Join the PCN mailing list.

As incineration projects fail nation-wide, proposed Waste-Free Ontario Act targets zero greenhouse gases in a post-incineration era

By Meg Sears, PhD, Chair and Science Advisor of Prevent Cancer Now, with thanks to Linda Gasser

See that garbage at the curb? It costs our environment and health too much, and now Ontario aims to find the treasure in trash (and in less trash), by rethinking reducing, reusing and recycling. A strategy to build a circular economy, and proposed Waste Free Ontario Act are both open for public comment until February 24th, 2016.

Shifting Ontario “towards a circular economy and a more innovative, zero-waste future” makes sense and cents. Imagine. We pay for products, then for trash collection and disposal, along with environmental and health impacts. Each scrap began as resources that were extracted, shipped, processed, shipped, manufactured, packaged, shipped, etc., until it was bought, taken home, eventually thown out, trucked away … and then what? Every step involves emissions, contaminants and greenhouse gasses, affecting workers and communities.

With landfills filling up and new ones being spurned, large-scale expensive “solutions” emerged, for large piles of wastes. “Energy from Waste” or incinerator facilities are touted as “renewable energy,” though science (thermodynamics) would indicate the opposite. Vast sums of public money have vanished in development and building of these facilities, and now incinerator plans are foundering, such as in Ottawa, Peel, Port Hope and most recently in Vancouver, or floundering with mechanical problems and excessive emissions as in Durham. Reasons include:

  • poor business and engineering planning, with excessive predictions of waste volumes in a changing environment over 20 year contract periods;
  • technical difficulties with poorly sorted mixed waste streams; and
  • the ongoing need to feed a large, expensive facility with high-energy wastes undermines and precludes higher and better uses for reused and recycled materials.

The incineration of mixed wastes is not only a waste of resources that should be better used, it produces cancer-causing air emissions, ash and waste water contaminated with polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heavy metals and other pollutants. It is great news that Building a Circular Economy aims for zero greenhouse gases, which logically would preclude burning. The draft Act indicates that a waste diversion program shall not promote burning of the waste (10 (3) 1).

What does a circular economy look like? Products that are fixable and durable, that are reusable rather than single-use, with reduced packaging made of readily recyclable materials, and much more. We’ll develop new habits, adopt strategies from afar, lead with innovations in materials and green chemistry. It won’t all be easy, but now is the time! The European Union has adopted an ambitious Circular Economy Package.

Today, I’ll remember to lug my mug, take my bags to the store, look for high quality goods, and drop off unwanted clothing, books, etc. for resale instead of the dump. Our elders have it right. “Waste” is a derogatory word.

Coming up, we must support the best possible Zero Waste Act for Ontario, and as a shining example for other jurisdictions.

Meg Sears, PhD, is an Ottawa-based environmental health researcher, and Chair of Prevent Cancer Now.

Also in the DECEMBER 2015 Issue of An Ounce Newsletter

Published: December 17, 2015


Check out this week’s cancer prevention tips
and help reduce your risk!