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A Waste-Free Ontario: Provincial Strategy For a Circular Economy

February 20, 2018

Creating a waste-free Ontario is all about changing our long-established mind-set with respect to Ontario’s waste management. Our current solution to waste (including many recyclable products) is to send valuable materials to landfills, which presents risks to both us and the environment – and those risks are both health related and economic. Changing this wasteful approach to waste management will help us to reduce, reuse, recycle and repurpose.

With this new way of thinking, the approach to Ontario waste management will bring about positive outcomes: reducing harmful emissions from waste; decreasing demand and reliance on virgin materials; and improving environmental safeguards. The old way of thinking (make it - use it - dump it) is not sustainable and must change. The negative impacts on the environment have to be reversed not just for the sake of our future generations, but for our own.

The objective of a “circular” economy is to eliminate wastewaste-free ontario provincial strategy circular economy world globe earth

The main objective of creating a “circular” economy is to eliminate waste – but not just through traditional recycling. The key to eliminating waste is to rethink the lifecycles of both products and packaging. It’s about altering and improving the design of products, materials, and business models. And that means reducing the use of raw materials with a restorative approach.

In transitioning away from our current approach of Ontario waste management, to the “circular” economy, we strive to maintain the value of products and materials for as long as possible. This new approach will emphasize three principal components: minimizing the use of raw virgin material; maximizing the practical life of materials; and minimizing the waste that’s created by end-of-life products.

  • Design products and packaging to last longer by using sustainable materials that can be efficiently recycled or repurposed at the “end-of-life.”
  • Business collaboration/coordination (across all sectors) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while decreasing fossil fuel usage.
  • Retailers offer products that can be reused/refurbished, and offer “end-of-life” take-back, maintenance, or repair services.
  • Improve collection systems designed to send substantially less material to landfill, supporting the circular economy model.
  • Producers take full responsibility for recovering materials from manufactured products and packaging through lifecycle.
  • Consumers make “green” buying choices; share assets like cars and tools; and choose to repair, reuse, and refurbish.

A brand new action plan for Ontario waste management

Enhancing provincial direction/oversight

The dramatic shift to zero waste and zero GHG emissions (from waste) requires a difference to be made in our thinking and sustained leadership. There is an essential need to communicate priorities, goals, best practices, and anticipated outcomes.

  • The Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (not-for-profit) will oversee performance of producers under a new “producer responsibility” system. The Authority will focus on compliance and enforcement relative to waste reduction.
  • Policy statements will provide ongoing direction, based on provincial interest, and further emphasizing the desired system of resource recovery and waste reduction. Policy aims will align all of the goals, objectives and action points.
  • A data registry will provide reliable, evidence-based data regarding resource recovery, waste reduction, end-of-life product management, and product packaging. These performance metrics are critical to understanding overall impacts.

Efficient and effective recovery systems

Moving towards total “producer responsibility” and a future of zero waste requires systems. An efficient and effective resource recovery system will save taxpayer’s money, reduce emissions from waste, and protect the environment.

  • Existing waste diversion programs will be transitioned to a “producer responsibility” model in order to move forward to a circular economy. The transition will wind down existing programs, thus making producers fully responsible.
  • Resource recovery will be increased across industrial, commercial and institutional sectors. Including construction and demolition, waste diversion and recycling regulations will include multi-residential dwellings and high-rises.
  • Waste management service providers will be required to emphasize resource recovery and protect the environment. Environmental Compliance Approval will be required for hauling, storage, processing, recycling, and disposal.
  • Landfill sites will have to be well planned and well managed to ensure reduced greenhouse gas emissions. In an economy that focuses on resource recovery, landfill sites must be the last resort in an effective waste management system.
  • Promotion and education will support public participation in waste reduction and resource recovery. Consumers will be choosing products that are more durable, more recyclable, and have less impact on the overall environment.

Waste reduction and resource recovery

Waste reduction and resource recovery contribute to job creation and economic development.  For a productive circular economy, it’s critical to minimize raw material use, maximize product reuse, and recycle much more material.

