Canadian Imports of U.S. Hazwaste Down in 2000

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, August 3, 2001 (ENS) - The amount of hazardous waste imported into Canada from the United States for disposal in 2000 was 29 percent less than that imported in 1999, according to figures released today by Environment Canada.

The federal agency which is responsible for the transboundary movements of hazardous waste also reported a 32 percent reduction in imports for landfilling last year.

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Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson here shown chairing the first meeting of the Ministers of the Environment of the Americas in Montreal in March. (Photo courtesy IISD)
"Progress is being made on establishing an environmentally sound management regime for the management of hazardous waste in Canada," said Environment Minister David Anderson. "While the decrease in imports from 1998 and 1999 takes us in the right direction, there is still more work to be done by governments and industry in Canada and in North America."

From 1998 to 1999, there was an 18 percent increase in imported hazardous waste into Canada, government figures show.

Unlike the U.S., which has banned the dumping of untreated hazardous waste in landfills, Canada permits this practice. Combined with a weak Canadian dollar and the fact that U.S. companies face stricter legal liability for the wastes they generate, Canada appears to be a logical choice for American companies that must get rid of hazardous waste.

The more common hazardous wastes entering Canada from the United States are acids from metallurgical processes, spent caustic from the pulp and paper industry and "still bottoms," the leftovers from oil refining, Environment Canada reports. These wastes contain oil, phenols, arsenic, mercury, lead, and a large number of other chemicals. Also, there are hazardous products like polychlorinated biphenyls, insecticides and herbicides which, due to their toxicity and extreme persistence in the environment, require special treatment and disposal. waste

Hazardous waste is removed from a contaminated site in the United States. (Photo courtesy U.S. EPA)

In 2000, 279,000 tonnes of hazardous waste were imported for disposal, compared to 394,000 tonnes in 1999. Higher import figures in the past were in large part due to differences in the standards for pre-treatment of waste between Canada and the United States, the Canadian agency said.

In Canada, the hazardous wastes are either incinerated, treated by physical and chemical methods prior to disposal in landfills, or are subject to biological treatment processes during which micro-organisms use the waste as a source of energy.

On November 8, 1986, the U.S./Canada treaty concerning the transboundary movement of hazardous waste took effect. It is intended to implement what Environment Canada calls "the environmental and economic advantages of minimizing the distances that hazardous waste must travel."

Roughly 500,000 tonnes of hazardous waste cross the Canada/U.S. border annually, on their way to the nearest safe recycling, disposal or treatment site, the agency estimates.

Last year, the Canadian government called for action to strengthen the standards for the management of hazardous waste in Canada, especially for landfills.

A working group under the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment has developed an action plan on a national regime for environmentally sound management of hazardous waste.

The Canadian government does not allow import of hazardous waste without the consent of the province of destination. Provincial and territorial governments control and regulate recycling and disposal facilities within their own jurisdictions.

As a priority, Environment Canada is working with Ontario and Québec, which receive 98 percent of the hazardous waste imported into Canada, to develop guidelines on the landfilling of hazardous wastes and contaminated soil. These guidelines will take the U.S. pre-treatment standards into account, adapting them to Canadian conditions.

"Québec's new regulations for the landfilling of contaminated soils are a positive step forward," said Anderson. "I look forward to continuing my work with the provinces and territories towards a Canadian solution to improve the environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes."

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The operator is using a new liquid sampler to withdraw a sample from a hazardous waste drum. (Photo courtesy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)
The issue of assigning liability to hazardous waste generators and management facilities will also be addressed in cooperation with the provinces and territories based on on-going work initiated by Environment Canada.

New guidelines for the management of hazardous waste will be incorporated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) as amendments to the Export and Import of Hazardous Wastes Regulations which will be published in December 2002 for public consultation.

Canada is also working with Mexico and the United States through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC) to develop a North American approach to environmentally sound management of hazardous waste.

At a recent meeting of the CEC, Canada was successful in obtaining agreement from Mexico and the United States to develop a North American action plan on environmentally sound management.

The Toronto based environmental group Target Zero Canada, says the emphasis should not be on waste management - landfill, incineration, composting and recycling - it should be on elimination of hazardous wastes. "We need a paradigm shift in how we approach waste issues. Instead of concentrating on managing waste, we should manage resources and eliminate waste," the group says.

The U.S. zero waste group, GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRN) agrees. "Implementation of zero waste is arguably the most important step to the sustainability of the Earth's ecosystems as it relieves every environmental ailment from deforestation, resource depletion, global warming, energy depletion, over-consumption, loss of biodiversity, to the toxicity of materials in the modern waste stream," GRN says.

Environment Canada says the practice of waste exchange is gaining popularity. The waste exchange provides a matching service between the waste generator and potential users of the waste product. This can reduce the volume and cost of waste disposal and ensure a more efficient use of the nations' non-renewable resources, by recycling and reusing industrial byproducts.

U.S./Canada Agreement on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes: http://www.ec.gc.ca/tmd/fact_a.htm