Canada’s raw sewage dumping to end: environment ministers

Victoria, Dawson City and other Canadian municipalities will be barred from dumping sewage into nearby rivers, oceans and lakes, Canada's environment ministers announced this week. For the first time in history...

Victoria, Dawson City and other Canadian municipalities will be barred from dumping sewage into nearby rivers, oceans and lakes, Canada’s environment ministers announced this week.

For the first time in history, national standards will regulate Canada’s more than 3,500 wastewater facilities.

“Many of which are currently in need of repair and upgrading,” read an official conference release.

“This will really only affect communities that discharge their wastewater into streams or rivers directly,” said Yukon Environment Minister Elaine Taylor, who chaired the conference.

Also, computer manufacturers, battery makers and other manufacturers of toxic products will soon be held responsible for the safe disposal of their products.

And national standards will soon be in place to force manufacturers to reduce product packaging.

The move will reduce “millions of tons” of waste from Canadian landfills and incinerators each year, said the nation’s environment ministers.

“We’re making manufacturers responsible for the disposal of what they make, with respect to electronics, tires, paints and solvents,” said Ontario Environment Minister John Gerretsen, whose province has already adopted a similar program.

“Industry fought it for a while, but once we showed that we were determined, they came up with the plans to deal with it,” he said.

Ontario consumers can now bring used batteries and old paint to stores like Home Depot and Wal-Mart for proper disposal.

The conference yielded no firm commitment on ways to combat climate change.

Echoing earlier comments by federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, ministers highlighted the need for Canadian carbon legislation to remain closely tied to that of the United States.

A system of “cap and trade”- an economic plan to place limits on emissions while allowing them to be traded as a commodity – was deemed to be successful only if implemented continent-wide.

“What we’ve heard loud and clear from industry is that they would prefer one common system – for competitive reasons,” said Gerretsen.

Canadian manufacturers fear that if they find themselves under strict environmental measures without equal cross-border restrictions, they could be put at a competitive disadvantage, he said.

Ontario and Quebec are months away from implementing their own cap-and-trade system. As North America’s fourth-largest industrial sector, the two provinces believe the move will “pressure” the Canadian and US governments to adopt a continent-wide emissions agreement, said Gerretsen.

The new Obama administration has refocused the possibility of a continent-wide system, said Prentice.

Alberta supported continent-wide protocols, but rejected cap and trade, said Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner.

“Alberta doesn’t believe that cap and trade, in its purest form, is in the best interest of long-term reductions in CO2,” he said.

Before emissions can be reduced, Canada needs to start by finding a better system of measuring them, said Renner.

“You can’t just put CO2 emissions on a scale and measure them,” he said.

A historical rift between the Conservative government and provincial and territorial ministers appeared to be lifting, with Prentice promising increased “co-operation” with provincial ministers on environmental issues.

“There have been difficulties in the past,” said Manitoba Environment Minister Stan Struthers.

“A consensus is not always possible,” said Prentice.

“I think he is much more amenable to at least discussing the issues than was the case before,” said Gerretsen.

Canada has earned a reputation among First World nations as being a laggard in climate change legislation.

The Canadian delegation was roundly criticized for stalling climate talks at the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Poznan, Poland, in December.

Canada, along with Japan, Russia and Australia were guilty of failing to issue “credible and ambitious” targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, said South African Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk during that conference.

With Prentice’s ear, ministers hoped that Canada would be able to present a more “defensible position” at the upcoming United Nations conference in Copenhagen, in which a successor to the Kyoto Protocol will be adopted, said Struthers.

Contact Tristin Hopper at