Judging Ontario's environment minister

There are various yardsticks for measuring the success or failure of a government, or specifically a minister and his or her staff.
I’ve been watching Ontario Environment Minister Laurel Broten for some time now, and have suspended judgement. There hasn’t been to much to get excited about so far, and no major disasters. It’s clear that the Liberal McGuinty government wants to play up its agenda, such as post-Walkerton drinking water safety, and avoid being drawn into other priorities, especially those that concern solid waste.
I’m not going to sit on the sidelines any longer. For me, there’s one issue that will go a long way toward showing whether we have an effective government and environment minister in Ontario or not. It’s my personal litmus test.
The issue is whether or not the government is prepared to take on the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), both in the sense of privatizing this moribund crown corporation, and in the specific matter of putting LCBO glass containers into a return-to-retail and/or return-to-depot deposit-refund system.
I have read a great deal about this issue, and attended many conferences and workshops in which the current blue box recycling of glass has been discussed. I know the environment minister has access to all this information, too. Now we have today’s news item, from Owens-Illinois — which operates two large glass manufacturing and glass-to-glass recycling plants in Ontario (one of them in Minister Broten’s own riding!). O-I Canada has submitted its critique (a five-page letter) of glass recycling in Ontario to the Stewardship Ontario Blue Box Funding Review Committee.
We’ve posted the letter as a downloadable pdf file on our website under Posted Documents. For your convenience, I also reproduce today’s news item below in full. If there was ever a searing indictment of the status quo of blue box recycling, at least as it applies to glass, this is it!
I’m going to watch Minister Broten’s reaction carefully. My expectation is that sometime in the next six months to a year, she and her government will (a) pass legislation that requires the LCBO to place its glass containers on deposit and (b) halt the LCBO’s tactics in trying to shift suppliers into Tetra Paks (or at least fund the full cost of diverting these from landfill). If Minister Broten accepts the status quo for LCBO glass, or if she allows the lobbyists to guide her into some policy in which the poor performance of the current system is further masked, the data fudged, I will conclude that Broten is a lousy environment minister, and I will sharpen my pen here and in our print magazine to point out in painful detail exactly why.
So there, I’ve thrown down the gauntlet! Watch this space for ongoing commentary on this issue. And DO read the O-I document. It’s one of the most powerful critiques I’ve read of this issue in a long time.

O-I letter castigates Ontario recycling system
Through its Canadian subsidiary O-I Canada Corporation, glass manufacturer Owens-Illinois (O-I) has written its comments to the Stewardship Ontario Blue Box Funding Review Committee. The document is posted on our website under Posted Documents (at www.solidwastemag.com). O-I operates two large glass recycling plants in Ontario.
The document constitutes something of a scathing indictment of the current Ontario curbside recycling system, at least as it applies to glass containers. The document also sheds light on problems that stem from single-stream recycling — a current trend.
The five-page letter pulls no punches and states: “…glass recycling in Ontario is failing and failing badly.”
“Single-stream” blue box collection of recyclables means that more glass is being sent to landfill today than just a year ago, the letter says. Ironically, as Ontario ships millions of tonnes of garbage to Michigan each year for disposal, O-I Canada is importing cullet derived from Michigan’s deposit-refund based recovery system to manufacture glass packaging in Ontario.
Rather than address the problem of low glass recycling rates, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), O-I says, the single largest source of waste glass in the province, is coercing its suppliers to switch to Tetra Pak cartons that are recovered at a rates of only 12.7 per cent (or one-fifth the rate at which glass is recovered by the blue box today).
“While low-weight packaging with a low recovery rate certainly offers the LCBO lower
applicable stewardship fees, it comes at a tremendous cost to Ontario’s environment and economy,” the letter states.
Based in Toledo, Ohio, O-I is the largest manufacturer of glass containers in the world, with leading positions in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific and South America. For more information about the company, visit www.o-i.com
EDITOR’S NOTE: The forthcoming February/March edition of Solid Waste & Recycling magazine will contain detailed editorial comment on the LCBO glass and Tetra Pak issue. Additionally, readers will want to watch the online diaries (blogs) on this website for additional analysis of the glass recycling issue in the days to come.