HazMat Management

Hazardous Waste in Ontario

CIELAP's latest progress report contains recommendations that should be considered in every province

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January 1, 2008 by Guy Crittenden

In September 2007, the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP) published a report — Hazardous Waste in Ontario: Progress and Challenges — by the foundation’s Research Director Maureen Carter-Whitney. The author, an environmental lawyer with a background in legal research and policy analysis who formerly worked with the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, is well qualified to produce such a report. She also teaches environmental law. Lest the report be overly academic, it was given a reality check by well-recognized reviewers with backgrounds ranging from community activism to industrial waste treatment and disposal. They included John Jackson, Lisa Shultz, and Robert Redhead.


For more than 30 years CIELAP has investigated how hazardous waste is collected, transported, treated and disposed of in Ontario and Canada. The organization was aided in this effort by the establishment in the 1980s of the Ontario waste generator database — a useful tool to measure and monitor what happens to the province’s industrial wastes, including used solvents, greases, still bottoms, chemical sludges and other liquid or solid materials. The database was used, in fact, by this magazine during the establishment of its readership in 1989, and we’ve reported the findings of CIELAP’s reports, and made them available through our website, over the years.

In 2000, CEILAP presented a comprehensive analysis of the hazardous waste generated and received in Ontario from 1994 to 1998. Three years later, CIELAP produced Ontario: Open for Toxics, which updated the earlier analysis and informed readers on the trends in hazardous waste in the province between 1998 and 2000.

CIELAP’s reports shone a spotlight on what it called “Ontario’s history of being a ‘dumping ground’ for hazardous waste.” The movement of U.S. hazardous waste into Ontario rose by 138 per cent between 1994 and 1998. During the same period, hazardous waste generation by Ontario industries and facilities increased by 41.8 per cent. Ontario, CIELAP said, was the only jurisdiction in all of North America that accepted untreated hazardous waste.

Industry observers had noted an overarching pattern. Ontario industry shipped its most liquid hazardous wastes to bulking stations for blending into fuel for U.S. cement kilns. Incineration of such wastes is not common inside the province. At the same time, Ontario was a net importer of more sludge-like industrial wastes — including soils contaminated with byproducts of gasoline or wood preservatives, etc. — that could be landfilled without pretreatment. American companies enjoyed a triple benefit from shipping such wastes to Ontario facilities: the favorable currency exchange rate (at the time); no pretreatment requirements (unlike US EPA stipulations); and (perhaps best of all) exemption from U.S. “cradle-to-grave” liability once the wastes crossed the U.S.-Canada border.

CIELAP’s 2000 and 2003 reports concluded that American organizations would continue sending large volumes of certain hazardous wastes to Ontario for cheap disposal as long as the province lacked detailed regulatory standards that matched those south of the border.

As the new report states, since CIELAP issued these reports the Ontario government has made significant progress on a number of fronts. Improvements include: the Land Disposal Restriction Regulation; waste storage, mixing and processing requirements; creation of the Hazardous Waste Information Network; new generator registration requirements; notification, certification and reporting requirements; the phase-out of existing hospital incinerators; the decision not to require mandatory destruction of PCBs at this time; and, a proposed diversion program for household hazardous waste (HHW).

There remain, however, a number of regulatory gaps and CEILAP has identified many areas for improvement. The report states that issues that still require focused attention include:

“[T]he need to enforce compliance for the recently legislated Land Disposal Restriction Regulation and to target the worst offenders; the lack of regulation for land disposal by small-quantity producers; the lack of compliance in registering with the Hazardous Waste Information Network and the lack of a mechanism to present the information from this database to the public; the need for regular reporting to the public on hazardous waste in the province; the need to control the disposal of hazardous wastes to sewers; and the need to develop adequate hazardous waste disposal facilities for compact fluorescent bulbs.”

In other words, the broad system of rules to control hazardous waste in Ontario is now in place, but there’s not enough enforcement. Too many small companies are out of compliance and there’s not enough reporting to the public.

The report also notes that recent data shows “no substantial reduction in the amounts of hazardous waste generated overall in Ontario over the years 2000 to 2005.” So, in addition to refining, implementing and enforcing existing hazardous waste management initiatives, the government needs to actively promote pollution prevention and not just proper waste disposal. Overall, CIELAP’s suggested solutions include toxics-use reduction, extended producer responsibility (EPR) and design for environment (DfE).

Hazardous Waste in Ontario: Progress and Challenges offers 14 specific recommendations that can be summarized as follows. (Note that we have amalgamated some of the recommendations where they fit together logically.)


CIELAP’s first recommendation is that the government should invest in adequate resources to enforce compliance with the timeline for implementation of the Land Disposal Restrictions Regulation (LDR), and target the worst offenders. The LDR requires pretreatment of hazardous wastes equivalent to American standards. However, despite the urgency of the situation, a phase-in period from 2005 to 2009 is intended to give the regulated industries time to work towards compliance. It’s crucial that the government invest resources to enforce compliance with this timeline.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment’s Sector Compliance Branch (formerly known as the Environmental SWAT Team) began inspecting hazardous waste transfer and processing facilities in June 2001 and has continued doing so. Inspections have revealed non-compliance issues at all facilities, including problems such as: improper record keeping; inappropriate disposal of wastes; a lack of spill contingency plans and preventative maintenance programs required by regulation; improper storage of waste; improper classification of waste types; and potential irregularities in mixing and disposing of waste types.

As of February 28, 2007, after conducting 82 inspections the Sector Compliance Branch had issued: one violation notice for minor administrative noncompliance; 141 Provincial Officer Orders setting out corrective actions; and, eight tickets or court summonses under the Provincial Offences Act.


CIELAP notes another problem area, which is that the new regulatory amendments don’t apply to many small-quantity producers. Local dry cleaners — an exempted group — generate 450 tonnes of hazardous waste annually. Many dry cleaners continue to use the chemical perchloroethylene, despite its designation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) as a persistent, bio-accumulative chemical that’s toxic to the environment.

The LDR program also allows an exemption for household hazardous waste. The study authors note (favorably) that the environment ministry has requested that Waste Diversion Ontario (which presides over policy development and implementation of blue box funding and other initiatives) develop a new program to divert HHW and special wastes from landfill; public consultation has been conducted on a proposed plan. The ministry has also submitted a final program request letter to WDO requiring it to develop a program for electronic wastes (e-waste).

CIELAP highlights the issue of safe disposal of compact fluorescent light bulbs. The Ontario government has passed a regulation that will require the eventual change-out of most incandescent bulbs and their replacement with compact fluorescent bulbs, but hasn’t done much to create awareness of (or build capacity for) the need for their safe disposal, since the bulbs contain mercury. Policy initiatives need to make sure these bulbs are properly recycled and ensure that mercury is not released to the environment.


CIELAP is calling on the Ontario government to evaluate and improve treatment standards included in the LDR regulation and ensure that they’re followed. The LDR treatment standards mandate the use of specific technologies such as incineration. The Environmental Commissioner has reported that members of the public expressed concern about potential environmental risks from increased incineration and advocated more rigorous operating and emissions standards for facilities that burn hazardous wastes. Ontario needs a guideline specific to haz-waste incinerators that sets out strict emissions and operating standards along the lines of the guidelines that already exist for municipal solid waste and biomedical waste incinerators.

The government could evaluate and improve other treatment standards included in the regulatory changes for substances such as mercury.


The study encourages the government to ensure that all active hazardous waste generators are registered on the Hazardous Waste Information Network. Although the establishment of the network was an important step, Ontario’s Auditor General reported in 2005 that approximately 30 per cent of haz-waste generators had yet not complied with the HWIN’s producer registration and reporting requirements. At the time, the environment ministry reported it was responding by sending out further reminder notices and by streamlining and simplifying the registration system.

The Ontario government should give the public access, free of charge, to HWIN information through a website that is user-friendly, clear and useful, and includes: locations of hazardous wastes; industrial sectors generating hazardous waste; total hazardous and liquid waste generation; total hazardous and liquid waste generation by sector, class, code, and type; and the fates of all wastes generated, both on and off site. The government should also provide its own analysis of the hazardous waste generation data and make it available to the public.

Manifest data alone does not provide a precise understanding of how much hazardous waste is being generated and received in Ontario. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides access to detailed and comprehensive haz-waste information through “RCRAInfo” under the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the 1984 Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments. Access is available online both through monthly extracts on the EPA’s Envirofacts Data Warehouse and through the Right to Know Network, which is operated by two nonprofit organizations (OMB Watch and the Unison Institute) and funded by a number of government agencies and foundations, including the EPA.

The Ontario government, CIELAP says, should publish annual reports that contain a summary of the types, volumes and weights of municipal and industrial wastes, HHW and hazardous industrial waste, plus information about the end disposal of the wastes by different methods, such as reuse, recycling, landfill and incineration.


A significant obstacle to keeping surface waters free of pollution, and for the safe land application of municipal biosolids, is the chemical waste that finds its way into sewers. The Ontario government could address the problem of haz-waste discharges into sewage systems by developing a revised model sewer use by-law and by better assessing the environmental health impacts of landfill leachate discharged into sewage treatment plants. The public needs better documentation and reporting on the quality of sewage treatment plant discharges into water, and we need to deal with the increasing volume of persistent toxic contaminants in the sewage system. Improved regulation and monitoring of sewage treatment plants is needed with respect to emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

This is an area where, clearly, different disciplines need to come together that traditionally operate in different “silos” such as municipal waterworks engineering, solid waste landfill design and operation, industrial wastewater treatment, etc.

It’s also an area where different levels of government need to work in concert with one another. In the mid-1990s, the government developed Procedure F-5-5, a policy directing municipalities with combined sewer systems to develop Pollution Prevention and Control Plans. Although the policy applies to approximately 200 municipalities in the province with combined sewer systems, in practice the environment ministry has never monitored for compliance, nor has it required the municipalities to submit their Pollution Prevention and Control Plans or reviewed them to assess their adequacy. CIELAP suggests that the municipalities should be required to submit their plans and that the ministry should review them and monitor the municipalities for compliance.

Related to this, the province should take a stronger role in stormwater monitoring and management in Ontario. But not everything can be accomplished with a legal stick; further investment is needed in research and public education.


The Ontario government, CIELPA says, should actively pursue a pollution prevention strategy for hazardous wastes that focuses on toxics use reduction. Regulatory tools and voluntary programs should both be considered. The government should also report to the public on its efforts to promote pollution prevention planning since 2001.

CIELAP commends the government for a 2001 progress report that described a number of different positive initiatives but notes that all were voluntary programs. The ministry hasn’t made public any further reports on its pollution prevention programs since that time. More recently, on a website designed to attract business and industry to Ontario, the government states that the province has the resources to handle all kinds of hazardous waste, and that “[i]n 2005, there were approximately 180 hazardous waste transfer facilities and approximately 160 hazardous waste transfer and processing facilities in Ontario.” The site goes on to detail, based on manifest data, the number and types of Ontario facilities that received shipments of liquid industrial and hazardous wastes in 2005. CIELAP quips rather dryly that “while it is essential that Ontario have the capacity to properly dispose of hazardous waste, promoting this fact in order to attract new businesses to generate hazardous waste does not seem consistent with Ontario’s goals for pollution prevention.”


Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) extends a producer’s responsibility over the entire lifecycle of its product including environmental impacts, and the take-back and recycling or disposal of the product. Adopting EPR is one way to prevent pollution associated with the production and consumption of products. The Ontario government has designated Municipal Hazardous and Special Waste under the Waste Diversion Act. The final plans for dealing with municipal hazardous and special waste will determine the extent to which producers are required to take responsibility for these hazardous wastes.

CIELAP says the government should use municipal hazardous and special waste diversion plans to promote EPR. Regulations could require specific “design for environment” changes, plus the phase-out of specific hazardous materials in products. The recent crisis over toxins contained in toys and other goods imported from China will no doubt give momentum to this suggestion.

The full CIELAP report is available for download in the Posted Documents section of our website atwww.solidwastemag.com.You may also obtain the report atwww.cielap.organd contact the report author at maureen@cielap.orgHMM

Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine.