In January the editorial staff at Solid Waste & Recycling magazine gathered together a panel of columnists and other industry experts to reflect on emerging trends that may impact readers. The panel included: Susan Antler (executive director of The Composting Council of Canada), Barry Friesen, P.Eng. (solid waste-resource manager for the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment), Joe Hruska (vice president of municipal development for Corporations Supporting Recycling), Colin Isaacs, C.Chem. (principal of Contemporary Information Analysis and a director of the Canadian Environmental Industry Association), Maria Kelleher, P.Eng. (director of resource efficiency at Enviros RIS), Clarissa Morawski (principal of CM Consulting), Helen Spiegelman (Society for the Protection of Environmental), Usman Valiante, M.Sc. (principal of General Science Works) and Paul van der Werf, M.Sc. (principal of 2CG Consulting). Here’s what they had to say.
How will new environmental legislation impact our readers in the coming year?
van der Werf: I think that Ontario’s Waste Diversion Organization (WDO) will have a positive effect in reawakening the somewhat slumbering waste diversion ethic. Hopefully we’ll get back on track towards the goal of 50 per cent waste diversion. I’m looking forward to the promulgation of the new composting guidelines. Their release, which has fluctuated between imminent and distant, will help take Ontario’s composting industry to the next level. The industry is still operating on the 1991 Interim Guidelines.
Valiante: The WDO is a government initiated, industry run forum that promises to continue Ontario’s long tradition of holding up meaningful environmental public policy development through incessant procrastination and navel-gazing. While we will see little in the way of environmental protection, expect to see industry find its way to build on its initial success in establishing the WDO by further convincingthe government to entrench its paltry municipal contributions in regulation.
Friesen: Nova Scotia’s disposal ban legislation. It’s simple and effective. While government and industry continue to find excuses to this most basic tool in waste reduction and environmental protection, others have already realized that material disposal bans are the simplest form of level playing field legislation. Interestingly, everyone seems to find a solution, even those who said there were none.
Antler: Quebec’s Waste Management Action Plan and the WDO will get lots of attention from both municipal and private sector interests in 2000 and beyond. Roles and responsibilities, financial funding formulas as well as level playing field legislation will be subjects of great debate and impact.
Isaacs: From the business perspective the most damaging government initiative is likely to be the Harmonization Accord, signed by the federal, provincial and territorial governments (except Quebec) in 1998. Contrary to its name, this is quickly becoming the Disharmonization Accord and is hastening the adoption of a patchwork of laws, regulations and environmental initiatives across the country. A positive development is Ontario’s new “cap and trade” system for air emissions. Over time this program will allow the cumulative amount of air pollution to be reduced and also for us to move beyond the outdated command-and-control regulatory scheme which is being superceded elsewhere in the United States and Europe.
Have you noticed ISO 14000 impacting your organization or clients?
Antler: We have seen minimal dears that some are “readying themselves” (i.e., getting to just before but not over the finish line) in case this trends upwards. Its success will be totally dependent on its economic value.
Isaacs: My company promotes and works with companies to implement ISO 14000 systems. ISO 14000 is a mixed blessing. It is certainly better from an economic as well as an environmental perspective that a company implement an environmental management system, such as an ISO 14000 system, than that it do nothing to manage its environmental risks. However the lack of environmental standards in ISO 14000 means that there is tremendous potential for abuse of the standard by organizations with poor environmental performance that want to present themselves as angels.
Hruska: I think ISO 14000 may be among the most important environmental tools of the new millennium and any industry, or any municipality, would be foolish to overlook its value. On the public sector side, many municipalities are also looking at ISO 14000 as a way to improve customer service, to ensure due diligence with respect to environmental legal matters and, as with industry, to improve environmental performance.
Kelleher: The requirement of the Big 3 auto companies to require all suppliers to be ISO 14000 compliant within the next few years is having a big impact on the auto parts sector. Other countries seem to have embraced this more quickly than Canada (e.g., Japan is going ISO 14000 crazy, as they feel they missed the boat on ISO 9000, and think it may be a competitive advantage). As I understand the ISO 14000 system it is very vague and non-prescriptive and therefore probably easy for anyone who puts in a reasonable EMS and continuous improvement plan to become registered.
Valiante: No. It is not a substitute for public policy. I would surmise that (in addition to being a mechanism to demonstrate due diligence) ISO 14000 is smoke for forcing smaller industries to divulge their cost structures to larger buyers by providing business details (through descriptions of process and production practices) in their environmental management (ISO 14000) and quality management plans (ISO 9000). Once you know what it costs someone to make a product, it’s not difficult to figure out what you are willing to pay for it.
van der Werf: The impact of ISO 14000 has not been great in my work experience. I think that it would make a great organizational tool for waste management firms (i.e., landfill, recycling and composting). For firms with a local service area it is presently of limited value. However, I do see large waste generating firms and therefore potential clients moving towards ISO 14000. It may be prudent for waste service firms to move towards establishing this protocol in their business.
