Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for inviting CELA to appear before you today.
As I think many of you know, the Canadian Environmental Law Association is a 43-year-old, not-for-profit environmental organization, formed to use law to advance environmental protection and to advocate for systemic environmental law reform. We're also a legal aid specialty clinic in Ontario. We represent clients. We provide advice. We advocate for law reform, and we provide public legal education.
We have an extensive history at CELA working on both solid waste issues as well as environmental law issues relating to industrial material in matters ranging from local to international scales. For example, we have frequently represented citizens groups and first nations with respect to landfill proposals, recycling and composting facilities, and other waste-handling facilities, often around making sure that those facilities, if properly sited, are also properly designed to alleviate environmental impact.
We've also been involved in many initiatives over the years, both provincially and federally, in respective amendments to waste-related legislation. Federally, this includes of course the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and other pieces of legislation that relate to marine waters, for example, such as the Fisheries Act.
We've also been very involved over the years in initiatives relating to Canada's participation in international conventions, such as the Basel Convention, which deals with the export of hazardous waste; the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants; the Rotterdam Convention, which requires prior informed consent; and the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which Canada signed last year, to name a few.
Our involvement has, for example, included advocacy for Canada to agree to include asbestos in the Rotterdam Convention. Asbestos is a material of relevance to your study today. We'll make very brief remarks, but we're happy to answer further questions on these conventions. Ms. de Leon, who is with me, works extensively on all these conventions with many other NGOs, internationally and nationally.
CELA has also prepared reports over the years based on the national pollutant release inventory, the NPRI, which was established under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act or CEPA.
Today we wish to focus on some areas of our work that we hope will be of assistance to you in your current study. First, in general, one area we look at is hazardous and toxic materials. In certain cases, such as with asbestos and with mercury, there are extra hazards, and policy-makers have to ensure that we're not creating new problems as we handle those materials. For example, the dangers of asbestos are well known, but asbestos is likely still going to domestic landfill in Canada, in poorly controlled conditions, and the issue of how it's being handled en route also raises questions of public safety. Similarly, mercury and other materials can be released when products become garbage, as in the case of mercury switches in cars, and we'll discuss vehicles more in a moment.
In general, we advocate for cradle-to-cradle solutions, that is, to plan ahead, right from the design stage of production, to reduce the use of materials, to reduce and eliminate the use of hazardous and toxic materials specifically; to increase the reuse of materials and parts; to increase recycling of materials, parts, and substances; and to utilize those same materials, parts, and substances in reproduction. The ultimate aim is to avoid landfilling and emissions to the natural environmental at all. We are, of course, a long way from that ideal today.
To this end, we have examined various proposals over the years to determine whether they are supportive of a cradle-to-cradle materials approach. Energy from waste, for example, can be inconsistent with that approach and we always want to examine it to determine whether or not it's disrupting the kinds of objectives we just outlined in terms of reuse and recycling. For example, we do support anaerobic digesters, which use the methane generated from manure and restaurant waste—Mr. Thurlow mentioned that a moment ago—because it not only decomposes and produces the methane that can be used for energy production, but much of that material is destined to be applied to land as a fertilizer. The anaerobic digesters also reduce pathogens in that material, making it much safer when it's land-applied, avoiding the kind of tragedy we had at Walkerton, for example.
Similarly, where we already have landfills that are generating methane as domestic garbage decomposes, we support installing landfill gas recovery systems and using that methane for energy production. Otherwise, the methane is emitted into the air as a greenhouse gas and has a significant nuisance impact to the surrounding neighbours from the odour. If it seeps into buildings, it presents a significant explosive hazard.
What we don't support is the wholesale diversion of our recycling programs and solid waste programs into burning these materials for energy. If taken, that approach has the potential to seriously disrupt materials reuse and recycling programs, in addition to the potential for hazardous emissions into the air.
In terms of biofuels and biomass, our general approach has been that those processes need to be examined in terms of their overall impacts and to ensure that they're not presenting new problems as they attempt to solve other ones. For example, when we've looked at biomass in the past, questions have arisen to make sure that soil health is maintained as straw is removed from crops and slashed from the forest. It's not a black and white answer to those kinds of questions.
I'll turn to a report that we thought would interest you today, which we conducted with the CAW, in 2011, around improving management of end-of-life vehicles in Canada. This was an in-depth report and is available on our website as CELA publication 784. I can also provide it to the committee, but unfortunately it is in English only.
When we examined the situation with respect to vehicles, we found a great number of existing issues and great opportunities as well. In Canada, 1.2 million vehicles are taken off the road every year. To look at the Ontario situation, for example, we know that of the Ontario portion of those vehicles, 40% or 35% are processed by certified auto recyclers who meet certified auto recyclers standards, but 65% are processed by other auto wreckers. We don't know how many of those other vehicles—400,000, in Ontario, and the rest across the country—are depolluted. I'll speak more about this concept of depollution in a moment.
There is great opportunity in terms of auto parts recovery and recycling, and we would like to specifically acknowledge a researcher, from the University of Windsor, who provided important information for our study. Susan Sawyer-Beaulieu conducted in-depth research on this topic.
As you can imagine, the parts that can be reused and remanufactured include everything from air conditioning compressors right through to batteries, catalytic converters, tires, and everything in between. It's not the case that everything has to necessarily be automatically sent to recycling, as a lot of these parts can actually be reprocessed and reused. That, in itself, presents great opportunities for material and energy savings.
In terms of depollution, the research and studies have shown that in particular, because of the complexity of vehicles, it's important to take a look at making sure that the process of dealing with those vehicles is not presenting new problems for the environment. It's removing all of their batteries, all of the fluids, the tires, the mercury switches, and any ozone-depleting substances, air bags, and so on. The parts are dismantled and separated into their streams, and the remaining parts, in many cases go to shredding, for recovery of metals in particular.
Federally there was a retire your ride program, which offered an incentive to turn in pre-1995 vehicles for recycling. That particular program ended in March 2011. One thing we noted about it, though, is that in order to receive the incentive, it did require that the vehicles be left with auto recycling operations that met certain protocols for dismantling. That's a useful piece to note. Incentives alone, without matching them with a performance standard, might not necessarily solve the problem in the way that it needs to be addressed.
I just want to talk about the—