Reducing Waste Good for the Economy and Environment: Mike Schreiner’s Remarks to the Recycling Council of Ontario

Mike Schreiner’s Remarks to the Recycling Council of Ontario Annual General Meeting and Policy Forum, January 17, 2013Please check written remarks against delivery.

 
Thank you for being here today, and I would like especially to thank Jo-Anne for inviting me to be part of this important conversation.
 
I want to recognize and thank the Recycling Council of Ontario for the leadership you have provided in supporting recycling, reducing waste and promoting the efficient use of resources in Ontario for 35 years.
 
From your very first efforts to help recycling operators market newspapers, glass and cans collected from recycling drives, to the very first blue box program in Kitchener in 1981, to the adoption of the 3Rs regulation in 1994, to the historic Waste Diversion Act in 2002, to your current stewardship programs and awards, RCO has played and continues to play an essential role in helping Ontario reduce, reuse and recycle.
 
Thank you.
 
Your work touches our lives everyday. The success of the Blue Box Program and the Brewers Retail bottle return program show, without a doubt, that people have a deep desire to participate in environmental programs that are easy to use and provide the right incentives to work.
 
I can assure you that busy people like me, with two school age daughters, feel the pressure to do the right thing every morning, as our family rises to respond to your Waste Free Lunch Program. It’s affectionately called the Litterless Lunch in our home.  And I want to thank you for inviting me to be hear at 9:45 instead of 8:45 so that I could once again rise to the challenge this morning.
 
Your work is not only ensuring a better future for our children, it has deeply affected the way our children live their lives — all for the better.
 
Thank You.
 
Environment and Economy
 
The Green Party of Ontario obviously shares your commitment to the 3Rs of reduce, reuse and recycle, and we especially look forward to working with you on a policy framework that embraces all three with a special focus on increasing the emphasis on reduce and reuse.
 
I think most people understand the environmental challenges that inspire the work that you do. We all want to live in cleaner communities with an environment that promotes health and well being. We want to reduce air and water pollution, protect our local food sources and tackle climate change. No one wants a dump in their backyard.
 
Fewer people realize the economic imperative of the work that you do. We live on a planet with a finite amount of natural resources and a rapidly growing population putting more demand on those resources. 
 
You don’t need to be an economist to understand that rising demand for a limited amount of resources means more competition and rising prices for those resources. Economic success in the 21st century will increasingly be determine by the efficient use of resources. We simply cannot afford to waste resources.
 
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, resource productivity — the efficient use of resources — will present one of the biggest economic challenges and opportunities in the 21st century. The economic opportunities in the global resource-efficient and clean tech economy is $2.2T and will double to $4.4T by 2020.
 
The question is whether Ontario will seize this opportunity and become a global leader in the new economy.
 
On a micro-economic level we know that waste diversion is a green job creator. Reports indicate that waste diversion creates 7 jobs for every 1,000 tonnes of waste diverted in Ontario, versus 1 job for the same amount of waste disposed. 
 
Without a doubt, the work that you are doing not only benefits our environment, it is also essential to Ontario’s economic success. 
 
 Policy Reform
 
The good news is that Ontarians have embraced recycling efforts. We can celebrate the fact that Ontarians recycle 67% of their packaging and printed materials.
 
The bad news is that Ontario’s overall diversion rates are still well below targets established a decade ago, Ontario still has a poor diversion rate for organics and the province has yet to tackle the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors, which produce 60% of the waste produced in Ontario.
 
Successive governments of all political stripes have failed to deliver a policy framework for Ontario to meet the province’s waste diversion targets.
 
I would like to highlight five areas of concern.
 
1.   The Waste Diversion Act does not prioritize reduce and reuse over recycle.
 
2.  Ontario has flawed cost structures that make landfill less expensive than recycling.
 
3.  Waste Diversion programs fail to cover all costs.
 
4.  There are little or no financial incentives to reduce waste or not produce it in the first place.
 
 5. There is inadequate coverage of materials and sectors under Waste Diversion Act.
 
I think the first and most important step in addressing these challenges is to shift our focus from what do we do with waste to why we are generating so much waste in the first place.
 
To the current government’s credit, it has in the past 5 years produced two ground-breaking documents:
 
Consultation Report:
Towards A Zero Waste Future: Review of Ontario’s Waste Diversion Act  — in 2008.
 
