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CSA guideline could serve as model for new reporting system in Ontario 

The waste management sector is undergoing a period of rapid change. New technology is transforming the way businesses and municipalities collect, sort and recycle materials. Competition among waste haulers and processors is leading to more efficient production systems and practices. And provincial governments across the country are developing policies to move Canada toward a more circular economy.  

But significant challenges persist. Customers requiring waste collection and recycling services are often unable to verify how their materials are being managed while governments continue to struggle with gathering and verifying the data needed to track the sector’s progress. Ontario, in particular, has been ambitious in advancing new recycling policies, including its recently proclaimed waste diversion law, the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act. But the province must still overcome its “data collection gap.”

To help address this issue, the Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA) worked with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) to develop a new guideline in 2015 to improve the collection of data and ensure the sustainable management of waste.

Organizations that receive verification under SPE-890: A Guideline for Accountable Management of End-of-Life Materials must adhere to a common set of definitions, report performance rates and undergo third-party data audits to ensure accuracy.

Meeting these requirements strengthens the reputation of verified businesses while giving them the ability to provide detailed information to their customers to assist in making more effective decisions on recycling and organics diversion.  

OWMA members recognize the value of this rigorous environmental and reporting guideline. To date, Countrywide Recycling and Electro-Shred have received their verification, and TRY Recycling and Pnewko Brothers are working toward theirs. 

We are now hearing from our members that certain customers in the market for collection and recycling services are specifically looking for businesses that meet the requirements in the CSA guideline. They want greater accountability and transparency. And they know they’ll get that working with a business that has received verification.

Of course, as some companies lead the way, there will be many businesses that do the bare minimum, or even ignore existing laws and provincial rules. In fact, Ontario’s Auditor General found, in her 2016 report, that many companies are even operating without an Environmental Compliance Approval.

To bring everyone up to the same level, the government must continue its work on establishing environmental standards that are properly enforced. Otherwise, companies that have made investments to maintain a high-level of environmental protection will be put a competitive disadvantage with those that either ignore or flout the rules.

Providing more effective enforcement in Ontario will require consistent data collection.

For the last 14 years, Waste Diversion Ontario, which has now been transformed into the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority, and the province’s industry-funding organizations, such as Stewardship Ontario, have been accumulating large stores of data on producers, waste haulers and processors. But these organizations’ definitions, metrics and data-sets are fragmented.

That will need to change now that Ontario’s new waste diversion law is in effect.

The government intends to wind up the province’s existing recycling programs and put new regulations in place under the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act that will establish individual obligations for producers to collect and recycle e-waste, used tires, household hazardous materials and Blue Box waste.

To ensure each individual producer meets its obligations and service providers’ results are tracked and verified, it will be critical for the government to create a clear, consistent set of standards for reporting and record-keeping that can be used by the Authority to monitor compliance.

The OWMA believes the Guideline for Accountable Management of End-of-Life Materials provides a good starting point. This guideline remains voluntary, but its rigorous tracking and reporting requirements, along with its independent analysis and verification process, could serve as a model for the Authority’s new reporting system.

The OWMA has been in discussions with the government to highlight how using this approach would create the coherence needed to collect and analyze data while strengthening the Authority’s ability to effectively monitor compliance.

Of course, it will be up to the Authority’s new board and the government to decide on how to manage record-keeping and reporting. But if they chose to follow the example of the CSA guideline, Ontario could establish a level-playing field for the waste management sector and ensure that all companies competing and collaborating to recover, haul or process materials can operate within a fair, open market that prioritizes increased recycling and environmental protection.

(This op-ed appeared in the December/January issue of Solid Waste and Recycling Magazine.)