Pictured here: Calvin Lakhan
Waste Wiki helps us rethink our waste strategy
Managing our waste in Ontario is very expensive and it’s time to rethink our provincial strategy, says Calvin Lakhan, PhD, co-investigator of the "Waste Wiki" project at York University, a research project devoted to advancing understanding of waste management research and policy in Canada.
The Waste Wiki is an online, open access resource that houses data, research and literature pertinent to Canada’s waste management sector, as well as a research initiatives designed to advance an understanding of diversion behavior and the impacts of waste management policy.
“The Blue Box program costs $400 million each year in Ontario and municipal waste management runs to more than a billion dollars each year,” says Lakhan, who leads the initiative in collaboration with Mark Winfield, a professor in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (EUC). “However, our research shows that not all recycling is created equal and we need to prioritize what to recycle and why.
“People feel very strongly about waste and recycling issues. We use sound science and data to examine policies and get the emotion out of the equation.”
Lakhan notes that institutions such as governments often talk about achieving zero waste or minimizing single-use plastics.
“These are aspirational goals, not practical goals, and when politicians communicate them, they often set us up for failure,” Lakhan says. “Instead, it’s important to achieve incremental change.”
Often, there are socio-economic barriers to good sustainability practices. “Sustainability should not come at the expense of groups with lower socio-economic status,” Lakhan says. “Most people want to do the right thing but find barriers to participation and there is the potential for them to be unfairly villainized.” For example, many people live in multi-residential buildings that don’t have recycling programs, allowing them no opportunity to participate in what others experience as a regular service. They don’t have equal access to these systems.
Lakhan also says that the Ontario government needs to think seriously about the impact of extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation, a policy approach that places responsibility for post-consumer use of products.
“It seems intuitive, but when you talk about companies absorbing the cost of keeping the products out of the landfill, is that a cost they pass on to consumers?” he asks. “Our research shows that there is an increase of between six and 15 per cent in the cost of packaged goods to support EPR legislation.” The impact can vary widely across jurisdictions and if that adds $10 to the grocery bill, especially in inflationary times, it can be catastrophic.
“We need to look at the problem of waste through multiple lenses and ground the related policies in reality. This means getting rid of siloed thinking (e.g, Blue Box vs. Green Bin) and working collaboratively.”
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