Solid Waste & Recycling

Feature

Cover Story: Solid Waste & Recycling magazine's annual State of the Industry Report

2001 was a year in which the North American economy entered into recession and the stock market slumped deeper into bear territory. These might have been the major stories of the year except that the ...


2001 was a year in which the North American economy entered into recession and the stock market slumped deeper into bear territory. These might have been the major stories of the year except that the terrorist attacks of September 11 shook the world. Assuming that the attacks are a major issue for all North American industries, we started this year’s State of the Industry Report panel discussion by asking what ways September 11 affected the waste management and recycling industries in general, and the panelist’s organizations in particular.

September 11 impacts

Susan Antler (of Visions of Utopia) serves as executive director of The Composting Council of Canada, Canadian Household Battery Association and Canadian Coordinator of the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation. She believes that, individually and collectively, September 11 has given us the chance to rethink priorities and heighten the emphasis on sustainability and the wise use of resources.

“It has given me additional resolve to position our efforts more strongly in the context of resource management rather than a waste industry,” she said. “Capturing discarded materials and putting them to productive use helps us play a key role in sustainability.”

Barry Friesen, P. Eng. is solid waste-resource manager with the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour. He says the Sept. 11 incidents have had two interesting impacts on his business.

“First, it has impacted market prices for many recovered materials,” he said. “This is debilitating particularly in the area of plastics where the downturn affects not just the market price itself, but in some instances removes the market completely. Unfortunately, when there is no responsibility upon the manufacturers or converters of a resource to include recycled content, there is little incentive for them to include recovered materials in their manufactured goods when the raw resource is cheaper.

“On another note, the incidents of Sept. 11 have made a different impact upon many dedicated individuals in this business. Many believe their efforts in waste diversion and other environmental areas are not just a process but a necessity. The events of Sept 11 have caused many to reflect upon the importance of their work and has strengthened and fueled their desire to continue.”

In the opinion of Robert Cook, executive director of the Ontario Waste Management Association, September 11 contributed to increased consumer uncertainty resulting in an economic slowdown that has had a direct impact on waste generation volume.

“The security concerns at the U.S. border have also resulted in both sporadic border closings and significant delays for vehicles transferring Ontario waste to the U.S. for disposal and recycling,” he said.

“The border difficulties highlighted Ontario’s reliance on U.S. disposal facilities and again reinforced the fact that Ontario does not have sufficient long-term landfill and/or incineration disposal capacity to meet domestic needs for disposal.

“The border closings also revealed the deficiencies of emergency provisions by the environment ministry for waste facility approval instruments (Certificates of Approval).”

Colin Isaacs, president of Contemporary Information Analysis Ltd. (based in Fisherville, Ontario) and chair of the Canadian Environment Industry Association (CEIA) feels that CEIA members have seen little direct impact of September 11 on domestic business.

“Indirect impacts include a possible slight negative impact on the economy and a federal budget which did not include as much focus on the environment as was expected,” he stated, adding, “Some companies involved in exports of technologies and services have seen minor disruption to project timelines.”

Usman Valiante, principal of General Science Works Inc. based in Toronto, Ontario offers a fresh and critical perspective. For him, the terrorist attacks highly catalyzed several Canada-U.S. political processes that were underway at the time. Most notably, Canadian and U.S. immigration and national security policies have largely harmonized through recent legislative action in Canada and what he says has been effective circumvention of the U.S. Constitution by the U.S. executive office.

“With pundits predicting a common North American currency,” he said, “and the increasing U.S. demands for compliance of Canadian natural resource and energy policy — remember talk of a ‘North American’ energy policy by U.S. president G.W. Bush upon his inauguration — we should see many of the remaining ‘trade barriers’ between the two countries eliminated.

“Our resources will flow south at a quickening pace. Transboundary movement of hazardous waste (which is simply another commodity) should also increase with more movements north than south as generators and processors take advantage of Canada’s typically lower hazardous waste management costs (which are largely a function of our generally weaker public policies on the environment).”

Regulatory changes and programs

Next we asked our panelists to discuss important regulatory changes.

Christina Seidel, executive director of the Recycling Council of Alberta (RCA), said that programs that embrace product stewardship principles continue to be the most significant legislative solid waste news, most significantly the implementation of Bill 90 in Ontario and the proposed household hazardous waste stewardship regulation in Manitoba.

“These, and similar initiatives across the country,” she said, “continue to increase the responsibility of manufacturers and direct consumers of products to assume the cost of managing those products when they reach the end of their useful life. This trend appears likely to continue.

“Increased product stewardship is likely to manifest itself in the appearance of ‘eco-fees,’ advance disposal surcharges and similar charges on an increasing number of products.”

Damian Bassett, president & CEO of CSR: Corporations Supporting Recycling based in Toronto, echoed the comments of most panelists in identifying Ontario’s Bill 90 as being potentially one of the most significant developments last year.