This paper embraced the Green Party’s long time call for full Extended Producer Responsibility.  It also promoted the design of products and processes to reduce waste before it is produced.
 
And then a year later, the Ministry released the Waste Diversion Act Review, From Waste to Worth: The Role of Waste Diversion in the Green Economy, which embraced the Green Party’s vision for a zero waste future.
 
Unfortunately, these hopeful steps in the right direction are now in limbo.  
 
Increasingly, it appears the government has backtracked on those reports, especially after the Liberals disastrous implementation of eco-fees in July of 2010.
 
We need less talk, and more action.
 
One of my resolutions for the New Year is to work with you to push for a new and improved Waste Diversion Act.  
 
We will push for a Waste Diversion Act that outlines a vision for moving to a zero waste future with sensible, long term solutions to get us there.
 
Ontario desperately needs a stable, long-term policy framework so that our municipalities, businesses and other stakeholders can properly plan and make long term investments in waste reduction. 
 
The goal of a zero-waste future is possible.
 
Greens believe that a focus on reducing waste in the first place in the best way to achieve this goal.  
 
Greens believe that full Extended Producer Responsibility is the most cost effective and financially responsible way to achieve this goal. Without full cost accounting, the proper incentives to reduce waste are not in place.
 
We all have a shared responsibility in reducing waste. Ontario can’t continue to ask property tax payers to shoulder the financial burden for waste they did not create and that could be avoided with proper product and packaging design.
 
The Green Party will continue to advocate for full extension of Extended Producer Responsibility to the Blue Box Program, to packaging and production materials, and across a full range of materials and sectors.
 
If Ontario is going to meet its waste reduction and diversion targets, then producers and stewards must bear all the costs for waste management. In the case of hazardous waste, stewardship fees must reflect the full cost of managing hazardous waste so that we have the right incentives in place for companies to reduce waste and to use less hazardous materials.
 
The bottom line is that Extended Producer Responsibility provides the market incentives to drive packaging, product design and life cycle changes to achieve maximum waste reduction and diversion.  
 
As an entrepreneur and small business owner, I understand the importance of having the right market incentives and the power of the profit motive to drive positive, sustainable change.
 
If Ontario is to effectively engage the private sector in waste reduction, the province must have a proper cost structure in place. We need an honest conversation with the public and political leadership with the courage to talk about solutions like a landfill levy.
 
In aggregates, for example, Ontario’s recycling rate is only 7%. The recycling rate in the UK is over 24%. 
 
It is not a coincidence that the UK has such a high recycling rate compared to Ontario when you compare our 11.5 cent per tonne levy to the UK’s levy, which exceeds £2.00 per tonne — equivalent to around $3.20 Can.
 
In addition, the UK, like much of Europe, has a land fill tax rate at a level that is currently inconceivable in Ontario given the lack of leadership on this issue at Queen’s Park.
 
Ontario needs a transparent and accountable system to ensure waste management programs are being managed in an efficient and cost-effective manner. It is in the public interest for government to establish enforceable environmental standards and targets, and for an independent third party to audit environmental and financial performance.  
 
We need a plan that focuses on reducing waste, not burning it or putting in landfill. We need to expand our bottle return programs. 
 
We need to understand that reducing waste in Ontario is not only a landfill or waste disposal issue, it is also an economic issue.  
 
In order for our businesses to be competitive in a resource constrained, high energy cost global economy, we have to increase resource and energy productivity and aggressively reduce waste in all our systems.  Our prosperity and quality of life in the 21st century will depend on the maximum utilization of resources and energy.
 
My final New Year’s resolution today is to issue RCO a challenge. Ontario needs your help to educate the public on waste reduction issues. Whether the province calls it an eco-tax or not, we need your help to educate the public on how important it is to shift the tax burden for waste from property taxpayers to industry.
 
It’s time to bring all stakeholders to the table and to engage the public in developing sensible, long term solutions for zero waste in Ontario.
 
The Green Party is committed to working with you to make it happen.
 
I believe it’s time for a new and improved Waste Diversion Act in Ontario.
 
It’s time to remove the burden of waste management from property taxpayers.
 
It’s time to embrace and implement full Extended Producer Responsibility in this province.
 
Thank you.