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Trash Talk: The Provincial Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario

In 2016, the Ontario Legislature enacted the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act. The overall intent of the Act is to divert more waste materials from disposal, and to ensure that diverted materials are reintegrated into the economy in order to reduce the use of raw resources.

During the legislative debate on this Act, CELA generally supported the legislation, but advocated certain amendments to strengthen the new statutory regime. Similar recommendations were made in the written submissions jointly filed by CELA, Citizens’ Network on Waste Management (CNWM), and Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA).

Some – but not all – of our suggested amendments were adopted when the Act was passed and proclaimed into force. Accordingly, the focus of the environmental community has now shifted from legislative reform to the timely development of effective regulations, policy statements, and other implementation measures under the Act.

Among other things, the new Act imposes a mandatory duty on the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change to issue an overarching “Strategy” that “supports” the various provincial interests listed in the legislation (e.g. protecting the environment and public health; minimizing waste generation and disposal; decreasing hazardous and toxic substances in products/packaging; and increasing the durability, reusability and recyclability of products/packaging).

To fulfill this statutory duty, the Ministry has recently solicited public comments on its proposed Strategy. In essence, the draft Strategy proclaims that the “vision” for Ontario “is one where waste is seen as a resource that can be recovered, reused and reintegrated to achieve a circular economy.”

In addition, the draft Strategy establishes two “visionary” goals for the province: (i) “achieving zero waste Ontario”; and (ii) “eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the waste sector.” To achieve the provincial vision and goals, the draft Strategy sets out four governmental objectives and fifteen actions to be undertaken by Ontario in the coming decades.

During the public comment period, CELA, CNWM and TEA filed detailed submissions on the draft Strategy. In many key aspects, we find that the Ministry’s proposal is highly problematic and requires further revision.

For example, the Strategy’s vision, goals and objectives fundamentally fail to recognize or entrench waste reduction as the highest priority in the 3Rs hierarchy. Similarly, the Strategy fails to require the highest possible end-use of recovered materials. In addition, for the purposes of tracking progress under the new regime, the draft Strategy proposes performance indicators that are inadequate or inappropriate.

Moreover, the Strategy lacks sufficient detail about when and how implementation measures will actually be undertaken by the provincial government. In short, the so-called “actions” outlined in the Strategy largely consist of various options that the province may – or may not – pursue after it has further “considered” them in due course.

In our view, the Strategy’s vague musings about possible future “actions” serve as a recipe for inaction or further delay. In summary, CELA, CNWM and TEA conclude that the draft Strategy is not particularly strategic. Instead, the Strategy is best characterized as a green paper (or a plan to make a plan) in relation to resource recovery and the circular economy. Accordingly, our joint submission contains fourteen recommendations for improving the draft Strategy prior to its finalization.

It remains to be seen whether – or to what extent – our suggestions for strengthening the proposed Strategy will be acted upon by the provincial government. However, unless the current draft is substantially amended and upgraded, we are unable to conclude that the Strategy will materially improve or expedite resource recovery activities and waste reduction efforts throughout Ontario.