Ontario residents and businesses create 12.5 million tonnes of waste every year, which equates to almost one tonne generated per person.
Although a major generator of waste, Ontario is a leader in residential sector recycling with successful and widely supported Blue Box and Green Bin programs.
Today, more than 95% of Ontarians have access to curbside recycling, and the internationally recognized Blue Box Program has achieved a recycling performance of 67.6%.1
Progress has been made increasing residential waste diversion largely through the introduction of new municipal organics programs2 and to a lesser degree the introduction of new provincial programs. In the Industrial Commercial & Institutional (IC&I) sector, the overall amount of materials diverted has increased with significant progress being made with specific materials such as cardboard.
However, the overall diversion rate for the IC&I sector has steadily decreased (see Figure 1). The latest data from Statistics Canada shows the residential sector waste diversion rate at about 37% and the non-residential sector, including the IC&I and Construction, Renovation & Demolition (CRD) sectors, rate at about only 13%3.
While there has been some success, it is evident that Ontario’s waste diversion framework is not working. The overall recycling rate in Ontario has remained relatively stagnant at under 25% for the last two decades. As a result, the vast majority of our waste remains destined for disposal and almost 4 million tonnes of industrial and commercial waste is exported to U.S. disposal facilities.
This represents an enormous loss of resources and economic opportunity. It is not just the material value of the waste that is lost, but also business opportunities associated with recycling and with integrating recovered resources into new products and packaging that can be sold again.
It also comes at a time when Ontario is experiencing severe and rapidly declining landfill capacity. The amount of landfill capacity available in Ontario is less than the disposal capacity required for IC&I and CRD waste generated by Ontario sources4. The remaining capacity in Ontario’s 32 largest landfills in 2008 was expected to last 25 years at the then-current fill rate5.
Our current recycling framework remains mired in controversy and is less effective than it should be.
Under Ontario’s Waste Diversion Act (WDA), functioning recycling markets have been disrupted; consumers have been burdened by eco-fees in some cases unfairly; recycling targets have not been met; program efficiencies questioned; and the absence of sound policy direction by the government has resulted in a ‘broken’ waste diversion system.
Concerns with programs under the WDA are well documented. This includes, numerous reports by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario and the Auditor General, and within government reports.
Most recently, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario issued a report summarizing a consultation across all stakeholders that highlighted many of these concerns with Ontario’s style of product stewardship and offered common ground for a path forward.6
Ontario needs an effective legislative framework and the proper regulatory tools to realize the economic and environmental benefits from increased recycling. Nothing short of legislative change will get Ontario back on course.
Figure 1. Residential, Non-Residential & Combined Diversion Rates in Ontario7