Provincial governments and various bodies, such as the Ontario Environmental Appeal Board, traditionally regulate non-hazardous solid waste. However, it appears that the federal government plans to increase its involvement in the regulation of specific aspects of the waste management industry.
The trend was illustrated recently by the release of a report to Environment Canada, Development of Regulatory Options for the Export and Import of Prescribed Non-Hazardous Waste Destined for Final Disposal. This rather wordy title is somewhat deceptive. What would appear to be a dry review of the patchwork of provincial regimes for transboundary waste shipment is actually a prelude to possible new federal regulations.
The report was prepared in consultation with numerous stakeholders in the waste management industry as well as representatives of federal and provincial governments, municipalities and NGOs.
The private consultants who produced the report, SNC Lavalin and McCarthy Tetrault, explicitly state that there is no intention to regulate the export and import of non-hazardous recyclable materials. However, the report is actually the third step in the development of regulations in the area of prescribed non-hazardous waste. In 1994/95, Environment Canada established the Interim Voluntary Notification System to examine prescribed non-hazardous waste transboundary movement. Later the Canadian Environmental Protection Act was amended to reflect the notification system.
Forces for federal regulation
There are a number of “initiatives” regarding the transboundary movement of waste that serve as the impetus for this process.
The “Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal” is an international treaty that has been driven largely by the United Nations’ environment program. The treaty, ratified by Canada in 1992, requires each party to minimize waste generation, locate adequate disposal facilities within the generating country, reduce the transboundary movement of waste to a minimum, and ensure that the movement of waste is conducted in a manner that protects human health and the environment. The treaty places primary responsibility on the exporting country.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has also been active in attempting to control transboundary waste movement. Its efforts have largely been focussed on hazardous wastes and recyclable materials.
The “Canada/U.S. Agreement on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste” is also an important part of the regulatory backdrop to this issue. The agreement is similar to the Basel treaty, as it requires notification of the country of import by the country of export. While it initially dealt only with hazardous wastes, the agreement was amended to cover municipal solid waste.
As with most bilateral issues involving Canada and the U.S. one party stands to be more affected than the other. Currently, the direction of movement is primarily north to south. It’s estimated that approximately 800,000 tons of solid waste was exported from Ontario to the U.S. in 1998. Approximately 14,000 tons of solid waste is exported by British Columbia to Washington State annually as well as other less detailed waste movements from other parts of the country. In stark contrast to this is the apparent absence of any solid non-hazardous waste importation into Canada from the U.S.
The report anticipates subsequent consultations following the release of the discussion paper. These “pan-Canadian consultative events” are anticipated for the last half of fiscal 2000. It’s expected that a draft policy paper will be prepared for distribution in the first quarter of fiscal 2001 that will set out Environment Canada’s plan to regulate in this area. As is normally the case, submissions will be solicited with respect to that plan that will eventually result in a draft regulation to be published approximately a year later.
The current report is heavy on discussion and light on details. However, the final four of the 58 pages of the report provide some insight into the leanings of the authors.
The first two options reviewed are at either end of the regulatory spectrum. The first is a heavy-handed “intensive regulatory” regime that would place significant requirements on the waste management industry. This approach would easily satisfy all the requirements of the various international obligations that the federal government faces. However, it would likely result in loud cries of over-regulation.
The second approach is referred to in the report as “nominal regulatory coverage.” While likely the preferred alternative of industry, it would not satisfy most of the international requirements contained in the Basel treaty and other agreements.
The third option referred to is “intermediate regulatory coverage,” which seems to take the middle ground. While it is not stated, it certainly seems that this is the preferred alternative of the authors. That having been said, the authors’ views do not necessarily reflect those of the regulator. As such, it’s essential that people in the waste management industry make their views known to the federal government.