This week’s guest commentary comes from Nathan Stevens of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario
The Ontario Government has determined that there is a need to improve waste reduction efforts in the province. The proposed Waste Reduction Act will replace the Waste Diversion Act and set the stage for a new approach that will encourage greater efforts to reduce waste throughout the Ontario economy. For agriculture, there are opportunities and challenges that this new act may pose down the road.
An assessment of the current situation shows that there are many challenges. Efforts to reduce waste under the Waste Diversion Act have hit a wall at 25 per cent. This is compounded by the fact that establishing new waste disposal capacity is very expensive and meets with resistance from impacted communities. Cash-strapped municipalities are unwilling to take on more of the burden of reducing waste alone. Finally, consumers are concerned about surprise “eco-fees” at the cash register.
There are also opportunities to be found. New uses or re-uses for waste can create jobs and foster innovation. There is significant economic value that can be recovered from waste. This can reduce strains on our natural resources, improving the long-term sustainability of our economy. Finally, there is the practical benefit of increasing the lifespan of current landfills through recycling and re-use programs.
The proposed new act will dramatically change the approach to dealing with waste in the province. Amongst a host of other changes, the Waste Reduction Act will shift responsibility for recycling from sectors to individual producers. For agriculture, one example is the issue of organic waste and how it will be considered in this new light. The first question is whether there is the need for food waste to be regulated or if there will be sufficient voluntary or market led diversion in the years ahead to make such an action unnecessary. For example, if the number of bio-digesters in the province increases and their use of food waste increases, diversion may take care of itself. However, if it is deemed necessary to regulate food waste, there will need to be considerable efforts made to determine if producers or processors or both will be considered the responsible parties for food waste and if exemptions for small enterprises are appropriate.
The proposed new Waste Reduction Act will change our province’s approach to dealing with waste. The need to achieve greater sustainability while generating economic opportunity without excessive regulatory burden will be a huge challenge moving forward on this important issue.