Among her critiques of the province’s handling of environmental matters, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk this week found Ontario is unlikely to meet its waste diversion targets because businesses aren’t doing enough recycling.
The government hasn’t take steps to increase diversion of industrial, commercial and institutional waste, she said in the Annual Report of Environment Audits.
That means landfill sites are going to fill up much faster than anticipated. The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks estimates that all existing landfill capacity in the province will be exhausted in the next 11 to 14 years.
Businesses and institutions generate at least 7.2 million tonnes of waste per year – 60 per cent of the waste in Ontario, whereas residential waste accounts for 40 per cent. Most of the emphasis – and success – has come on the residential side, where 50 per cent of waste was diverted in 2018. By comparison, just 15 per cent of industrial and business waste was diverted.
“More than 98 per cent of businesses and institutions are not required to recycle, so they often don’t,” Lysyk said. “Sending waste to landfills is relatively cheap, so even easily recyclable products from places like offices, restaurants, movie theatres, retail stores and warehouses end up as landfill garbage.”
The Ministry of the Environment estimates 12 million tonnes of non-hazardous waste is generated in Ontario each year, although other data sources indicate it may be closer to 15 million tonnes. The goal is to divert half of all waste by 2030, and 80 per cent by 2050.
Clearly there’s a way to go on the commercial side, where adoption has lagged well behind the residential portion. As consumers, there’s much we can do to help change that equation, a way we can further show the message is sinking in – many of us are mindful of over-packaged goods, for instance – but it’s a slow process.
As individuals we’re starting to make some changes, smarter choices. On the whole, however, Ontarians are generating more waste than ever. That has much to do with industry rather than individual actions, but the two are connected.
In the case of excess packaging and products such as single-serving food items, business takes its cue from consumers: if we stop buying such goods, or shift our dollars to less-wasteful choices, they’ll take note. In the meantime, industry is also encouraged to reduce how much waste they generate behind the scenes as part of the manufacturing process.
That’s not just good for the environment, but also for the bottom line, cutting material costs and, at the end of the process, disposal fees.
Much of the impetus will be on us as consumers, however. Change will come because we demand it. Otherwise, we’ll be waiting much longer.
It’s a matter of choices. Moving away from our penchant for disposable items, for instance. Using quality, long-lasting equipment that can be serviced and reused rather than discarded minimizes waste. This practice supports quality manufacturers. Higher initial costs are often justified by lower replacement and disposal costs as equipment is in use for a longer period.
Choose reusable products rather than single-use items. Simple measures such as reusing ceramic mugs instead of using disposable cups, using cloth shopping bags rather than disposable plastic ones or using rechargeable batteries mean less waste and lower costs.
When you purchase products keep in mind what will become of them at their end-of-life. Materials that can be fully recycled, or that are made of recycled materials mean less energy consumption in remanufacturing and less materials in the landfill.
We’re starting to think in those terms, but haven’t fully embraced the concept. We are rather wedded to our North American consumption patterns. Changing that will fuel the drive to the 80 per cent diversion rate.