Commentary: Ontario’s Advanced Organics Policy

Colin Isaacs

Colin Isaacs
BioCycle June 2018, Vol. 59, No. 5, p. 30

On April 30, 2018, the Ontario government issued a Food and Organic Waste Policy Statement that is among the most advanced of its kind in North America if not in the world. Under the Province of Ontario’s recently passed Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, the Policy Statement became law on the day it was issued and may serve to completely restructure management of organics in the Canadian province. Some details still have to be confirmed, which is expected to occur after legislative elections on June 7. All three political parties have expressed support for the Policy. Implementation should begin early next year.

The Ontario government makes clear in the Policy Statement that it sees waste reduction and resource recovery of food and organic waste as key components of its target of a circular economy. Interestingly, food waste is defined as the edible parts of plants and animals that are produced or harvested but that are not ultimately consumed. Organic waste is the inedible parts of plants and animals, as well as other organic material that may be processed along with food waste. The Province considers leaf and yard waste, compostable products and packaging, soiled paper, diapers and pet waste as all included in the definition of organic waste and therefore covered by the Policy Statement.

Ontario has a population of about 14 million and generates about 3.7 million metric tons/year (4.1 million tons) of food and organic waste. Currently about 60 percent is landfilled. Close to 55 percent is generated from the residential sector with the balance from industrial, commercial and institutional sectors.

Guiding Principles, Policy Elements

Rather than simply adopting regulatory approaches, for example landfill bans, as has been done in some other jurisdictions, Ontario has adopted a number of key guiding principles in the Food and Organic Waste Policy Statement. These include: Encouraging a change in behavior to help prevent and reduce food waste in Ontario; Enabling efficient and effective surplus food redistribution and food waste recovery systems; Building on progress made in Ontario and learning from other leading jurisdictions; Collaborating across all levels of government to avoid duplication; Supporting an outcome-based approach; Using evidence to guide decision-making; Employing regulatory and nonregulatory tools; Creating conditions that support sustainable end markets; Increasing use of innovative technologies; Recognizing the administrative impacts and costs to collect and recover organic resources; and Increasing accountability.

Elements of the policy include:
• Setting sector specific targets for waste reduction and resource recovery of both food and organic waste of either 70 percent or 50 percent by 2023 or 2025, depending on the classification of the entity involved.
• Encouragement to engage in additional reduction and resource recovery efforts with respect to personal hygiene wastes, sanitary products, shredded paper, paper fiber products, compostable products and packaging, and pet food and wastes.
• Prohibition on use of food and organic waste to generate alternative fuels or energy from waste without the concurrent recovery of nutrients. Also prohibitions on direct discharge of food or organic waste into municipal sewers, including through use of food waste disposers or other grinding devices, and use of recovered organic resources for landfill cover. This last will eliminate the practice of using municipal compost for this use.
• Retailers, shopping complexes, restaurants, hotels and motels, and large food processors will be required to source separate organics and are urged to identify where food waste occurs in their operations, conduct regular food waste audits to quantify the amount and type of food waste and to take measures, including education and promotion, to prevent and reduce the amount of food waste occurring. In addition, these generators are encouraged to incorporate use of imperfect produce in food processing and in food and meal preparation and to make imperfect produce available to consumers.
• Municipalities that currently have curbside collection of food and organic waste are required to continue or expand these programs while many of those that do not will be required to put them in place.
• Multiunit residential buildings will be required to provide collection of food and organic waste to their residents.

Of particular note is the section of the Policy Statement on compostable products and packaging, which states that such materials should be recovered for a beneficial use and not sent to disposal. Also producer responsibility should be taken into account with regard to the waste reduction and resource recovery of the compostable products and packaging that producers sell in Ontario. Municipalities and owners and operators of resource recovery systems that process food and organic waste are encouraged to support new technology and innovation to recover compostable products and packaging.

A Food and Organic Waste Action Plan was issued along with the policy statement. Assuming the action plan is followed and the targets summarized above are met, the outcome of the June 7 provincial election appears to be the only potential barrier to Ontario becoming one of the most advanced organic waste management jurisdictions. Even though all three parties in the Legislature support the framework, in politics one can never be certain!

Colin Isaacs is a Chartered Chemist, consultant and analyst in the field of Sustainable Development.

 

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