The Ontario government has a new solution to Canada’s plastic crisis: slash and burn. The environment ministry is proposing to cut environmental regulations to make it easier for companies to incinerate plastic. And it wants to call it recycling.
The government wants to exempt companies that propose experimental projects to turn waste into fuel or chemicals from environmental assessment.
And it looks like two of the country’s biggest plastics producers are behind it.
Dow Chemical and Imperial Oil have both have registered lobbyists at Queen’s Park to talk about “the Environmental Assessment Act” (Imperial) and recovering plastic for “waste to energy / waste to polymer” programs (Dow).
These companies promise a miracle cure for plastic waste. But in reality, such projects are more likely to burn the waste, releasing a host of toxic pollutants while generating climate-warming greenhouse gasses. And by removing the requirement for an environmental assessment, the public wouldn’t know about a new project until it was too late to do anything about it.
There may be a good reason for companies to want to avoid public scrutiny. Just last month in Newfoundland, the government rejected an application for a massive waste-to-fuel and waste-to-energy project in the coastal town of Lewisporte. The proposal, available to the public, involved using an unproven technology to turn 250,000 tonnes of plastic waste imported from Europe into fuel.
The community mobilized and sent some 200 letters of opposition to the project. And they stopped it.
Ontarians also have a history of opposing waste-burning plants in our backyards. Burning garbage, and especially plastic waste, releases pollutants into the air that can cause respiratory illness, headaches, hormone disruption and cancer. It also leaves toxic solid waste, including ash, that must be landfilled, where it leaches pollutants into the soil and water.
And experience from across North America shows that low-income and communities of colour or Indigenous communities tend to bear the brunt of the pollution related to the manufacture and disposal of plastics, including incineration.
Letting the public in may make it harder for companies to get the rubber stamp they are hoping for. But it’s outrageous that the Ontario government wants to help them avoid scrutiny.
Under the proposed changes in Ontario, a new facility slated to burn up to 365,000 tonnes of waste each year could be approved in your community without anyone aside from officials in the environment ministry having eyes on the details.
The real answer to the global crisis of plastic waste and pollution is to produce — and use — less. But Dow and Imperial Oil, who between them make more than 1.7 million tonnes of plastic each year, do not appear interested in reducing plastic use.
Dow also rolled out a greenwashing Hefty Bag program in Boise, Idaho, where residents were encouraged to sort their plastic waste that would supposedly be collected for recycling. But an investigative report found those carefully sorted bags were shipped to another state and burned as fuel in a cement kiln.
Using plastic waste to produce energy or fuel is incineration — a dirty, expensive process no matter what you call it. It’s not the solution to the plastic pollution problem.
Instead of promoting the plastic industry’s “miracle cure” for waste, the Ontario government should tighten regulations to reduce the creation of unnecessary plastics in the first place. The government should further encourage the creation of environmentally-sound packaging and products that can be reused, repaired and recycled safely.
This article was reposted from The Hamilton Spectator. This article first appeared in the The Hamilton Spectator, on Friday, March 4th, 2022.