  • In order to stimulate full “producer responsibility”, Ontario will mandate products/packaging that will keep hazardous materials out of landfill sites, while reducing domestic greenhouse gas emissions that impact climate change.
  • Reducing the volume of food waste and organic waste going to landfill is a high priority. This includes household food waste; leaf and yard waste; and organic waste produced by restaurants, food processors, and food wholesalers.
  • Excess soil (after excavation) is a valuable resource. It must be managed in a way that protects human health and the environment, and must not be treated as waste. New standards are to be implemented for the reuse of excess soil.
  • New regulatory approaches will promote innovative best practices for resource recovery. These will ensure an effective regulatory environment that promotes investment, innovation and competitiveness in the marketplace.

Creating conditions for sustainable markets

For cost-effective material recovery and re-integration into the economy, the cost of recycling must be more attractive than the cost of sending to a landfill. More stimulation is required in order to develop these types of markets.

  • Environmental standards will assist in developing and supporting end-markets for recovered material. Standards will directly influence which materials are to be recovered, how they will be managed, and how they will be reintegrated.
  • Green procurement practices will build market demand for recovered material, and will thus encourage the purchase of green products and services. Government leadership in procurement will help stimulate new markets.
  • Disposal bans will help to direct materials in the direction of reuse and recycling. Phased over time, they will drive investment in new “diversion” infrastructure, which will therefore support the development of end-markets.

Ontario waste management: coordination/collaboration/implementation

To ensure effective policy direction, stakeholder feedback is vital in coordinating/implementing a wide range of policy tools. Going forward, the province is committed to considering and respecting different parties. Through extensive consultations, the province will take a collaborative approach towards reaching its goals. Success in waste reduction and resource recovery will only be achieved when actions are initiated in a coordinated, integrated, and collaborative manner.

Ontario waste management: measuring and evaluating levels of success

Naturally, the success of waste management initiatives is measured by the increased volume of waste reduction, reuse, and recycling. But it’s also important to build economic growth, and this will rely on assessing and measuring data. By understanding how resources are being used and reintegrated into the economy, priorities can be set and success can be tracked.

  • Moving toward zero waste is about substantially reducing waste going to landfill. This will be demonstrated by the declining tonnage of waste going to landfill and the goal of zero waste.
  • Moving toward zero GHG emissions from waste is demonstrated by the declining tonnage of GHG emissions coming directly from the waste sector (with a goal of zero GHG emissions).
  • By better understanding resource recovery and its inherent value, evidence-based decision making is improved. This is further demonstrated by the increased availability of relevant data.
  • The Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority will oversee the transition process to “producer responsibility”, and will ensure a smooth and timely wind-up of older programs.
  • Implementing a “producer responsibility” regime will be reinforced by designating new materials, while ensuring that producers meet requirements (through compliance/enforcement).
  • Increasing the diversion of food waste/organic waste will be demonstrated by tonnage that is diverted from landfill. Potential targets could include 40% diversion by 2025 and 60% by 2035.
  • Creating sustainable new markets supports newly introduced environmental standards, while further developing and implementing the new regulator initiatives, priorities, and direction.

Looking to the future of Ontario waste management

Simply put, effective resource recovery and efficient waste management are vital to a healthy and prosperous province. With a phased transition to a circular economy, Ontarians will increasingly reuse and recycle resources, becoming leaders of a global movement toward economic and environmental sustainability.

Undoubtedly, making the transition to a circular economy requires a dramatic mind-shift about waste management. It means changing perspectives, values, and most importantly, habits. This will be an economy that strives to eliminate waste from both mass manufacturing and everyday life.

Over the next 10 years, the Waste-Free Ontario Act and the Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario will direct change and progress. Of course, the aspirational goal is two-fold:  zero waste and zero GHG emissions from waste. The strategy is nothing less than the first step in a long-term process.

Putting strategy into action will entail close consultation with a host of stakeholders - the waste management sector; urban and rural municipalities; Indigenous communities; large and small business; the farming community; and various environmental non-governmental organizations.

Over the coming years, the province will be transformed to a healthy, prosperous, green future.

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