Solid Waste & Recycling

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Zero Waste Innovation Trust

Toronto's recent garbage strike has focused the minds of residents there about how much waste they generate. (See item, page 42.) Less visible is the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) waste that's estimated as being equal to...


Toronto’s recent garbage strike has focused the minds of residents there about how much waste they generate. (See item, page 42.)

Less visible is the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) waste that’s estimated as being equal to (or as much as fifty per cent larger) than the residential waste stream. Though it wasn’t subjected to Toronto’s strike, IC&I waste is being targeted by provincial governments across Canada — especially Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment — as an opportunity to reduce waste and related pollution and greenhouse gas outputs.

Recent developments should be of interest to any person whose company (large or small) generates waste byproducts in its manufacturing process or whose products and packaging end up in the municipal system, or in any kind of landfill. The Ontario government sounds serious about bringing extended producer responsibility (EPR) to the province. EPR systems require producers to pay the full cost managing products and packaging at end-of-life. Specifically, the government is proposing that industry pay 100 per cent of the net cost (not just half) of the blue box. And it’s asking various stakeholders how to boost IC&I waste diversion rates to match targets set for the residential sector.

A policy paper from the Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA) hints at what may be in the offing. The paper, published July 20, 2009, is entitled Driving to zero waste: A comprehensive program for changing behaviour and driving innovation towards zero waste in Ontario’s Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (IC&I) sector. The association that chiefly represents waste haulers, multi-material waste diversion service providers and disposal companies has consulted with a number of environmental groups to refine a vision that is progressive while still practical. The OWMA recognizes that while waste disposal will be an ongoing business activity, waste diversion in the context of progressive waste diversion policies, offers the largest opportunity for continued growth. Aware that Toronto will stop shipping garbage to Michigan next year and that many Ontario landfills are starting to fill up, The OWMA recognizes that Zero Waste-type initiatives offer opportunities both economic and environmental.

Driving to zero waste starts by defining IC&I waste, and notes that enforcement of existing IC&I regulations is limited to larger businesses. (For instance, the regs don’t apply to the commercial sector for facilities less than 10,000 m2.)The report acknowledges that the industrial sector has done a pretty good job reducing wastes because there’s a direct payback in many instances. Seventeen per cent of IC&I waste is construction and demolition (C&D) waste. Excluding that, only about 12 per cent of IC&I waste is recycled; 88 per cent is sent for disposal. This is a lost opportunity, since most of the material could be recycled, at least in theory: a quarter of the material is paper, 15 per cent corrugated cardboard, 11 per cent food, and the rest is single-digit percentage points of things like plastic, wood, metal and glass, etc.

The paper states that an investment in significantly boosting the diversion rate for these materials would result in “significant green investment, innovation and economic development. The study authors note there are 80,000 businesses in the province, and that 42 per cent of all IC&I waste is generated by businesses with less than 50 employees. High diversion rates will require participation from these smaller businesses and the OWMA proposal proposes a portfolio of economic instruments, prospective disposal bans and waste generator tools and programs to increase diversion from small businesses. The objective is to reduce and divert more IC&I waste from small business while attempting to minimize costs to those businesses.

Specifically, Driving to zero waste puts forward a number of policy suggestions to eliminate waste in the IC&I sector. Among them is support for preparation of waste reduction plans, audits and verification of the results. This would be accompanied by a phased-in ban on recyclables from landfill and transfer stations. The authors call for accreditation and approval of all waste service providers, with increased waste tracking, reporting and oversight. (Waste counted as “recycled” really must be recycled.)

Most controversial is the paper’s suggestion that the price gap be closed between disposal and recycling, with the funds generated used to finance waste diversion tools. Currently, IC&I waste generators pay just $58 per tonne to dispose of waste, versus about $93 for recycling. The OWMA suggests a $10 per tonne disposal levy be put in place to send a “price signal” in support of recycling and waste elimination.

Most interesting is the proposed establishment of a Zero Waste Innovation Trust (ZWIT) governed by a multi-stakeholder board. Money collected from the $10 levy would be used to fund research and waste diversion activities (and not go into general revenues as happened with the former tire tax and the levy on non-refillable beverage alcohol containers). Funds from the trust would also be used to provide financial assurance for the long-term closure, cleanup and perpetual care of any problematic waste diversion and disposal sites.

The paper provides calculations that suggest avoided disposal costs and waste reduction could see the typical IC&I waste generator paying just $250 in incremental costs under the program.

Across the IC&I sector reducing (16 per cent) and diverting (36 per cent more) waste would reduce CO2-equivalent emissions by 4.47 million tonnes with a carbon trading value of $224 million (at $50/tonne). Diversions of three tonnes of IC&I material would inject $225 million in revenues into the waste services sector, and create a couple of thousand jobs (since diversion is more labour intensive than disposal).

We think that Driving to zero waste provides an excellent framework to create a sustainable economy and a thriving local waste diversion industry. We suggest that the government embrace it, and that other provinces follow suit.

NOTE: Driving to zero waste can be downloaded under Posted Documents at www.solidwastemag.com

Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine. Contact Guy at gcrittenden@solidwstemag.com


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