Opinion

Global warming, storms and interesting meetings

by Emily Atkins

Readers will be interested in an article from the Environment News Service (that I've pasted below) in which scientists state they've calculated the degree to which increased hurricane strength is recent years is a result of global warming, as opposed to what portion can be attributed to natural cycles (such as the multi-decadal mid-Atlantic oscillation). If you track these things, this article is worth saving in your "global warming" clippings file. On another note, I'm attending two very interesting events this week. The first (today, Wednesday) is a lunch presentation at the Economic Club of Toronto by Paul Pabor, VP of Waste Management Inc. Renewable Energy on the topic of "Waste-derived energy." The remarks are apparently going to talk about the environmental and economic benefits of landfill gas and other forms of waste to energy. I'll report in this space something of what we learn later in the week. On Thursday I'm participating in a "Waste Options Summit" presented by John Tory and the Ontario Progressive Conservative Caucus at Queen's Park. I've taken to avoiding political policy development forums like the plague after having had a very disappointing experience serving as co-chair of the Ontario Conservative Party's environment policy committee back in the mid-1990s. (Long story short: My co-chair John Snobelen and I developed all kinds of terrific policy initiatives that were totally ignored by the party and the Mike Harris government after they came to power in 1995. Worse, I found out that a bunch of industry lobbyists formed their own "ad hoc" environment committee as part of the Red Tape Review panel, and the government actually followed their totally self-serving guidance. The experience left me with a feeling of democracy being subverted by big money and I became convinced that industry should be banned from making financial contributions to political parties. Mike Harris and crew spent their tenure "paying back" their industry supporters with all kinds of policy initiatives that benefited the companies and not the public interest [or that of the environment].) However, I want to listen to what folks have to say at this summit, since incineration and other options are back in a big way in Ontario, and maybe some of us who work in the waste management and recycling business can nudge the opposition party (and perhaps future government) toward some practical solutions to our diversion and disposal challenges. Again, I'll report more here later in the week or early next week after the meeting. Now, here's that interesting article I told you about (click on the green text to continue):

Group hugs and glass ceilings

by Emily Atkins

On June 22 I moderated the final panel discussion (on blue box funding) at the annual conference of the Municipal Waste Integration Network (MWIN) in my home town of Collingwood, Ontario. I think I need to go out and buy a lion tamer’s costume for next year, because -- with remarkable consistency -- this year’s end-of-conference panel discussion was very heated and I thought might even erupt into fisticuffs. (I’m only slightly exaggerating.) Somehow we always manage to end the conference on a raucous note and it’s sort of “expected” now that the session I always moderate will be lively and entertaining in this way, and I dread the day it’s ever dull. (As an aside, I forgot to get the group to pose for a photo in a “group hug” afterward like we did last year. Pity.) The presentations included a very informative and worthwhile explanation of Ontario’s complicated blue box funding formula from Guy Perry (of Stewardship Ontario). Somehow I felt I actually understood the formula after Guy’s PowerPoint presentation (a thought that scares me a little!). But the sparks really flew when the presentations moved on to two things: glass markets in Ontario and the LCBO’s sponsorship of wine in Tetra Pak containers. Lyle Clark had presented on the LCBO’s new marketing and branding strategies in the morning. Usman Valiante, in my panel, sat beside Lyle and the two had a lively exchange over what Usman claimed was a commercial agenda on the part of the LCBO to develop its own house brands of imported cheap wine that it will sell as “premium” wine with a huge markup, in Tetra Paks. I won’t get into that debate here, but instead direct you to read Usman’s blog entry (see Contributor’s Blog) on this and the associated downloadable files (look under Posted Documents on the home page). It makes for interesting reading, whatever your position is on Tetra Paks and related packaging issues. The other topic that the panelists scrapped over was the market for recycled glass in Ontario. As luck would have it, this is a timely issue for Lyle Clark and the LCBO which (along with Stewardship Ontario) is sponsoring the establishment of a large glass recycling plant in Ontario. John Mullinder of PPEC was also on the panel, but this time in his capacity as a CERB member (which represents packaging stewards who are concerned about the status quo of the blue box and also see the funding formula as somewhat perverse, in that the brand owners whose materials are recycled at the highest rates [i.e., who are the best environmental performers] pay the steepest bills). Guy Perry weighed in on the glass recycling issue since he’s with Stewardship Ontario, and Usman declared his interests up front, since his clients include the Brewers of Canada and OI Canada (the largest glass recycler and bottle maker in the province). In short, this was a knowledgable group, but with very different ideas about what should happen with glass, whether or not there should be a deposit-refund system for LCBO glass, and related issues. I’d like to mention here that I pointed out to the group that Ontario still collects a 10 cent “recycling levy” on all alcohol beverage containers sold in the province. This levy collects a staggering $60 million annually for the government which, alas, puts it into general revenues and doesn’t “recycle” it into recycling (as it were). Another tax grab. I failed to point out at the time that this amount is, ironically, roughly equal to what the public pays province-wide for its half of the net cost of the blue box (industry pays the other 50 per cent). I think an interesting discussion should take place about the proper use of these funds. In my opinion, either we should scrap the levy or direct it to support the recycling infrastructure in Ontario. Lyle Clark kept stating that he didn’t think people would like to see, say, $250,000 used to sponsor a lifecycle assessment of Tetra Paks used for wine. Methinks that’s chump change with $60 million collected every year from the recycling levy. (By the way, partly because of my annoying questions, Tetra Pak is actually funding just such a study via Franklin Associates, so eventually we’ll get some useful data on all this.) The detailed arguments back and forth about glass markets are too complicated for me to recap here, but I thought I’d follow up by drawing everyone’s attention to a news item about a new study that has implications for one of the main bones of contention. What is that bone? That rather than being “recycled” in the true sense, Usman alleged that too much of the glass collected via the blue box is being “downcycled” into aggregate products whereas much of the “embodied energy” of a bottle, for instance, could be better preserved in true bottle-to-bottle glass recycling. Anyway, an article appeared in the RCO’s Highlights and Headlines email newsletter about a glass recycling study from the UK -- and I’ve ordered a copy of the study referenced in the article. Actually it was Usman Valiante who told me about this study, still a bit agitated about the debate at the MWIN conference. He suggests we all consider the article below in the context of the fact that the two OI Canada glass manufacturing plants in Brampton and South Etobicoke have agreed to buy all (including green) of the glass recovered from any LCBO deposit-refund system. In this context, Usman asks: Does it make any sense to crush and color mix glass in single-stream collection systems, invest more energy and effort to “beneficiate it” (all at municipal cost) and then use it as aggregate replacement? He says we need a definition of recycling that is tied to net environmental benefit. Anyway, here’s an article about the study, which gives you the gist of what the study is about. There’s an interesting dimension here in which the evaluation of recycling programs is tied to greenhouse gas emissions -- something we’re likely to hear a lot more about in future. Click below to scroll down and read the article:

