While Canada is set to host the next round of the Global Plastics Treaty negotiations April 23-29, Canadian groups are raising an alarm about the expansion of waste incineration across the country. Dubbed “waste-to-energy” (WTE) by industry, burning waste is a practice that would undermine federal climate, plastics, and waste management policies.

“Canada has goals to end plastic pollution and stop climate change. That means we must close the door to polluting and wasteful garbage incineration,” said Karen Wirsig, senior program manager for plastics at Environmental Defence. “Incineration poses real risks to the environment and human health. Plus, garbage is not a clean or ‘renewable’ energy source and incinerators have been found to emit more greenhouse gasses per unit of electricity than fossil fuels.”

The Town of Pontiac, Quebec, is fighting a proposal for a new waste incinerator to burn garbage from the City of Ottawa, where the treaty negotiations will take place. Other incinerator proposals are surfacing in Brampton, Ontario, and Edmonton, Alberta, among others.

The rise in incinerator proposals follows a report released last year by the federal government and shared with municipal officials that suggests incineration is a climate-friendly approach to waste management. That federal report was recently debunked by research commissioned by Zero Waste BC and GAIA.

The Canadian Zero Waste Coalition is a coalition of environmental groups including the Ontario Zero Waste Coalition, Zero Waste BC, GAIA, Environmental Defence, Zero Waste Canada, Toronto Environmental Alliance, Durham Environment Watch, Waste Watch Ottawa, and Citizens of the Pontiac. Analysis by the Canadian Zero Waste Coalition shows that:

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Report author and environmental engineer Belinda Li, noted, “it is very important that our government supports real solutions like waste prevention and reduction and not costly distractions such as WTE. If we prevent waste from being generated in the first place, we can extend the life of our landfills and make the best use of our existing infrastructure.”

The experimental WTE plants offers cautionary tales to other communities. “Across Canada incinerators have proven to be costly failures that waste millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, exceed emission limits, never meet operational targets, and delay municipalities from taking actions that would actually reduce and divert organics and post-consumer goods,” says Liz Benneian, founder of the Ontario Zero Waste Coalition.

For instance, from its inauguration in 2008, until it declared bankruptcy in 2015, the Plasco Incinerator in Ottawa burned through $13.5 million in federal and provincial funding plus $8 million per year in municipal subsidies. The plant had numerous operational issues, processed only one third of the waste it promised and racked up 25 records of noncompliance with emission regulations.

As all eyes look to Canada later this month, over 40 environmental groups across the country are imploring the Canadian government to support zero waste solutions.

For further information on this campaign, click here.

For further information on the Government of Canada’s priorities on plastics, visit:

https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/news/2024/04/government-of-canada-to-hold-a-technical-briefing-on-canadas-priorities-and-objectives-for-the-fourth-session-of-the-intergovernmental-negotiating-.html

Featured image credit: Unsplash/Daniel Moqvist

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