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Our editor comments on Minister Dombrowsky's announcements

Filed by Guy Crittenden, Editor, Solid Waste & Recycling magazine (Monday, April 5, 2004)...


Filed by Guy Crittenden, Editor, Solid Waste & Recycling magazine (Monday, April 5, 2004)

Waste and recycling industry folks can mark this date in their calendars as the day when Ontario’s provincial government decided to directly involve itself in waste management matters. In this regard, the government is following in the footsteps of previous Liberal and NDP governments, especially former environment ministers Jim Bradley and Ruth Grier. For some reason the idea of directly tackling various waste challenges is uniquely attractive to some provincial governments, rather than leaving it up to municipalities and businesses.

Today’s announcements by Ontario’s Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky contained details that are amusing and in some cases profound in terms of their potential impacts.

The Adams Mine Lake Act really must go down as the most humorously named piece of provincial legislation since the government took office. The Adams Mine is a worked out mining operation and not a lake at all. It was only described as such by opponents of the landfill project that entrepreneur Gord McGuinty pushed for many years. He often pointed to the fact that water seeps into (not out of) the quarry as evidence that the site offers excellent natural leachate attenuation, in addition to the control systems he proposed to add. Opponents used to circulate photos of the old open pit mine with rain and groundwater in it, and scoff that "only a fool would put garbage in a lake," which was more than a little disingenuous.

In any case, calling the legislation a "lake" is more than just a provocative title: every owner of a worked-out quarry they hoped to turn into a landfill must now be wondering what the water level was today and whether it’s worth pumping furiously to ensure that their property is in no way a lake. No point, though, since the legislation states that any pit that contained more than a hectare of water as of the time of the legislation’s passing is "a lake."

Perhaps the people of Kirkland Lake (a nearby town whose name now appears especially apt) will market holidays on the shores of a newly-christened "Lake Adam."

Speculation, by the way, is rampant as to whether a deal was worked out behind closed doors with the mine’s owners or if (as we expect) the announcement caught the project’s owners by surprise. In any case, the legislation promises "fair" compensation for all the developers expenses so far, but not for any future potential profits had the project been developed. People should be reminded that the Adams Mine passed its environmental assessment and is licensed to accept waste, although not built yet. This fact certainly calls attention to the PR dimension of the government’s calling the project a lake in the legislation.

The discussion paper on 60 per cent waste diversion is intriguing and will take quite a bit of time to assess and digest. But reading the press release and minister’s remarks, it’s clear that the government appears to take seriously its own pledge to increase waste diversion rates quite dramatically (we’ll see), and to specifically concentrate on organics to do so. The purveyors of carts, bins and bags will certainly be happy about this news.

The announcement emphasizes "centralized composting facilities" and grants and loans for these. This is encouraging in a way, although the last time we checked government handouts had a habit of undermining market efficiency and competition. Hopefully the money will be invested carefully and only to deserving parties. It looks like the government is going to implement a landfill ban on organics once alternative measures are in place.

The announcement makes specific mention of “new and emerging technologies.” We cover that for the magazine, but try to maintain a health skepticism. This section seems to be crafted to help out Toronto, that has to pray that one of these systems works (and is affordable) if it ever hopes to achieve its goal of zero waste to landfill by 2010 (just six years away).

A careful reading of the press release also reveals that the government is going to go after industrial, institutional and commercial (IC&I) waste. This is a large and neglected area of waste diversion regulation, at least in the eyes of people who make money recycling IC&I materials.

Mention is also made of various measures to boost the blue box and recycled content in paper and packaging.

Not much thus far is good news for landfill owners, since so much material will be diverted elsewhere, apparently. But they can take solace (along with people putting forward new landfill projects) from the fact that the minister is also initiating a process to overhaul the province’s broken environmental assessment (EA) process. Ever since the judge’s decision in the Richmond case, private sector investment in waste management infrastructure has ground to a halt and, with no certainty about what EA test an undertaking must pass, many projects are in limbo. Any progress on that front will be welcome and will help make up for the new diversion orientation upon which the province is embarking.

We will track how this all plays out carefully for readers in future editions of the magazine.

Guy Crittenden is editor of Solid Waste & Recycling magazine. You can contact him at gcrittenden@solidwastemag.com


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