The fight over papermill sludge

by Emily Atkins

There was a public rally yesterday to protest the land application of papermill sludge at a site near Pelham, Ontario. The rally points up the fact that Ontario's Environment Minister Laurel Broten has not followed through with the full application of recommendations from an expert panel assigned to study appropriate handling and disposal of papermill sludge. A letter I received via email from activist Maureen Reilly outlines the position of people opposed to the casual land application of papermill sludge, who are calling for the implementation of the expert panel's recommendations. I've reproduced the letter below with minimal editing, and I've also cut and pasted two other things Maureen sent me: a Hansard transcript of an exchange in the legislature over this issue and also the expert panel's recommendations. Dear Guy: There was a big picket line in the rural community of Pelham, Ontario yesterday, as residents expressed their anger and concern about hundreds of truck loads of industrial papermill sludge dumped in their community. The Ministry of the Environment has failed to implement the recommendations of their own panel of scientists, physicians and experts as to how to manage this sludge material. The experts told the Minister to manage the material as a waste. Instead the material is dumped in rural communities with no waste permits whatsoever. Despite this, Laurel Broton, the Ontario Minister of the Environment, rose in the House to answer questions from Oppositon member Peter Kormos, and lied to the Legislature. She said: "I think it’s important for the people of the community to understand what the expert panel did say. The government’s actions are exactly consistent with what the expert panel said. " OH REALLY? 1. The Expert Panel said that any proposed site to receive the Sound-Sorb material needed a hydrogeological assessment before the sludge arrived. It said a Site Specific Risk Assessment may also need to be undertaken. So where is the hydrogeological assessment for Pelham? Where is the Site Specific Risk Assessment for Pelham? 2. The Expert Panel said the sludge needed to be managed as a waste under a Certificate of Approval. So where is the Certificate of Approval for the site? Why is the sludge hauled by trucks with no waste licence? 3. The Expert Panel said the sludge needed to be composted before it was brought to the site. In fact uncomposted sludge is being brought to the site...so it is not consistent with the recommendations of the Expert Panel. 4. The Minister suggested that the sludge at Pelham had been tested for 90 chemical and bacterial parameters. But the Ontario Minsitry of the Environment refused to provide any test results on the sludge at the Pelham site, and it is not clear that any testing was done at the site. The tests referred to by the Minister are not the same sludge as at the Pelham site. This sludge comes from Abitibi Thorold, a completely different facility than the tests provided to the Expert Panel which were from Atlantic Packaging in Scarborough and Whitby. And since Sound-Sorb is may contain any liquid, industrial or hazardous waste there is no telling what hazardous waste material is being brought to any particular site. Conclusion: The minister should publicly apologize to the Legislature for lying. And the minister should be forced to read aloud the true recommendations of the Expert Panel in the Legislature and immediately implement them. Hansard and expert panel recommendations are pasted below.