Archive for the ‘CIELAP Volunteers’ Category

Neglected Waste: Is BC really serious about a zero waste future?

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Neglected Waste: Is BC really serious about a zero waste future?

British Colombia has adopted an overall waste management policy seeking to achieve a zero waste future. For this province to even reach its more modest near-term goal of 70%, it needs to establish policies promoting high levels of diversion for all components of the waste stream. Currently, BC lacks this type of policy for a significant sector of its solid waste stream: construction, renovation, and demolition (CR&D) waste. Although intentions and recommendations have been made by various arms of the government, legislation has yet to be written.

There are numerous reasons why CR&D waste is an ideal target for more comprehensive policy measures. In BC, 19% of the waste stream is CR&D waste (not including CR&D waste that was self-hauled). A Solid Waste Flow Summary Report prepared by BC Stats estimates that just 18% of this waste stream was diverted from landfills in 2006 (not including CR&D waste that was reused on-site). Despite this, the vast majority of CR&D waste is readily recyclable. Wood, concrete, drywall, and asphalt make up two-thirds of CR&D waste – private facilities capable of recycling these wastes already exist in BC. An “other” category accounts for most of the remainder, and half of that is most likely corrugated cardboard, a material that actually generates revenue when recycled.

Perhaps the most convincing argument to draw attention to this issue is the success of CR&D legislation in other countries. Japan is a world leader for its waste management practices. The Recycling Act of 1991 and the launch of its Recycle-based Society in 2000 laid the foundation on which a complex approach to dealing with CR&D waste would be built. Through this framework, Japan attained a recycling rate of 85% in 2002 with a target of 95% set to be reached this year. The multi-faceted nature of Japan’s CR&D waste management system and the total commitment of the Japanese government were critical to its success, allowing it to effectively address issues at every level of operation.

On top of proving that CR&D waste legislation can work, Japan also provides a model system for other jurisdictions to emulate. A report released in June, 2009 by the Recycling Council of BC (RCBC), “On the Road to Zero Waste: Priorities for Local Government”, outlined some general aspects of a management system for CR&D waste that loosely followed Japan’s example. On a fundamental level, however, they are quite different.

The Ministry of the Environment and RCBC have both stated their intention to include the management of CR&D in some form of an extended producer responsibility (EPR) program. This would burden the producers of construction products with the cost of end-of-life management. Japan, on the other hand, assigns the extra cost of diverting CR&D waste to the contractor. This is advantageous for two reasons. The underlying goal of EPR is to provide incentive for companies to design for reuse or recycling. However, if the bulk of a product’s environmental impact happens during its use phase, as is the case with most construction products, this should take precedence. Also, the contractor is best positioned in the CR&D supply chain to benefit from the reduction and reuse of CR&D waste and should be encouraged to do so by being responsible for the cost of it.

Since the Recycling Council of BC’s outline for a potential CR&D waste management program is so vague, it is difficult to directly compare it to Japan’s. Even in its obscurity, it does seem to cover most of the same points; however, forthcoming details will ultimately reveal the government’s level of commitment to achieving a diversion rate comparable to Japan’s.

By Jake Gregory


Is this time for an Oil Intervention?

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Is this time for an Oil Intervention?
Josh Wise CIELAP Intern
June 17, 2010

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

People just want to go on doing what they’re doing. They want business as usual. They say, ‘Oh yes, there’s going to be a problem up ahead,’ but they don’t want to change anything”
– James Lovelock (Carbon Shift, 2009)

The disastrous BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has provided a stark reminder of the lengths our society will go in order to feed our addiction to oil. The destruction caused by this spill should provide a reminder of the true environmental and social costs of oil extraction. The age of inexpensive, easily accessible and (relatively) clean oil extraction has come and gone. In order to meet the ever-increasing demand for energy we have drilled into our oceans, mined virgin ecosystems, and shipped oil halfway around the world and back. This practice has countless ecological and societal implications, which are most often overlooked and externalized.

In spite of numerous calls for change over the past decades, society remains dependant on oil and fossil fuels for its material basis and primary energy source. We must begin to rid ourselves of this dependence and use this disaster as motivation to prepare for a future with less access to petroleum based oil.

The Hubbert Peak Oil Theory –that petroleum supply will decline due to resource depletion– is beginning to come to fruition as new oil discoveries dwindle and extraction increases. Conventionally sourced oil has already peaked in North America with all new discoveries coming in the forms of tar sands and deepwater extraction.

