tough rules for garbage diversion could help create business opportunities and jobs.
If the adage that one man’s garbage is another man’s prize is true, then Ontario is sending a lot of valuable cast-offs to landfill. And despite some increased recycling of organics, electronics and hazardous waste, the vast majority of Ontario’s rubbish is never destined for anything but disposal. And that’s, well, a waste.
In a struggling economy, new provincial policies that dictate tough rules for garbage diversion could help create business opportunities — and jobs. (Not to mention a boost for that old chestnut, the environment.)
That’s why Ontario Environment Minister Jim Bradley should act on recommendations in a new report from the Ontario Waste Management Association. Called Rethink Waste, it creates a blueprint for a committed relationship between garbage and economic growth.
There’s now a market for almost anything. Old synthetic carpet, for example, can get a new shot at life as recycled plastic. The government should play matchmaker between garbage and the recyclers who revel in its economic beauty.
Bradley would be wise to listen to voices calling for innovation and accountability, since earlier recycling programs did little to promote real product improvements by allowing companies to just pass on costs to consumers (remember eco fees?).
The report recommends sweeping new policies that could increase the province’s overall diversion rate. If, for example, recycling jumped from 25 to 50 per cent, the association says the blossoming recycling industry could invest up to $1 billion into the sector, creating 5,000 direct and 17,750 indirect jobs.
Of course, it’s no surprise that an association representing 300 private sector companies, municipalities and organizations involved in waste management would seek changes to increase business. The government must consider policy changes carefully, with public interest and the environment in mind. But considering Ontario’s dismal recycling rates, the status quo is unacceptable.
Ontario’s overall residential recycling rate is only 40 per cent, eight per cent lower than Toronto’s. Far worse, at 13 per cent, is the commitment from the industrial, commercial and institutional sector. All tolled, the province recycles only 25 per cent of its 13 million tonnes each year. And, almost four million tonnes of waste is shipped each year to the United States for disposal.
The association says the waste management sector is undergoing “monumental change,” with companies spending millions researching and developing new plans and facilities to transform waste. Shingles can be recycled into asphalt used on bike paths; gypsum from drywall can be turned into an agricultural soil additive that enriches crops.
So Bradley must change old plans — or failed ideas — by creating new rules to meet the market’s potential for growth.
To start, he should create a new approach for “extended producer responsibility,” which means the company that creates a product must recycle it. In Europe, these rules force producers to redesign products or packaging, making recycling easier. Ontario’s programs have mostly allowed producers to off-load the costs onto consumers, with little incentive for change.
Some waste, like organics taken from commercial use, should be banned from disposal altogether — so companies can’t just ship them across the U.S. border. Changes to the Waste Diversion Act could add (instead of deleting) hazardous waste for recycling, like fluorescent lamps or mercury electrical switches.
Even tweaks can make a difference. For example, if all government offices were required to recycle carpet instead of sending old rolls to landfill, it could create a new market.
As Rob Cook, CEO of the Ontario Waste Management Association says, the industry is rapidly evolving but “current legislation or lack of it remains the greatest impediment to change.”
If Bradley accepts another adage, that the only constant is change, then he must adapt Ontario policies for an industry that is more than ready to evolve.
This article is reproduced with permission from the Toronto Star where it first appeared as an editorial on Sunday, March 24, 2013. To download a copy of the OWMA’s paper Rethink Waste visit owma.org