Waste diversion in Ontario has stalled around 25 percent over the last decade. While most of the success is coming from the residential sector, where 47 percent of household waste is diverted from landfill, the diversion rate for the rest of the economy is much lower.
Existing waste diversion programs established under the Waste Diversion Act, 2002 cover only 15 percent of Ontario’s waste stream and no new programs have been established under this Act since 2009. There is broad consensus among stakeholders that fundamental changes are needed to the legislative framework to move Ontario towards a circular economy, where end-of-life materials become feedstock for new products and packaging.
Failure to take action has economic and environmental consequences, including the loss of valuable resources, the lost opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the dwindling capacity of Ontario’s landfills and the increasing pressure on municipal taxpayers and industries to fund diversion efforts and rising costs.
The government is proposing a Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario: Building the Circular Economy. On November 26, 2015, the Government introduced Bill 151, the proposed Waste-Free Ontario Act. One component of the proposed Bill if enacted by the Ontario Legislative Assembly, would require the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change to develop and maintain a Strategy to support the provincial interest, regarding resource recovery and waste reduction.
The draft Strategy outlines a resource recovery and waste reduction road map for Ontario which would:
- set goals;
- articulate key government actions that would support the implementation of the vision and goals; and
- identify performance measures to measure progress towards achieving the vision and goals.
Ontario’s draft Strategy recognizes that the current “produce-use-dispose” model is not sustainable. The Strategy, when implemented would move Ontario toward a circular economy- a system where nothing is wasted and valuable materials destined for landfill are put back into the economy without negative effects on the environment. Several jurisdictions have started to move toward a circular economy, implementing producer responsibility approaches and other targeted measures to manage waste. This approach will reduce greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change, save scarce resources, create jobs and capitalize on financial opportunities.
The draft Strategy embraces a vision of “an Ontario where we have zero waste and zero greenhouse gas emissions from the waste sector and where all resources, organic or non-organic, are used and reused productively, maximizing their recovery and reintegrating recovered materials back into the economy.”
Ontario’s vision would be fulfilled with the draft Strategy’s two goals: a zero waste Ontario and zero greenhouse gas emissions from the waste sector. To achieve these goals Ontario would work towards systematically avoiding and eliminating the volume of waste, while conserving and recovering all resources. This would also help the province meet its climate change commitments and help Ontario build a low-carbon economy.
Three objectives are outlined in the draft Strategy as critical to achieving these goals.
- Increase Resource Productivity and Reduce Waste: Resource productivity is the process of using resources as effectively as possible in order to reduce or avoid waste. As increasing resource productivity is a new way of thinking in dealing with waste in Ontario, there is the need for a clear provincial direction and an agenda to support this objective. Ontario would use a variety of tools and actions to encourage Ontario producers’ to show leadership and innovation in resource productivity to prevent waste.
- Enable an Efficient and Effective Recycling System: Empowering producers with full responsibility for their products and packaging could bring about improved ways to recover, manage, recycle and reintegrate materials into the economy in a manner that reduces costs. Enhanced generator and service provider requirements could help produce clean waste streams, help direct more wastes to recycling and help extract maximum value from these streams.
- Create Conditions to Support Sustainable End-Markets: To make recycling economically viable, the government will need to emphasize the development of markets for recovered materials. This would require co-ordinated actions using multiple tools to capitalize on the economic opportunities associated with collection, transportation, processing and re-integration of resources into Ontario’s economy.
The draft Strategy includes actions that would:
- Establish provincial direction by providing clear direction to reach desired outcomes
- Expand producer responsibility in Ontario by placing full responsibility on those who produce waste; empowering the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority; and ensuring a smooth transition of provincial diversion programs to full producer responsibility system.
- Divert more waste from disposal by
o collecting data and putting performance measures in place to enable to province to make evidence-based decisions and measure progress towards zero waste;
o targeting areas for greater diversion by designating new materials, enhancing generator requirements and developing and implementing an Organics Action Plan to reduce the volume of organics going into landfills;
o using disposal bans to facilitate resource recovery and waste reduction;
o minimizing the need for landfills and ensure existing landfills are well managed; and
o integrating multiple tools to foster collaboration allowing parties to work together to deliver a seamless system.
- Helping people reduce, reuse and recycle by increasing awareness of and participation in diversion activities through education and promotion.
- Stimulating markets for recovered materials by implementing modern environmental standards; and demonstrating provincial leadership through green procurement.