A vision of Ottawa as a circular economy

The amount of waste produced by Glebe households is increasing. While there are no silver bullets, some hope lies in the City’s developing Solid Waste Master Plan. Have your say at engage.ottawa.ca/solid-waste-master-plan. PHOTO: Kate Reekie

By Kate Reekie

You may have noticed that since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of waste being produced by Ottawa households has increased, and the Glebe is no exception. Seeing our sidewalks heaped with refuse on garbage day is a tangible reminder of the importance of a municipal solid waste management system that is sustainable and focused above all on reducing waste.

Last year, the city launched a three-year process to develop a Solid Waste Master Plan that will guide Ottawa’s waste management processes for the next 30 years. Since then, a tremendous amount of analytical work has been completed to support this new planning, all of which is accessible on the engage.ottawa.ca/solid-waste-master-plan website. As a city, we need to make sure we choose the right path, particularly during this historic juncture in which we are confronting both a climate crisis and a pollution crisis.

Right now, Ottawa diverts just 43 per cent of its waste from landfill. It is one of the worst performers among Ontario municipalities; the best are diverting more than 65 per cent. If we continue at this rate, our Trail Road landfill facility is projected to reach capacity by 2043. The monumental expense of building a new landfill is not something most politicians and taxpayers are willing to contemplate. Meanwhile, the landfilling of organic waste continues to emit methane, which is 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and it is not fully captured by the city’s landfill gas capture technology.

From waste laggard to leader: Ottawa’s new Waste Plan
So how to get Ottawa to up its game? There are no silver bullets. What is needed most is to shift mindsets and budgets higher up on the waste hierarchy, to more actively prioritize reducing our consumption, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, sharing and upcycling the products we do own or use and only go to recycling as a last resort.

An aspirational goal of zero-waste should guide the new waste plan, bolstered by a vision of Ottawa as a circular economy. This concept is based on the principles of intentionally designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible and regenerating natural systems. A circular economy is about using our limited resources carefully and efficiently.

It is just as critical to meeting our UN climate goals as tackling the energy transition. While the supply of energy and its consumption in buildings and transport together generate 55 per cent of global GHG emissions, the remaining 45 per cent are directly linked to the production of goods and the management of land – both focus areas for the circular economy.

Waste planning for a more
circular local economy
Practically speaking, there are several things within the city’s realm of influence that could reduce our waste footprint and bring more circularity to Ottawa:

As producers take over responsibility for the funding and operation of recycling programs for their products under Extended Producer Responsibility, which is coming soon in Ontario, Ottawa should put the funds it saves towards funding innovative programs that promote circularity through reuse models, product repair, food redistribution and the “sharing economy.”

Ottawa has the authority to regulate single-use plastics. Since plans to ban them have regrettably stalled at both the federal and provincial levels, Ottawa should implement an immediate ban.

The city should incentivize waste reduction by making households pay for the garbage they produce through a “pay-as-you-throw” system. It should also consider the use of clear garbage bags, which would not be collected if recyclables or food waste is discernible to the collector.

Apartment buildings and condos are an area for potential improvement in Ottawa’s dismal waste diversion rate – mandatory organic waste collection and improved recycling efforts would be a good place to start.

While the city is considering “waste-to-energy” incineration as a possible technology to burn residual garbage and create energy, this would be a grave and expensive mistake that would lock us into an unsustainable path for years to come.  Incineration would have the perverse effect of disincentivizing reduction, reuse and even recycling, as there is a continued need to feed the fires at a certain minimum volume. And waste-to-energy plants emit more greenhouse gases in the combustion process than they offset from the energy created.

Add your voice
to the conversation!
Glebe residents can engage on this issue and input ideas through the city’s Engage Ottawa webpage. Write Mayor Jim Watson and Councillor Shawn Menard to let them know what you would like to see in the new waste plan. This fall, the planning team will be identifying policy options. The second of three rounds of public consultations is planned for the first quarter of 2021. Keep your ears open!

Kate Reekie chairs the Glebe Community Association’s Zero Waste Committee and is representing the Community Associations for Environmental Sustainability (CAFES) on Ottawa’s Waste Plan Stakeholder Sounding Board.

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