“The anticipated [Bill 90] legislation will set a precedent for ‘shared responsibility’ legislation in Canada,” he said, “by creating a level playing field for consumer packaging industries to share in the cost of municipal recycling systems.”

Mr. Cook agreed that the fate of Bill 90 was important and drew attention to other programs as well.

“Significant changes have and will continue to take place relative to the management of hazardous wastes,” he stated. “The new regulations and the HWIN system will impact generators, carriers and disposal facilities for hazardous waste. (See “Final Analysis,” page 38.)

“The environment ministry’s ‘cost recovery’ program will cost Ontario industry approximately $11-million per year,” he added. “Also, a renewed focus on IC&I sector waste diversion is assured with the recent critical comments by the Ontario Environmental Commissioner regarding the 3Rs regulations and enforcement.”

Speaking about federal matters, Mr. Cook said that Environment Canada will continue to flex its new powers under the CEPA and will become involved in many areas of waste management that have traditionally been solely provincial jurisdiction.

“We expect potential regulations for the transboundary movement of solid waste (including waste export reduction plans), new import-export regulations for hazardous waste and Environmentally Sound Management (ESM) standards,” he said.

Geoff Rathbone, director of policy and planning for solid waste management services, City of Toronto, added that we should not forget other waste streams.

“Ontario’s Nutrient Management Act will have a major impact on strategies for managing organic wastes in the coming years. If passed, it will raise the bar for treatment requirements.”

Programs that ensure industry stewardship are those designed in accordance with the polluter pays principle and the concept of extended producer respon
sibility
. Karen Asp, director of policy and communications of the Recycling Council of British Columbia (RCBC), said the purpose of extended producer responsibility is to shift the costs of managing post-consumer wastes from local governments and taxpayers to industry and consumers. She expects to see such programs expanded in Canada and continued in B.C.

“The fundamental reason for doing this is to facilitate the development of products and products systems designed in accordance with environmental principles such as pollution prevention and resource efficiency,” she said.

Mr. Bassett commented that CSR is beginning to see programs that move beyond the conventional curbside materials that will help broaden industry stewardship. “Examples,” he offered, “are the emergence of public/private partnerships to address household special waste (also called household hazardous waste) and information technology electronics.”

Ms. Seidel drew attention to Alberta’s Tire Recycling Management Association, Used-Oil Management Association and Beverage Container Management Board as examples of how the product stewardship concept can successfully manage specific waste materials.

Mandatory container deposit-return legislation is the best bet to ensure industry stewardship, according to R.A. (Bob) McCaig, president of Green lane Environmental Group Ltd.

“But it will never happen so long as the CSR/WDO alliance holds sway over environmental initiatives in Ontario,” he added.

Mr. Valiante agrees. “It’s been six years after the ill-fated Canadian Industry Packaging Stewardship Initiative (CIPSI),” he said, “and, as we asphyxiate from holding our breath for Bill 90 to pass into law, deposit-refund systems for beverage containers (and closed-loop product take-back in general) remain the best option for high-rate, cost-effective recovery.”

New technologies, strategies & public policies

Arthur Potts, principal of Municipal Affairs Consulting, believes that developments taking place in landfill, biogas and other technologies that reclaim energy were an important but under-represented issue in 2001. In 2002 he hopes to see recycled-content requirements in purchasing and manufacturing of goods to stimulate recycling markets and also the re-aligning of tax and energy policies to stimulate low-energy consumption in the production and distribution of goods (and to encourage environmentally safer activity).

Mr. Isaacs agrees.

“Gas conversion of organic materials,” Mr. Isaacs said, “including mixed wastes with high organic wastes, are in ascendance. I predict that biomass and organic residue gas conversion technologies will be in widespread use in Canada within a decade.”

Ms. Seidel is intrigued by the “waste = food” concept contained within William McDonough’s Next Industrial Revolution theory.

“If we could indeed eliminate the concept of waste, moving towards a society where all materials were either completely biodegradable with no hazardous by-products, or recyclable within a technical materials cycle, many of our waste management concerns would be resolved. These concepts are also largely embraced within the Zero Waste movement that is gaining increasing popularity across this country and worldwide.”

Wayne Jackman, facility manager of the PSC Taro Landfill, feels the number of issues to pick through in order to establish top priorities is mind boggling, and was intrigued by comments from a senior environmental officer who was also asked about top priorities at a presentation.

“His answer was thought provoking,” said Mr. Jackman. “He said that to him the phrase ‘sustainable development’ was an oxymoron. My impression of his reason for believing this is that the way we measure economic success, in terms of gross national product growth, when translated into physical developments is squeezing us into conflicts with every area of the natural environment at an exponential rate.

“It sounds a bit sensational, but we must think about the underlying idea. I can only hope that for the sake of all of us that the federal and provincial environment ministers will set their priorities on the basis of the big picture and not just what appears to be attractive politically.”

