Nova Scotia only reaches 20 per cent of waste diversion target

At current pace, it would take another 40 years to reach goal the province has already missed

By Rachel Ward, CBC News Posted: Jan 03, 2016 7:00 AM ATLast Updated: Jan 03, 2016 7:00 AM AT

Nova Scotia has missed — and is far from reaching — its goal to reduce waste in landfills.

The province set a target in 2007 to divert waste from landfills, reducing the per person amount to 300 kg per year by 2015. Instead, each person creates 380 kg on average, more than 25 per cent above the target set in the 2007 Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act.

That’s only a drop of five per cent from 2004 levels, where Nova Scotians produced 400 kg of average waste per person.

The provincial government has missed chances to increase recycling, says a solid waste consultant who has worked in the province and abroad.

“This has not been a sufficient priority at the provincial level for too long,” Doug Hickman said.

With only a 20 per cent decrease, the province has barely come close to reaching the trash reduction target, but it is accomplishing another of the act’s goals: protect a minimum 12 per cent of Nova Scotia land.

Hickman points out the biggest recent waste change — Halifax residents using clear bags — was the region’s decision, and says not enough is being done by the province.

He says to meet the trash targets greater contributions are needed from the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors.

Clear bags ‘low-hanging fruit’

Nova Scotia made major changes to its trash and recycling system about 15 years ago — including closing garbage incinerators and investing in recycling — which launched it to the top in Canada at waste diversion.

At its current pace, it would take Nova Scotia another 40 years to reach the waste diversion target it’s already missed.

Clear bags are “low-hanging fruit,” says Bob Kenney, recycling development officer with the provincial environment department, yet they have helped reduce recycling entering landfills.

Kenney would like bigger changes, but says it takes time to sort out details to actually put them in place.

Major change a ‘conundrum’

Kenney and colleagues have suggested clear bags for industry and a ban on textiles, clean wood, asphalt shingles, among other materials, from landfills.

“You could ban everything in the landfill technically and say we’ll get to zero, but obviously that’s not financially feasible,” he said.

“That’s sort of the conundrum we’re in now. If we’re finished our low hanging fruit — and we’re getting into more difficult and more difficult tonnages to divert and especially at a higher cost — we have to be more selective.”

‘Polluter pay’ considered

Staff also are considering a “polluter pay” policy, known as extended producer responsibility, which the act says the province should consider.

That would mean large companies producing plastic or paper packages, for example, would have to help pay to recycle those. That could shift the burden from the province’s bill and encourage companies to reduce waste, Kenney said.

Although Kenney says “little old Nova Scotia can’t just change the packaging world on its own,” B.C., Ontario and much of Europe already have such polluter-pay polices. Nova Scotia also has such a program for electronics.

No ‘undue’ burden, minister says

In a statement, acting Environment Minister Randy Delorey said the province must modernize its waste management strategies.

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Randy Delorey says he’s confident the province will eventually reach the 300 kg target. (CBC)

Delorey said any changes must not “create undue burden on individuals, businesses, or municipalities.”

Kenney says consultations are underway with municipalities and businesses about new bans to recycling, extended producer responsibility and other proposed changes.

“Can we do better and become more efficient — and have increased diversion at the same time?” Kenney said.

“That’s what we’re trying to work out right now.”

He says the key to meeting the target will be enforcement and compliance.