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Food waste to be banned from disposal, landfill as Ontario moves towards waste free, circular economy

The Minister of the Environment and Climate Change for Ontario has released an unusually detailed outline of the government’s plans to transform Ontario into a zero-waste, circular economy in which 80 per cent of waste will be diverted from landfill by the year 2050. Achieving this “visionary goal” will require producers to take full responsibility for the environmental and financial management of their products, and consumers to buy into a culture change in which our relationship with those products is fundamentally altered.

The magnitude of the challenge this presents can perhaps best be summed up in one statistic: each person in Ontario generates approximately a tonne of waste per year, three-quarters of which is sent to landfill, and that number has not improved in almost a decade, despite new legislation and numerous public awareness campaigns about the need for waste diversion. According to government estimates, if waste continues to go to landfill at current rates, the province will need sixteen new landfill sites by 2050.

How, then, does the government expect this latest strategy, which follows on the passing of the Waste Free Ontario Act in 2016, to be successful?

It says it will tackle the problem of waste generation by increasing waste recovery and moving toward a circular economy, defined as one in which the use of raw materials is minimized, the useful life of materials is maximized, and the creation of waste generated at the end of a product’s life cycle, including its packaging, is minimized. The strategy provides a blueprint to “close the resource loop,” by transforming how we think about waste, said the minister, Glen Murray.

The Blue Box is an Ontario waste diversion success story, with the highest rate of diversion of paper and packaging in North America.

This strategy provides the blueprint for Ontario to close the resource loop by transforming how we think about waste. By moving to a circular, low-carbon economy, Ontario is seizing the opportunity to be a leader in a global movement toward a more sustainable model with significant economic, social and environmental benefits.

Much of the burden will fall on producers. To justify this burden, the government argues that it will be for the producers’ own good. A circular economy will help businesses stay competitive, as producers will save money by using less material and better managing their products’ end-of-life. They will need to find the most efficient ways to recover those materials and return them into the economy, minimizing their costs by leveraging economies of scale.

As well, a circular economy drives innovation, says the minister, so that businesses will be “encouraged” to design long lasting, reusable and easily recyclable products.

The culture change required to bring this about will no doubt be the most difficult part. The fact that diversion rates plateaued at about 25 per cent ten years ago shows how hard it is to get people motivated, even when they basically agree with the proposition. Who isn’t in favour of recycling and protecting the environment, after all?

A ban on food waste or the disposal of any other product can only work if people are aware and have access to the means to avoid disposing.

The lack of progress is partly due to the unavailability of easily accessible diversion programs, a reality the government acknowledges. Disposal bans can only work when consumers know about them and have access to the means to avoid disposing of the banned materials. Education and awareness, and accessible services will all be required to change people’s traditional views about waste, and under the new legislation, producers will be required to engage Ontarians through promotion and education standards.

As of now, for example, many areas of the province still have no organics recycling, and textile recycling is barely on the radar. Now the government says it has committed to banning food waste from disposal either in landfill or incineration, and this year it will “develop and consult” on a food and organic waste action plan. It will begin implementing the plan in 2018.

In 2020, the government plans to complete the transition from existing waste diversion programs, not including the Blue Box, and to include materials like mattresses, carpets and furniture under the producer responsibility regulations. The first materials being considered for disposal bans include food waste, beverage containers, corrugated cardboard and some paper materials, fluorescent bulbs and tubes, and materials already designated under existing diversion programs.

The province says it will support municipalities and non-governmental initiatives that contribute to resource recovery and waste reduction.

 

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