We have developed a landfill problem in Ontario

By MPP Toby Barrett

Last year, Ontario’s Auditor General found that one in five municipalities, “felt they had insufficient landfill capacity for their residential waste,” adding that, “existing capacity will diminish more rapidly once export of residential waste to Michigan largely ends after 2010.”

And five years earlier the Ontario Waste Management Association found that, “consumption has out paced the approval of new capacity.”

There is little doubt that continued inaction on waste diversion and waste management has left Ontario on the brink of a garbage crisis.

While government fiddles with new tax-and-divert programs, in the Legislature we hear continued opposition to new or expanded dump sites – I think of Site 41 near Barrie, Richmond and the Carp Dump in Eastern Ontario, and of course the ongoing Edwards Landfill battle in Haldimand. In Norfolk we hear of capacity concerns at the Tom Howe site.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to yet again raise the Edwards issue in the Legislature with the Minister of Environment.

“After years of questions, petitions and local process, landfill operators have been handed provincial orders requiring 37 items to be complied with by May 20,” I noted during Question Period. “These are significant issues—issues of asbestos, leachate levels and spill contingencies.”

While MOE officials and a recent Edwards Public Liaison Committee meeting have indicated that there is ongoing work to meet the provincial orders, I will follow up on the compliance required by May 20th. As well, I note the Liaison Committee meeting highlighted the possibility of the Edwards operator planning further expansion – something that was never in the original deal.

Across Ontario, better waste management and waste diversion, as well as incineration and other measures, are seen as antidotes to the growing problem of shrinking landfill space– but we’re not there yet.

And as Environment Commissioner Gord Miller concluded in 2008, ‘Ontario lacks an over-arching provincial policy for waste management that would set out capacity needs, technology preferences, goals, targets and timelines.’

Despite promises for new legislation – a new Waste Diversion Act – a year ago, we are still waiting for the Ontario government to respond to Commissioner Miller’s concerns.

In the meantime, while groups like the Recycling Council of Ontario work on concepts like Extended Producer Responsibility, a series of government missteps have led to setbacks for the very concepts of environmental stewardship we all aim to support. I think of the eco-fiasco – a hide and sneak strategy of implementing eco-fees on over 9,000 items, the same day as the HST. Add to this the failure to meet waste diversion targets and complete failure of a $44 million waste electronics program.

Successful waste diversion must be convenient, affordable, and understandable for consumers. I feel results-oriented recycling must be based on more market principles to encourage less packaging, and more competition, choice and innovation.

But if new recycling programs are seen by consumers as little more than another government attempt to sneak in a new tax at the cash register – or an attempt to deliver

more regulation, more government agencies, and more bureaucrats – we may well be doomed to repeat the failed experiment of last summer.

The bottom line is that Ontario needs common sense action, not just words, on waste reduction and diversion – and this government has failed to deliver.