What treatment technology or waste management strategy has impressed you recently?
Isaacs: Two innovative technolerization of plastics in such a way that the molecules can be reused to produce brand new polymer and the use of waste PVC as an alternative to coke in the making of steel. This last technology, developed by a Japanese steel maker, actually improves the quality of the steel compared to the use of coke alone. I have not seen emissions data from the process so I reserve the right to be concerned when I do, but I would imagine that the steel in the furnace probably quenches any hydrochloric acid very quickly and therefore limits the production of dioxins and furans. Such a process is unlikely to be helpful for waste PVC from packaging but it may provide an opportunity for the economically viable use of waste PVC from durable goods such as vinyl upholstery and building components.
Kelleher: The European landfill directive, which requires the stabilization of organic material prior to landfill. This has had significant impacts on how waste strategies are developed in Europe. Nova Scotia is the only jurisdiction in Canada or the U.S. to adopt a similar approach and is therefore way ahead of other provinces/states in this regard.
Morawski: Contaminated water treatment using plants and other biological species. No one has developed this technology; it is simply a natural process that can and will be used for many industrial and municipal applications. But setting the system properly still requires further development.
Antler: The recent launch of the wet-dry program in Westmorland-Albert, New Brunswick and the upcoming laun
f the City of Edmonton, Alberta’s composting program are tremendous milestones.
Friesen: Material disposal bans. They are simple and extremely effective when enforced.
van der Werf: None. Anaerobic digestion seems to be the flavor of the week. I’ll get more excited when I see that it works.
What was the most over-blown or under-represented issue of 1999?
Hruska: I have no comment except to say that waste handling is not rocket science. I sometimes think the politics of waste is the biggest barrier we face to getting the job done, which is to protect the environment and the economy.
van der Werf: The additional powers given to provincial abatement officers is troubling especially when their knowledge base is not always commensurate with the jurisdiction they are being asked to police.
Antler: It never ceases to amaze me that organics are so underrepresented in waste management discussions and programs. With organics being such a large part of the waste stream, it should be “front and centre.”
Isaacs: Far too many articles last year focussed on the high cost of recycling without explaining that the cost of landfill is even higher. Because the accounting has rarely been properly presented people do not understand that every tonne of material recycled represents a savings, not a cost, to the municipal taxpayer.
Friesen: Most over-blown issue: deposit-refund systems. Why? They work. The public desires them. So get over it! Most under-represented issue: packaging reduction. Why? Nobody understands it.
If you could be the federal or provincial environment minister for 2000, what would you do?
Isaacs: Federally, I would seed restore some federal authority in environmental management. Federally and provincially I would revamp all environmental regulations to make them performance-based rather than prescriptive.
Valiante: Find simple mechanisms (yes, they do exist) that internalize the financial and environmental costs of emissions and wastes to producers of those emissions and wastes while reducing the need for government intervention in the marketplace — in other words, producer responsibility.Kelleher: I would get greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy on the top of the agenda.
Antler: I would focus on wildlifeprotection and species recovery. It’s totally unacceptable for a country as rich and prosperous as Canada to have “endangered species.”
Friesen: Federally I’d focus on industry stewardship and provide tax benefits to improve the environment and environmental companies. Provincially I’d also look at industry stewardship but also emphasize contaminated site cleanup.
Hruska: I would concentrate on protecting air and water from all processes.van der Werf: I would put waste diversion initiatives back on the rails. We stopped talking about the 50 per cent diversion goal when progress started. I’d conduct a full review of cross border shipments of waste to the U.S. to ensure that the waste ends up in landfills with similar standards to our own. As well I would consider imposing a levy on waste leaving the province to help pay for the use of infrastructure (i.e., roads) and to fund diversion activities.
Spiegelman: The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) must not close the file on solid waste. There’s still unfinished business — namely, serious steps to tackle consumer packaging. It’s time for the ministers to invoke the NaPP policy (#5) and to implement nationally harmonized backdrop regulations that will establish a Canadian standard for recycled content in plastic packaging.
What group has shaped public policy in a way that is not in the public interest that you’d like to see redressed?
Friesen: Any industry that produces products and packages that end up as waste for which there is no home is not operating in the public interest. Those industries know who they are.
Valiante: The allied forces of the soft-drink industry, food products and grocery products industries, retailers and packaging manufacturers have managed to completely immobilize the development of meaningful public policies on both solid (consumer packaging) and hazardous waste (batteries, used oil, paint and other HHW) in Ontario.
Hruska: I have no comment targeted at any one group. Industry as a whole has a shared responsibility to work with the public sector and their customers to build more sustainable systems that protect the environment and economy. We are all in this together and we must rely on each other’s strengths to overcome barriers to achieving sustainability. This principle applies to all sectors, not just industry.
