Last month the Ontario government proposed the reconstruction of the province’s waste management system. In a news release on October 30, 2020, the Region of Peel expressed its support of the new legislation and began preparations for an improved Blue Box program. 

This new program will allow Ontario residents to manage sustainable ways to discard waste. At the moment, the legislation is still under consideration and is not expected to begin operations until 2024.

The Ontario government website states that the plan will:

  • Expand the types of waste accepted in the Blue Box system to include materials such as “paper and plastic cups, wraps, foils, trays, bags, and other single-use items such as stir sticks, straws, cutlery, and plates.”
  • Relieve taxpayers of some of the financial expenses of establishing and maintaining the program by making the producers of products and packaging fully responsible for costs, resulting in an estimated savings of $135 million annually for municipalities.
  • Increase Blue Box services to more communities, such as smaller, rural, and remote communities, including those under 5,000 people.
  • Set the highest diversion targets in North America for the various categories of waste producers expected to be recycled, such as paper, glass, beverage containers, and rigid and flexible plastic.

In an interview with The Medium, Chelsea Dalton, the acting sustainability manager, strategic initiatives at the University of Toronto Mississauga, discussed her enthusiasm for UTM’s upcoming sustainability initiatives. 

“We are also very excited to have UTM’s first Sustainability Strategic Plan in the works,” stated Dalton. “It is in the approvals process now and to be pursuing a rating under the internationally-recognized Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS).” 

For more info on STARS, students are encouraged to check out the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education website.

In addition to the forthcoming initiatives at UTM’s Sustainability office, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks has also announced a new waste management model, which is expected to increase producer responsibility. 

The new program states that the cost of recycling will be shouldered by manufacturers responsible for producing products and packaging. Currently, these responsibilities are carried out by municipalities and taxpayers. Moreover, both the provincial and regional governments have begun efforts to standardize what materials can be placed in the recycling stream and expand the existing system.

“It is very important to remember that a lot of places are still different in terms of what you can and cannot recycle,” stated Dalton. “These changes will not be instant, so make sure to check and don’t just assume that a certain item will be accepted for recycling.”

It is also essential that residents double-check with their municipal regulations regarding recyclable material as the waste management system on campus can differ from residential models.

“The most important thing, in my opinion, for residents is to understand how recycling really works,” continued Dalton. “When you put something in the recycle bin, it doesn’t always mean that it gets turned back into that same product. For example, plastics are difficult to recycle.  Plastic bottles are usually not recycled back into new plastic bottles—they are usually turned into products like clothing, carpeting, and insulation.”

Dalton went on to emphasize the importance of awareness and stated that it is vital residents understand the consequences of placing a non-recyclable item in a recycle only bin.

“Usually, that whole load will end up being sent to a landfill due to contamination,” stated Dalton. “That’s why we say, ‘If in doubt, throw it out!’”

The three R’s of sustainability are reduce, reuse, and recycle. However, the sequence of these principles is not random. “Reduce” and “reuse” come before “recycle” for a reason.  It is better to reduce your overall waste and reuse what you can before resorting to recycling. Although recycling is a great practice, it is not a panacea for our waste problems. Cutting back on waste at the source is the best solution.

As such, the UTM community is looking into ways to improve its contributions for a more sustainable society and reduce its carbon footprint. Taking courses that focus on or include sustainability is also a great way to educate yourself about sustainability. 

Dalton also encourages students to get involved with the Sustainability Office by applying for work-study positions or volunteering. 

“Doing a home waste audit is a good way to learn about what you throw out and how you can change your habits to reduce that,” continued Dalton. “There are plenty of other ways to be sustainable, like reducing your energy use and taking sustainable forms of transportation (e.g. biking), among others.”

Ontario residents are encouraged to embrace and learn more about innovative ways new technologies can bring more sustainable environmental outcomes. For additional information on local sustainability initiatives and details on recycling regulations in your area, make sure to check out your municipality’s website.

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