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Ontario: Queen's Park cool to landfill tax suggestion

By Andrew Reeves     Nov 30, 2011 in Environment
Toronto - The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario suggested yesterday at a press conference for the release of his Annual Report that a landfill tax would be his preferred choice for increasing waste diversion in Ontario. Others aren't so sure.
Ontario is not doing enough to meet and expand upon its waste diversion objectives, and a landfill tax, modeled on the system in place in many European countries, may be the solution.
So says Gord Miller, Ontario's Environmental Commissioner, in a press conference held yesterday morning to mark the release of his Annual Report, Engaging Solutions. Miller indicated to the assembled media that a "surcharge on waste sent for disposal," as it is labelled in the report, was his preferred option for waste diversion.
He pointed to Europe where a tax on material ending up in landfill has resulted in upwards of 75 per cent of construction and demolition debris being recycled, as opposed to landfilled.
This supports a further claim made in the report that the industrial, commercial, and institutional (IC&I) sectors are one of the largest culprits in waste generation with the lowest waste diversion rates in the province. Generating over 60 per cent of Ontario's waste, the IC&I sectors divert only 13 per cent from landfill.
So a landfill tax would not fall upon taxpayers directly, but would burden businesses in these sectors that don't do enough to divert waste from landfill.
But the idea of a "surcharge on waste sent for disposal" received a cold welcome in the rest of Queen's Park. Dalton McGuinty's Liberals, under pressure from Tim Hudak, are promising no new taxes in an effort to overcome the Progressive Conservatives "Tax Man" label applied to the Premier with some success in the last election.
"Obviously a determined effort has to be made to increase the diversion rates," Environment Minister Jim Bradley told CBC. But he quickly added "there will be no tax on landfills. The government has said that there will be no new taxes."
Progressive Conservative MPP Michael Harris, his party’s environment critic, told the Toronto Star that “our party doesn’t believe in taxing Ontarians at this time," but he agreed with Bradley that there is a waste diversion problem in Ontario.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath would not rule out support of a landfill tax, although she does support alternative ways of reducing waste.
"It's not a matter of raising taxes," she told CBC, "but when it comes to putting responsibility on producers for the waste that they're producing then certainly that's one of the solutions that has to be in the mix."
The report states that "the provincial government has struggled for decades with how to address Ontario’s waste dilemma," and in a province that generates more than 12M tonnes of waste annually, it would require a monumental effort to stay on top of it.
And this responsibility falls largely to the Ministry of the Environment, who Miller argues has lost upwards of 45 per cent of its operating budget since 1992/1993.
Engaging Solutions is frank about some of the many problems facing waste diversion in Ontario. Some of the many issues it highlights include:
- the failure of the Waste Diversion Act to prioritize waste reduction and reuse over recycling
- a skewed cost structure that makes landfilling a material cheaper than recycling
- poor diversion in the IC&I sectors
- a lack of financial incentives to reduce waste
The current state of waste diversion in Ontario is not indicative of the tremendous success the province has enjoyed in the past in implementing and achieving waste reduction objectives in the early 1990s. But tough and consistent regulations from the MOE and a greater effort to encourage the IC&I sectors to divert waste from landfill can go a long way towards changing Ontario's waste fortunes.
As can maintaining funding levels for the MOE.
More about environmental commissioner of ontario, government of ontario, Gord miller, Landfill, queen's park
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