Isaacs: I suggest that the National Packaging Protocol has created a major problem by declaring prematurely that Canada is recycling 50 per cent of packaging waste when the original objective was 50 per cent of post-consumer packaging waste. This has been well covered by Solid Waste & Recycling magazine. The legacy of the NaPP stupidity is that over-packaging is still a consumer issue, that consumer and environmental groups still demand regulation and that governments still work to regulate packaging. Sometimes industry leaders become so focussed on short-term objectives that they fail to notice the long-term implications of their actions!
Spiegelman: It’s time for OMMRI/CIPSI/CSR to finally just get over it — and it would help if Ontario governments questioned their own traditional role as co-addict/enabler. The handwriting is on the wall. The municipal share of consumer product and packaging waste costs is zero. It’s time for businesses that ask government to get off their backs to do their part and get off the backs of municipal ratepayers.
What about inspection and enforcement compared to a few years ago?
Valiante: Examples of weak enforcement are too numerous to list. But you could start with the Plastimet fire in Hamilton.
van der Werf: I think inspection is adequate. It’s a complaint-based system. My only beef is that the turn-around time between a complaint being lodged and receiving the information from the Ministry is too long. The sooner one knows the sooner one can solve the problem.
Isaacs: I would prefer to use real data rather than perception! We don’t have the data yet. I suggest that levels of inspection and enforcement are not a good measure. In an ideal world all companies would be in compliance with all environmental regulations without any inspection and enforcement by government being necessary. The number of environmental inspectors and enforcement actions reflect a failure in our system of environmental management just as the number of cops on the street represents a failure of our social system. While I am not advocating for the ideal I am reluctant to use inspections and enforcement as a measure of anything important. The key questions should be: are we generating more waste or less waste?
Hruska: In my view, the government trend to address the most significant challenges is right on track. I would suggest that requiring a Certificate of Approval for building fans for cooking fumes was perhaps not the most useful application of resources and time.
Is anyone doings things right?
Morawski: British Columbia stands out in terms of making reasonable strides forward in public policy on product stewardship. Today B.C. has the most comprehensive product stewardship program infrastructure in Canada — a combination of industry or government responsibility. Programs cover tires, lead acid and Nicad batteries, used oil, paint, pharmaceuticals, solvents, pesticides and of course all beverage containers. The results are proper monitoring, no product or material cross subsidization and a level playing field for competing industries. Program financing is provided either directly by the consumer (through product levies) or by industry and passed on to the consumer, greatly reducing pressure on municipal governments (taxpayers).
Spiegelman: Coke and Pepsi are s
hing from aluminum to PET single serve containers! The US beer industry is following suit. Once North-America-wide deposit-return systems are in place we can look forward to an over 85 per cent recycling rate for these containers and a steady supply of clean sorted PET for fibre, strapping and bottle-to-bottle recycling applications. Rivers will run free where future dams aren’t built for aluminum smelting plants.
Kelleher: The Region of Peel has had the brains to plan for the future by putting money in a reserve fund. It has built all the components of an integrated waste management system (landfill, incinerator, composting, recycling, etc.) so that it has the maximum number of choices as to where waste goes. It’s the best example of a region that has spread its risk around (also, its landfill will last forever at the rate it is filling up).
Valiante: Driven by cost or other commercial pressures there are several industries that are doing much regarding waste reduction, including: automobile manufacturing, wood pallet industry, brewing industry and certain sectors of the electronic industry, etc.
Friesen: Many companies, both locally and nationally have, without grumbling, implemented our province’s solid waste-resource management strategy. One company that has not only embraced our strategy but has gone the extra mile to support environmental programs in Nova Scotia is Olands Brewery.
Hruska: I have a biased view. I believe the CSR partnership communities (Barrie, Essex-Windsor/City of Windsor, Guelph, London and Markham) are doing “the right thing” by working with their industry partners to achieve more sustainable systems economically, environmentally and socially.
What do you think will be the biggest environmental or waste managment trend?
Antler: Water management and organics recovery respectively.
Kelleher: The focus on organics, from a source separation and treatment point of view and also landfill gas recovery. This will all be driven by the climate change issue, and by municipalities needing to take some obvious actions.
Isaacs: I hope the trend will be toward performance-based regulations, higher standards of environmental performance in all waste management programs, and toward a higher capture rate for all waste streams.
Hruska: For waste and diversion systems, the most important trend in the coming years is the implementation of integrated resource/waste management systems.
Valiante: The substitution of knowledge based technology (e.g., the Internet) for material and energy intensive products and processes (e.g., printed catalogs and documents).
Spiegelman: In the 21st Century municipalities will cease to be the dumping grounds for clever new convenience products. Over time, one category after another, products will be redeemed by consumers through stewardship/extended producer responsiblity programs. Producers faced eating their own waste will find ways to make it more digestible.