The environmental and social consequences of these extraction methods are being felt throughout the Gulf Coast and Northern Alberta. Both have created enormous regions of contaminated ecosystems and poisoned local indigenous and societal groups; all in the name of short-term economic gains.

Our dependence on this finite resource is changing our climate, initiating wars, and destroying ecosystems. The impacts are being felt at all stages of the resource’s lifecycle, from extraction to consumption. It is time to truly address the need for alternatives.

The search for alternatives has resulted in two major schools of thought: techno-centric ideas, like Green Chemistry, including measures such as oil extraction from Micro-Algae, and theories on low-energy living that aim to reform societal expectations of growth. While approaching the issue from very different perspectives, both schools look to bring greater balance to the ecological, social and economic bottom lines. Maintaining this balance would ensure the true costs of oil extraction are understood and reflected in the financial price to the consumer.

This is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted solution. Our petroleum dependence is ingrained in our current unsustainable lifestyle and like any other addiction it will be difficult to kick the habit. The sustainability movement looks to help free us of this addiction through balanced living. This will involve a combination of techno-centric solutions and societal reforms.

This issue can only be addressed through strong leadership in governance, transparency within industry and awareness in civil society. The responsibility must be shared in order for positive change to occur. The reduction of oil dependence is a major step towards sustainable living where all dimensions of the triple bottom line are equally addressed.

CIELAP looks to advance sustainability ideas in order to help initiate a positive future where the economic, social and environmental bottom lines are in harmony.

Links to recent articles/blogs approaching this subject:–gulf-oil-spill-wake-up-call-for-ontario-groups-warn-mcguinty

Should we drill in the Arctic?

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Delay Arctic Drilling Hearings, Energy Board Urged

CBC, 4 May 2010

Melting Ice Feeds Warming Trend: Report

Montreal Gazette, 29 April 2010

According to an April 29 report published in the journal Nature, as more sea ice melts, more heat is released into the atmosphere, and climate warming is exacerbated. Alarmingly, arctic temperature increases in the last decade have been twice as high as the global average. The large amounts of thin ice covering the artic this year will likely melt quickly, leading to a large thaw. Additionally, a general trend of decreasing winter sea ice has been observed. This will dramatically impact arctic ecosystems, and threaten the lifestyles of those living in the region.

The fragility of the arctic ecosystem is underscored by oil extraction activity in the region. The recent explosion of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico highlights the potentially doubly negative impact of arctic oil extraction. Not only are greenhouse gases emitted via the extraction and use of fossil fuels, but the technology used to extract these fuels may have catastrophic environmental impacts in the event of a malfunction. The National Energy Board is currently holding hearings on Beaufort Sea drilling. Despite being asked by oil companies to postpone these hearings, the long term result of the hearings may result in a policy that addresses the long-term safety and management of arctic drilling. Many environmental groups have argued that drilling in the arctic should not take place until sound policy regulating it has been implemented.

CIELAP has a strong interest in arctic environmental issues, and has partnered with the National Film Board to hold screenings of films related to arctic issues, among other topics. These films include Arctic Circle, This Land, The Great Adventure, Being Caribou, and Weather Report. The firms depict the unique vulnerability of the artic, and the environmental and social impacts of climate change in the region, and globally. They also present an imperative for policy that addresses the causes and impacts of arctic climate change.

Article 1 link:

Article 2 link:

Information about past and upcoming CIELAP events:

Phase 2 of Ontario’s WEEE Program Plan Announced.

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, Hon. John Gerretsen, announced Phase 2 of Ontario’s ambitious program for dealing with waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) on March 30th at the City of Toronto Reuse Centre. This comes after Phase 1’s first full year of operation. On top of computers, computer peripherals, TVs, printers, and monitors that can already be recycled under Phase 1, Phase 2 is set to include cell phones, telephones, scanners, copiers, typewriters, modems, and almost any audio visual equipment, such as cameras and stereos. Since WEEE is a rapidly growing and highly toxic waste stream, this is a step in the right direction for Ontario’s sustainability and for the province to become a North American leader for handling WEEE in a responsible manner. This program reflects Ontario’s broader goal of implementing a waste management strategy based around extended producer responsibility (EPR), which transfers responsibility for dealing with a product’s end-of-life from municipalities to the companies that design them. Currently, companies in the electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) industry fund an organization responsible for collecting and recycling, refurbishing, or disposing of WEEE, Ontario Electronic Stewardship (OES), through the fees it charges on EEE sold in Ontario.

