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Waste management: an important tool in the transition to a green economy

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Équiterre’s Executive Director, Colleen Thorpe, recently presented a series of recommendations to the City of Montreal as part of a public consultation on the 2020-2025 Master Plan for residual materials management (PDGMR). Here is a summary of the brief submitted by Équiterre in collaboration with the Conseil régional de l’environnement de Montréal, encouraging the city in its zero waste objective.

In the context of the climate crisis and, more locally, the expectation that the largest landfill in the Montreal region will have reached full capacity by 2026, it is imperative that the city attain its waste management objectives. Top priorities for formulating the PDGMR should be developing and supporting reduction at the source and reuse and repair initiatives.

The overhaul of existing economic models must be at the heart of the PDGMR conversation. Among the first steps is to rethink how we do things, with a focus on the circular economy and the collaborative economy. Transforming the way society designs, produces, distributes and purchases will require major change, but will ultimately be an important key to improving Montreal’s climate resiliency.

There are no shortcuts to a world with less waste. To reach our goals, all stakeholders must to be fully committed to the great deal of work that is necessary. Over the next 5 to 10 years, the waste recovery system will need to become more resilient, incorporate objectives for reduction at the source and more fully integrate corporate and civic accountability.

Here is a general overview of Équiterre’s recommendations:

EQUIP CITIZENS TO ACT, BOTH INDIVIDUALLY AND COLLECTIVELY

The public is increasingly aware of current environmental and waste management challenges and Montrealers are very interested in the zero waste movement and in reduction at the source. When citizens want to go further, for example by setting up a collection program in an apartment building or organizing a green event, they have few if any resources available to them.

We therefore recommend that Montreal develop measures and tools to support a mobilized public in order to improve waste management practices.

THE CITY MUST LEAD BY EXAMPLE

Wherever there is the logo of the city or a borough, waste management practices should be exemplary and ideally be consistent. It is absurd that in 2020, certain municipal buildings such as arenas, sports centres and offices still do not have access to recycling and composting services.

Furthermore, all grants, financing, permit allocations or other activity that a city is involved in should:

  • be assessed for its environmental footprint in the context of the climate crisis;
  • meet certain criteria for eco-responsibility for suppliers (food, transportation, etc.), practices and project results.

We also recommend that all Montreal area municipalities go further by pledging that a portion of the subsidies they award be earmarked for reduction at source, reuse, repair and awareness initiatives.

RETHINKING OUR PRACTICES: REDUCTION AT SOURCE, REUSE AND REPAIR

The reflections and changes to be implemented should not be geared toward keeping current systems in place, but should rather contribute to implementing concrete action to move towards zero waste. The question is not to determine which is the best waste, but rather to define the solutions we should be collectively embracing to move past the single-use paradigm.

We therefore recommend:

  • that all actions proposed in the PDGMR be evaluated for their potential for reduction;
  • that current regulations on banning single-use shopping bags be adjusted to ban all such bags, regardless of their thickness and composition;
  • that alternatives to single use be supported and promoted, through such means as deposit refund systems in the restaurant sector;
  • that the feasibility of establishing a carrot and stick approach to encourage good behaviour with regards to reduction at source be evaluated

Reducing food waste is another way of achieving significant reductions in waste and its associated emissions. In the Greater Montreal Area, buried organic waste accounts for 71% of the waste sector’s greenhouse gas emissions[1].

We therefore recommend:

  • increased financing for reduction in food waste;
  • awareness programs to educate the public about reducing food waste;
  • creating opportunities for restaurant owners and experts in food waste reduction to pool and share their knowledge.

Reconditioning and reuse are integral pieces of the circular economy. We therefore propose the following solutions for ecocentres, libraries and existing repair and reuse initiatives:

  • make ecocentres a hub for reuse, providing access to construction materials, furniture and the other objects that end up at the ecocentres;
  • expand the availability and supply of items for rent in municipal libraries;
  • coordinate a city-wide reuse campaign for the July moving week and organize integrated activities across the region to avoid waste. This would also be an opportunity to raise awareness about alternatives to overconsumption by touting the economic and environmental benefits of opting for second-hand items.

Existing repair shops should be promoted and supported to ensure their viability and to encourage their use, with the support of social economy organizations.

Possible methods would be to:

  • create an inventory of initiatives and help promote them;
  • identify areas where there are fewer resources in order to develop complementary initiatives and to make them more accessible.

FAVOURABLE CONDITIONS FOR A PARADIGM SHIFT

A recent report by C40 Cities states that cities with high incomes like Montreal must reduce their consumption-related emissions by two-thirds within the next 10 years. This involves such things as infrastructure construction and maintenance, transportation and the purchase of clothing, electronic devices, electrical appliances, food and air travel.[2]

Overconsumption undermines efforts to transition toward a low-carbon economy and generates significant impacts on the environment, on health and on the economy. Changes in habits regarding reduction at source and proper waste management have the potential to increase resilience and curb greenhouse gas emissions.

In Montreal, the conditions are in place to create an inspiring model for other municipalities to follow, both in Quebec and elsewhere. The recognized expertise of the Institut de l’environnement, du développement durable et de l’économie circulaire (EDDEC), the proliferation of initiatives – at both the business and civic level – and the creation of the Bureau de la transition écologique et de la résilience de Montréal are just a few examples of the progress being made. It is essential that we encourage and promote the initiatives that have been developed within the Greater Montreal Area in order to achieve the ambitious objectives under the PDGMR and to put in place the necessary conditions to accelerate the transition to a green economy.

To read the brief in full (in French)

[1] Ville de Montréal (2019). Émissions de gaz à effet de serre de la collectivité montréalaise - inventaire 2015
[2] C40 Cities (2018). Consumption-based GHG emissions of C40 Cities