Ms. Asp commented that, while climate change was perhaps the biggest issue on the federal environmental policy agenda in 2001, the link between greenhouse gas reductions and waste minimization received little, if any, press coverage.

“Yet a study conducted for Environment Canada suggested that major reductions in greenhouse gases could be achieved through waste prevention, reuse and recycling strategies for materials commonly found in municipal solid waste,” she said.

Added Mr. Bassett, “An example of the extended environmental benefits of recycling is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that can be realized.”

Mr. Cook thinks that, at the provincial level, Certificate of Approval reform should be a priority.

“The Gibbon’s report could be a road map for the change that is necessary within the provincial environment ministry in Ontario and possibly other jurisdictions,” he said. “At the federal level, recognition should be made that non-hazardous solid waste crossing the international border to the U.S. is not an environmental issue but rather a political and economic issue.”

On the public policy front, Mr. Cook was disturbed by what he called a “misleading expos” from the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP) regarding Ontario’s hazardous waste management system and imported hazardous waste from the U.S.

“The CIELAP report has resulted in a flurry of regulatory initiatives from the provincial and federal levels of government,” he said. “The hazardous waste management industry has been portrayed negatively as have Ontario’s hazardous waste regulations. While hazardous waste management can always be improved, there is not the minimal regulatory framework and danger to the environment that many claim.”

Mr. Isaacs echoed these thoughts.

“Several environmental groups in Canada and the U.S. continually harp about the Canada-U.S. border,” he said, “particularly in regard to transboundary movement of wastes but also with regard to other alleged transboundary environmental issues.

“Stopping transboundary movement of wastes will not solve any environmental problems. Where environmental problems exist, they will affect both sides of the border. Problems should be addressed as environmental problems and should not be used as an attack on NAFTA, a valuable trade initiative supported by the majority of Canadians. Governments should address misinformation being spread by some environmental organizations and should work to help the public better understand environmental issues so that priority can be placed on more important issues.”

Mr. Jackman added that there is a valuable societal function provided by environmental activists, especially when they are backed up by good scientific information.

“However,” he stated, “a great deal of damage can and is done to the credibility of the scientific community when poor quality opinion is used to create what I call scientific sensationalism. Once lost, credibility takes years to regain and suspicions linger even longer.”

Other trends

We asked our panelists about enforcement patterns across the country, and other matters about which they felt strongly one way or another.

Said Mr. Cook, if you go by the numbers released by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, enforcement and related charges have increased significantly. But does this mean that enforcement is more effective?

“The numbers don’t tell the full story,” he said, “because much of the increase in charges has been related to administrative non-compliance or documentation deficiencies — not necessarily direct risks to the environment.”

Mr. Isaacs added that there is “no evidence to suggest that inspection and enforcement has really become less effective in recent years.”

Mr. Friesen claimed that in Nova Scotia, inspection and enforcement have become more effective because the province has implemented new prog
rams
to carry out this work consistently and without prejudice.

Mr. Jackman’s experience with inspection and enforcement comes from operating the only privately operated landfill in Ontario, which by virtue of a condition of the Certificate of Approval has a full time environmental inspector onsite.

“The inspector, who is a full time employee of the environment ministry, has been present at the site for four years,” Mr. Jackman said. “I would say that his presence has contributed to the maintenance of the landfill to a higher standard than any other.

“For example, the ministry advised us that we are the only landfill in Ontario in which physical sampling of incoming loads are conducted for auditing purposes. This then would be an example of improved inspection and enforcement except that it appears to be an isolated case.”

Mr. McCaig said that provincial environment ministries seem to be interested in industry initiated self-regulation through effective environmental management systems.

“This, along with third party peer review should in the long term be the most effective form of ongoing inspection and enforcement,” he said.

Mr. Isaacs expressed concern about cost recovery in government programs (for example, in such areas as fees for Certificates of Approval).

“While the concept of cost recovery is a good one,” he said, “programs are not being implemented in ways that encourage environmental responsibility. A flat fee for everyone is not an appropriate cost recovery measure. Companies that have demonstrated environmental responsibility or that have undertaken more than the minimum reporting required by government should benefit from lower fees than are levied on those which exhibit minimum environmental performance.”

Mr. Isaacs also said that public education is needed to show the benefits of public-private partnerships in areas such as municipal waste collection and management. Currently opposition to such partnerships from public sector unions dominates the debate.

“Municipalities need to move towards public-private partnerships as quickly as possible if municipal taxes are to be brought under control,” he said.

Finally, Mr. Potts concluded that a major concern going forward into 2002 is whether decision-makers at all levels of government are according sufficient importance to environmental issues.

“A misplaced fear of alienating capital, job creation, and investment opportunities seems to stand in the way of progressive action,” he said.

So, we look forward to reporting on developments over the coming year. We hope that policymakers and practitioners across the country will build on the excellent ideas and concerns of this year’s panelists.

Guy Crittenden is editor-in-chief and Connie Vitello is editor of this magazine.


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