In his 2010/2011 Annual Report the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario called upon the provincial government to make waste diversion one of its top environmental priorities.
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) Gord Miller released his 2010/2011 Annual Report today, Engaging Solutions. In the report, he called upon the recently elected provincial government to make waste diversion one of its top environmental priorities.  This is consistent with AMO's Top 12 Asks.  During the election campaign, Premier McGuinty committed to deliver on promoting personal and producer responsibility for waste, AMO’s long-standing AMO policy position on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

“What a Waste” Highlights of the ECO Annual Report include:

  • Although residential waste diversion has increased over the past decade, diversion in the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors has decreased, leaving Ontario’s overall diversion rate (as calculated in 2008) is still at about 23 per cent – practically the same as it was a decade earlier.This is well below the province’s 60 per cent target for 2008.Meanwhile, the amount of waste generated each year has increased over the past decade.
  • New and dramatic changes to Ontario’s waste diversion framework are needed to move waste reduction and diversion forward.
  • According to the ECO, the reasons behind the failures of the current waste diversion system are well known and outlined in four discussion papers and reports by the Ministry of Environment (MOE) .
  • The report identified several problems that will be of interest to municipal leaders:
    • The Waste Diversion Act Fails to Prioritize Waste Reduction and Reuse over Recycling: MOE observed that “while the 3Rs are mentioned in the Act, the Act could be revised to better promote waste reduction, reuse and recycling, in that order. A key policy outcome is greater reduction of waste at the source. Not producing waste in the first place is the best way to move toward zero waste, and provides the greatest environmental benefits and potentially the greatest economic advantages to society.”
    • Skewed Cost Structure Makes Landfill Cheaper than Recycling. According to MOE, “on average, waste disposal in landfills is one-third to one-half the cost of diversion. However, the long-term environmental costs of landfills are seldom considered when establishing and operating a landfill. The absence of proper accounting for the true costs of waste results in most waste being disposed of in landfills rather than sent for reuse or recycling – the cost structure is not conducive to diverting waste.”
    • Diversion Programs Fail to Cover all Costs. According to MOE, “the only costs attributable to producers in programs are the costs associated with recycling the material collected within the program. The management costs associated with whatever products and packaging are not collected in an approved waste diversion program are borne elsewhere – either by municipalities and their taxpayers, or by other businesses or consumers.”
    • No Financial Incentives to Reduce Waste. MOE acknowledges that “current programs under the Act do not encourage producers to focus on waste reduction first, reuse second, and recycling third. Instead, they generally focus on finding the least costly means of collecting and recycling materials.” Since steward fees are generally uniform across producers, MOE points out that “there is no direct financial incentive provided to individual producers to reduce their costs through product design, such as designing a product that is easier and cheaper to recycle. The lack of direct financial incentives to improve product design can be an impediment to reducing waste, increasing reuse, and ultimately striving for zero waste.”
    • Lack of Fairness in the Way Costs are Allocated. Because the Blue Box Program costs are not borne wholly by stewards, but also by municipalities (and therefore taxpayers), MOE observes that “a municipal taxpayer who generates little waste may in fact end up paying into the system more than his or her fair share of the cost of managing the waste he or she generates.”

MOE policy proposal have identified a number waste diversion solutions identified such as: 

  • Shift the basis of Ontario’s waste diversion programs from extended producer responsibility (EPR) to individual producer responsibility (IPR), i.e., make individual producers fully responsible for meeting waste diversion requirements for both residential and IC&I waste
    • Ban designated materials from disposal
    • Reduce steward fees proportional to the expansion of the reuse of their products
    • Prohibit producers and retailers from making their environmental management costs (i.e., steward fees) visible as separate charges at point of sale. MOE notes that requiring producers to internalize these costs as another factor of production (which can be mitigated through product design, manufacturing and packaging decisions) acts as an incentive to reduce both the costs and the waste associated with their products 
    • Require retailers to take back products at end-of-life
    • Set mandatory waste diversion targets for municipalities
    • Streamline the governance and administration of waste diversion programs by: clarifying the roles and responsibilities; introducing a clearer set of checks and balances; introducing more effective compliance tools and penalties; and expanding the composition of industry funding organization Boards of Directors to include non-industry representatives

Please note that many of these proposals have significant municipal implications which have not been analyzed to date, however they are listed so that readers can get an understanding of the range of potential policy proposals.

As the Environmental Commissioner pointed out, Ontario’s current waste diversion strategy has followed over a decade of consultation and reports.  Ontario needs a waste management strategy that holds industry responsible for the waste they create, ensures that property taxpayers are not left holding the bag on waste management costs, and prevents dangerous toxins being released into our environment.  AMO looks forward to working with the ECO, the provincial government, and stewards on a more active and fairer waste management approach for Ontario.  Waste management continues to be one of AMO’s key priorities.

Also included in the 2010/11 ECO’s Annual Report, were other topics of interest to municipal leaders:

  • Land Use Planning – Natural Heritage System Planning, Conservation Authorities
    • Recommendation- that MNR, in association with Conservation Ontario, review and update floodplain maps in Ontario in order to adapt them to impacts from climate change.
    • Recommendation- that MNR develop a coarse-scale, overarching natural heritage system for Southern Ontario.
  • Species-at-Risk (ECO is critical of the inadequacy of government response statements)
    • Recommendation- that MNR ensure that government response statements clearly articulate the actions that the Ontario government will and will not take to protect and recover species at risk.
  • Source Water Protection Planning
    • Recommendation- that MOE develop Great Lake targets and ensure that Great Lakes policies are included in the source protection planning process.
    • Recommendation- that MOE update the Provincial Water Quality Objective for Total Phosphorus to reflects individual lake sensitivity and watershed-level cumulative effects
  • Municipal Water Sustainability Plans – Management of municipal water, wastewater and stormwater services
    • Recommendation- that MOE require stormwater management facility owners or operators to monitor and maintain all stormwater management infrastructure in Ontario.