Policy purveyors from the petroleum industry may have miscalculated recently when they assumed they could pump across Canada and into Ontario a used-oil stewardship program modeled in Alberta that’s been adopted in all the western provinces, most recently B.C. It appears that such a program — to be administered in Ontario by the Ontario Used Oil Management Association (OUOMA) — would potentially encourage used-oil burning and so run afoul of the province’s Waste Diversion Act.
Used-oil policy’s slippery slope dates back to 1988 when the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) asked the petroleum industry to develop a program to recover used crankcase oil potentially entering the environment from do-it-yourself oil changers and farmers. The Canadian Petroleum Products Institute (CPPI) commissioned a task force and, via multi-stakeholder consultations, developed the first provincial program in Alberta in 1992. By 1997 Alberta’s used-oil management association and specific regulations in place.
Proponents of the western programs say collection has improved because “return incentives” are paid to collectors; these are funded through an environmental handling charge. Costs are borne by product users and are fairly distributed, they say, adding that the funds are managed by industry with minimal market intervention and few regulatory requirements.
They tout the programs as “extended producer responsibility” in literature on their Internet sites, stating that the programs are “consistent” across the western provinces and there’s no “cross-subsidization between products.” There are 53 Eco-Centres in Alberta and 587 other municipal and commercial collection depots. The literature notes that the depots are self-financing and “collector/transporters are free to establish market prices for materials.”
They say that recovery rates for used lube oil rose to 73 per cent in 2003 from just 56 per cent in 1996. Oil filter recovery has gone from 17 to 89 per cent, and containers from 7 to 45 per cent. The programs “convert waste to products with value” and “promote landfill diversion.”
Says CPPI’s Gail Bolubash, “We want to introduce into Ontario the kind of efficient used oil stewardship program that’s a proven success in the west.”
Sounds good, so what’s not to like?
Critics charge that the western programs are just smoke-and-mirrors to disguise changes that are not in the public interest, likely increase pollution, and threaten the existing competitive and effective system that collects and re-refines used oil in the commercial sector.
“These programs don’t offer incentives to the do-it-yourselfers and farmers who were the original target of the CCME,” says Craig Wilkie, a vice president with Calgary-based Newalta (a major oil re-refiner and environmental services company). Wilkie says that brand owners have used stewardship associations to separate themselves from their former accountability for the downstream fate of their products in the commercial sector.
“We don’t see them coming to audit our plants anymore,” he says.
“The petroleum companies are externalizing their environmental costs and liabilities,” says Usman Valiante, a consultant to Safety-Kleen (another major re-refiner that’s dominant in Ontario). “They’ve used their collection data to distract policymakers from what’s happening now with the used oil. And the Alberta recovery rate numbers on oil are already met or exceeded by the truly ‘free market’ system in Ontario.”
Valiante says the Alberta model doesn’t distinguish between the various end-uses or final disposition of oil collected by the programs.
“The return incentives,” he says, “have become an economic instrument that promotes uncontrolled burning and the release of toxins from greenhouse space heaters, furnaces, boilers or diesel engines without pollution controls. This is not what a stewardship program is supposed to encourage.” Used crankcase oil, he says, may contain arsenic, benzene, cadmium, chromium, acidic, sulfidic and soluble inorganic nickel, PAHs and lead.
In preparing its Interim Consultation Report (November 20) OUOMA was asked if it would endorse or promote a recycling hierarchy. “No,” OUOMA answered, “we cannot promote any processing methods. However, only government-approved methods will be acceptable under the program.” Asked further what it would do about “not promoting burning” the organization replied again that “only government-approved uses will be allowed.”
This answer may have been sufficient in Alberta, but David Crocker, an environmental lawyer with Power Budd, points out that Section 1 of Ontario’s Waste Diversion Act states that “the purpose of this Act is to promote the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste and to provide for the development, implementation and operation of waste diversion programs” and that “a waste diversion program developed under this Act for a designated waste shall not promote any of the following: (1) The burning of the designated waste, (2) The landfilling of the designated waste, etc.”
“The Alberta model won’t comply,” he says.
In late November Ontario’s new Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky granted the OUOMA a four month extension to prepare and submit a used-oil stewardship plan to the Waste Diversion Organization. The minister’s letter hinted that any plan should recognize the province’s existing extensive re-refining infrastructure.
Working toward the new deadline the proponents of different used-oil stewardship models will certainly “burn the midnight oil” figuring out what to do. In the meantime it seems the petroleum industry’s dream of a national program could be up in smoke.
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