So, how well has Phase 1 of the WEEE Program Plan worked after its first full year of implementation? The results look to have been mediocre at best. When the Program Plan was released on March 10, 2008, it was estimated that 42,000 tonnes of WEEE would be collected after the first year of the program. That number was reduced to 33,200 tonnes in the Revised Program Plan released 16 months later. And in a technical memo released in December of 2009, after the program had been operating for 9 months, the amount of WEEE expected to be collected was just 23,200 tonnes. OES estimated that there was approximately 64,000 tonnes of Phase 1 WEEE available for collection last year, and so over a third of designated WEEE was diverted from landfills. However, this is 55% less than what was initially projected. The reason stated for the missed target was that “OES is actively competing for WEEE with a group of companies that have chosen not to participate in the OES program.” However, OES requires that any producer that chooses not to participate has to submit its own program plan, so these effects should have been taken into consideration when the projections were made. The technical memo neglects to state how much WEEE is being diverted through these non-participating collection organizations, so it is difficult to judge the overall effectiveness of the program.

There may be other reasons why the target has been missed. A key driver for the success of this program is consumer participation through an effective promotion and education initiative. This initiative has been lacking. Anecdotally, few people I’ve spoken to have heard of this program. A few newspaper articles discussed its announcement a year ago, but there has been little or no media exposure since. I also decided to investigate how the collection sites were promoting this program, so I went down to my local drop-off point, the Salvation Army on Parliament Street in Toronto’s East End. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was an absence of any signage. When I inquired about this, the cashier explained to me that they did not have a van to transport the WEEE to a central collection point, and, on top of that, they had no more available storage space. So they aren’t collecting WEEE anymore. Despite this, that Salvation Army is still listed on the OES website,, where consumers can find their nearest collection point.

There are, of course, bound to be some kinks in any new program of this nature and the WEEE Program definitely attempts to address problems with WEEE that have been shirked in the past. I look forward to hearing what action the government or OES plans to take so future targets can be met.

Jake Gregory, CIELAP Volunteer

“E-Waste and the Olympics”

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Winter Olympic Medals Made From Recycled E-Waste

Scientific American

February 12, 2010

For the first time, Olympic medals for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games contain components of recycled electronic waste. Manufactured by Teck Resources of Vancouver, the medals contain up to 1.5 per cent metals sourced from computer parts, circuit boards, and other electronics. While the medals are still almost completely made of materials from mined mineral deposits, the inclusion of e-waste symbolizes a shift towards not only recycling electronic products, but also the incorporation of this recycling and reuse into important social and cultural applications, thus reducing the environmental impact of this waste.

This is crucial, as increasing use of personal technology and other electronics generates increasing amounts of waste, which poses a significant environmental and human health challenge when disposed of in landfills, as is done throughout the developing world. When toxic components of e-waste, such as lead and cadmium, are not removed prior to disposal, they leach into the soil and eventually contaminate groundwater. In some cases, such as that of an e-waste processing facility in Guiyu, China, groundwater may become so contaminated that authorities will have to ship drinking water from other locations, dozens of kilometers away. Additionally, workers processing e-waste are exposed to toxins though inhalation, ingestion and dermal absorption, and these toxins may be carried home on their clothing and skin, thus contaminating children and other family members.

Despite the grave and well documented environmental and human health impacts, the global trade of e-waste continues. Where e-waste disposal regulations are strict in developed countries, recyclers may chose to simply export the waste rather than paying the high costs of recycling it domestically. Additionally, the e-waste industry continues to be a significant employer in developing countries, with up to 25,000 people employed in this sector in Delhi alone. Even though the 1000 Olympic and Paralympic medals do not significantly reduce the amount of e-waste entering Canadian and international landfills, they do illustrate progress, and may generate discussion and awareness of the issue.  This in turn could lead to greater domestic reuse and safer disposal of electronic materials, as well as eventual strengthening of e-waste policy.

CIELAP has previously researched the topic of e-waste recycling and the trade in waste electrical and electronic equipment. In our July 2009 Discussion Paper on the Sustainable International Management of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, we identified shortcomings of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, and noted how industrialized countries take advantage of a loophole that permits trade in e-waste for the purpose of reuse. The report also discussed the ongoing illicit transporting and dumping of hazardous wastes, and the environmental and human health effects of this practice. Finally, CIELAP presented recommendations for extended producer responsibility in managing waste electrical and electronic equipment.

- N. Antonowicz, CIELAP Intern

News article link:

CIELAP report link: