Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2004

Over the falls in a trash can

J. Nicole Guerin

Illustration by Evan MundayAs tourism grows in Ontario’s Niagara Region, with new hotels and casinos built each year, so does the amount of garbage. According to Walker Industries, which operates one of the region’s landfill sites, almost three-quarters of all garbage comes from commercial and industrial establishments. In 2002, residential waste weighed in at 110,000 tons, while industrial and commercial waste came in at about 265,000 tons. If this continues, the landfill will be full within six years.

One way the region could help divert more waste is by insisting that its commercial and industrial taxpayers start recycling, just as residents have done for years. After all, it’s the out-of-town visitors, and the businesses that cater to them, that are creating the garbage problem. Fewer than three percent of hotels offer recycling bins to their guests and you’d be hard-pressed to find a single bin in busy tourist districts or parks. One of the main reasons for this is that while residents pay for recycling pick-up as part of their municipal taxes, most businesses do not and must pay out of pocket for the service. “We don’t really recycle at all, and I don’t have time for this,” says Frank Taylor, general manager of the Best Western Fallsview, echoing the sentiments of many business owners when asked about their recycling habits.

Whether they wish to or not, all Ontario businesses have been legally obliged to recycle since 1994. But without any follow-through from the proper authorities, it’s been left up to businesses to decide whether to bother. “The Ministry of the Environment is simply not enforcing the regulation because, right now, it doesn’t see it as a priority,” says David McRobert, senior legal counsel to the province’s environmental commissioner.

“We are aware that this is an issue that isn’t being addressed, and we need to have a look at enforcing the recycling regulations,” says Arthur Chamberlain, a spokesperson for Ontario’s minister of the environment. He says the ministry is looking into the possibility of conducting recycling audits of businesses to make them more accountable.

But when that will happen is anyone’s guess. And the outcome may be too late to make a difference. “This is happening all over the place, not just in Niagara Falls. I think we have squeezed all the recycling we can out of city residents,” says Gord Perks of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, who is well aware of the one-sided recycling situation. “It’s time to make the big guys do it. Without big change now, everyone is going to suffer in the long run.”

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