16 Jun Good Riddance: Reduce, Reuse, Reread
Good Riddance: Reduce, Reuse, Reread
In 2003, the Environmental Law Centre (ELC) published the second edition of ‘Good Riddance’, a survey report that summarized the waste management system in Alberta. It has been 17 years and a lot has changed in the world of environmental law and policy and so, in 2020 we followed up on this report to see what actually had changed and importantly what hadn’t in the waste management sphere.
Today, waste management is more of a front-page issue than ever before, with stories about waste even making it into international headlines. For example, in 2019 Canada came under international scrutiny when it was discovered that Canadian waste was being shipped overseas and dumped at ports in countries like Malaysia and the Philippines. Many of these challenges first came to light when China stopped accepting Canada’s contaminated recycling (contaminated recycling often ends up as waste because it is too costly or difficult to properly recycle). Before this, most of the materials being diverted from landfills in Canada were sent to China but, without this option, more waste started being sent either to Canadian landfills or to ports on the shores of other unwilling countries. Clearly, moving forward, it will be important to find a more sustainable solution for this waste.
On a positive note, these stories, and others like them, spurred the Basel Convention to expand the waste types that are regulated under the Convention text. The Basel Convention regulates international trade and disposal of hazardous waste and in response to some of the uproar that followed the discovery of plastic dumping by countries like Canada, the Convention was expanded to include plastic wastes.
So, in light of all of these changes and recognizing the growing importance that waste management will play as our global population continues to grow and to consume, the ELC revisited this 2003 report.
In Good Riddance, readers will get a review of the regulatory structure of different waste management streams including hazardous and non-hazardous waste, oilfield waste, biomedical waste, agricultural waste, nuclear waste, and recyclables. Much of this regulatory regime is at the provincial level but any important federal acts will also be noted. This is not an exhaustive list of waste streams and the report does not touch on other areas of pollution such as air and water emissions, contaminated lands, or impacts on instream flows.
Instead, the report focuses on some of the more ‘traditional’ areas of waste management and seeks to provide an update on the waste streams that were considered in the 2003 Good Riddance report. Despite this, the distinction between ‘waste’ and ‘pollution’ is unclear and there are myriad ways that we could have framed a waste management report like this. To supplement this survey, we suggest taking a look at a report the ELC published in December 2019 called “The Polluter Pays Principle in Alberta Law: An Introduction & Survey”. This report provides a summary of the polluter pays principle in Alberta, how it has evolved, how it is operationalized, and how it is applied in Alberta and would be a helpful addition to any discussion of waste management.
The ELC also recognizes that certain aspects of our current waste management regime are insufficient or outdated and can be improved. Currently, our waste management system focuses on management after the fact rather than prevention and has a number of gaps where dangerous waste streams fall through the cracks. These problems are not unique to Alberta and are a challenge for waste management operators across the country. Despite this, there are ways for us to improve. To learn about another system, readers can turn to our accompanying report: “Extended Producer Responsibility: Designing the Regulatory Framework” which looks at the principles of extended producer responsibility (EPR). EPR is a waste management model that extends responsibility for waste products to the producers who made them. Check this report out as a great accompaniment to start to imagine how we can improve.
The Good Riddance report is meant to be a survey of current law and regulation and a general reference guide which can be used as a launching point for further ELC work. It is complicated during this unprecedented era to discuss anything other than the reality of COVID-19 but it is important to keep working on these critical issues and to keep pressure on our provincial and federal governments to not delay the momentum for updates to our waste management system. For example, just prior to publishing these reports, news articles began to surface that the federal government’s pledge to institute some form of single use plastics ban by 2021 had been pushed back. This is just one example of how easy it is to push off environmental issues and how important it is to keep our fingers on the pulse and ensure these programs keep moving forward.
by Rebecca Kauffman
 CBC News, “Canadian garbage wrongly dumped in the Philippines is coming home” (2 May 2019) CBC News online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/garbage-philippines-duterte-manilla-1.5120279; David Common, “We are going to send this back: Malaysia returning unwanted Canadian plastic” (28 May 2019) CBC News online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/we-are-going-to-send-this-back-malaysia-returning-unwanted-canadian-plastic-1.5152274.
 Michaela Marini Higgs, “America’s new recycling crisis, explained by an expert” (2 April 2019) Vox online: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/4/2/18290956/recycling-crisis-china-plastic-operationnational-sword.
 Kayla Hounsell, “Canadian municipalities struggling to find place for recyclables after China restricts foreign waste” (29 March 2018) CBC News online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/garbagerecycling-china-plastics-canada-1.4586602; Sasa Petricic, “China is no longer world’s dumping ground, but cleaning up its own backyard is proving to be a challenge” (28 March 2019) CBC News online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/pollution-recycling-china-petricic-1.4593078.
 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, 22 March 1989, 1673 UNTS 57 (entered into force 5 May 1992).
 UN Environment Programme, “Basel Convention: Controlling transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal” online: http://www.basel.int/Implementation/Plasticwastes/Overview/tabid/6068/Default.aspx.
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