Third reading of Bill C-238, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of lamps containing mercuryPublished on 15 June 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Jane Cordy
Hon. Jane Cordy:
Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise today in support Bill C-238, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of lamps containing mercury.
I would like to first thank the members of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources for their thorough examination of the bill and the constructive observations in their report. I had the pleasure of attending a committee meeting, and the questions and ensuing discussion was very thoughtful and many good points were made.
I must also thank my member of Parliament, Mr. Darren Fisher, for bringing this piece of legislation forward. This is an issue that he has been passionate about since his days as a municipal councillor for Dartmouth in the Halifax Regional Municipality. During his time on city council, he was a member of the Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee and was instrumental in putting in place city policy to divert for recycling mercury containing light bulbs from city-owned buildings.
I would also like to thank the critic of this bill, Senator MacDonald, who has been very supportive of this legislation. Senator MacDonald is also from Dartmouth, so it has been three people from Dartmouth all working well together.
Bill C-238 passed the other place with the support of the Conservative, Liberal, NDP and Green Parties and had the full backing and support of the Minister of Environment.
The question was raised at second reading in this chamber as to why a bill such as this would be introduced through a private member’s bill and not introduced by the minister.
Mr. Fisher addressed this question during his testimony at the committee hearings. He said:
. . . I made sure I was very vocal in the fact that this was something I was going to pursue. She —
— meaning the Minister of Environment —
— was very encouraging when I told her this was something I was going to be following through with my private member’s bill. She said, “If there’s anything we can do to help, let us know.” She was very encouraging. She knew this was a passion of mine from 2012 on, and this was going to be something I wanted to pursue.
And since he first introduced his private member’s bill, Mr. Fisher has been a superb advocate on this issue and I was honoured to sponsor his bill in the Senate.
Honourable senators, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment reported that waste light bulbs contribute about 1,150 kilograms of mercury into Canadian landfills each year. It takes only 0.5 milligrams of mercury to pollute 180 tonnes of water. Remediation of mercury in land and water is very costly and incredibly difficult. The goal of this bill is to help prevent the mercury from these products from entering the environment.
Mercury is a common element that is found naturally in the environment. However, historically, consumer waste and industry by-products are the major contributors of dangerous levels of mercury released into our ecosystem and food chain. This contamination in our landfills and waterways can lead to serious health issues.
The Recycling Council of Ontario estimates that there are approximately 85 million mercury-containing light bulbs sold in Canada every year, which represents 300 kilograms of mercury, 20 million kilograms of glass, 287 kilograms of phosphor powder and 295,000 kilograms of metals. Currently, the majority of these potentially toxic products are simply disposed of in the regular garbage.
The Recycling Council of Ontario also estimates that the national disposal rate of mercury-containing lamps in an unsafe or environmentally unsound way is 85 to 90 per cent. This means that more than 72 million lamps are potentially polluting lands and waterways. This is unacceptable.
The lack of national guidelines and the lack of knowledge of how to properly recycle these items are the major factors why such a small percentage of these hazardous products make their way to a recycling facility.
In her testimony before the committee, Jo-Anne St. Godard, the executive director of the Recycling Council of Ontario, said:
Currently, there are limited regulations and virtually no guidelines, information or resources to ensure safe collection and proper recycling of these lamps.
While there are labelling requirements that indicate when mercury is present in a lamp, the lack of materials management strategy to keep them from disposal makes labelling inconsequential.
She went on to say:
Canada is in a unique position with state-of-the-art recycling facilities to service the bulk of the population, facilities that employ high standards of recycling that can recover 98 per cent of the component parts of a lamp, and these are found in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
Regrettably, these facilities currently operate under capacity and compete with cheaper disposal options and overall lack of regulation. They could receive every lamp sold in today’s market, and are prepared to make investments should the market be required to divert them all from disposal. This begins with better awareness . . .
One of the few state-of-the-art facilities in Canada that can break down and recycle mercury-containing products is Dan-X Recycling, located in my hometown of Dartmouth. Inspired by a National Geographic documentary, Dan-X Recycling Limited was founded by Dave Hall and Dana Emmerson to provide a service to recycle all mercury-containing lamps, thermostats and other mercury-containing devices. It is Nova Scotia’s first mercury lamp recycling facility. The great thing about Dan-X is that they have found a market for almost all of the by-products of the bulb after it has been broken down. Unfortunately, as Jo-Anne St. Godard pointed out in her testimony, Dan-X, as is typical of many of these types of facilities, is operating well under capacity because of the absence of safe community-wide collection infrastructure and lack of public knowledge about the recycling services Dan-X provides.
Honourable senators, Canada has been a leader on the international stage when it comes to curbing the use of mercury in consumer and industrial products and has taken substantial steps to phase out the use of mercury in many of these products. However, it will take many years to completely phase out mercury products and if little is done to improve things, millions of mercury bulbs will continue to end up in landfills every year.
Bill C-238 would require the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop a national strategy for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of lamps containing mercury. However, any strategy would not be successful without the cooperation of provincial, territorial, municipal and indigenous governments and groups. The responsibility of waste management is shared across many jurisdictions in Canada. The federal government is best positioned to bring these different groups together to identify best practices and policies that will best serve Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
Any national strategy has to involve consultation and contributions from all jurisdictions, whether they are urban, rural, Northern or remote areas.
If Bill C-238 becomes law, stakeholders will come together under the guidance of the federal government to find best practices that have been proven to be successful. These practices can then be shared nationally. The sponsor of the bill in the other place was very careful not to prescribe what the national strategy would entail, as that will be left to consultations with the provinces, territories, indigenous groups and municipalities, and I am carefully to do the same. As a former teacher, however, I would hope that a priority of any national strategy would be educating Canadians about the dangers of mercury and the importance of the safe disposal of light bulbs containing mercury.
During the committee hearings, the question arose about how light bulbs are disposed of on Parliament Hill. In response to my inquiry about this, Senate administration informed me that Public Services and Procurement Canada is responsible for lighting and replacement of interior and exterior lighting of the parliamentary precinct buildings. The ministry has established a recycling program and has a service contract to safely recycle the waste lights.
At this time, the Senate installations service does not recycle our waste light bulbs or fluorescent tubes. However, I have been assured that they are presently making the necessary arrangements to implement a recycling program with their PSPC counterparts. I have also been assured that mercury lights are no longer used on the parliamentary precinct due to the fact that they do not meet current environment standards.
I once again thank the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources for their careful consideration of the bill and their excellent observations.
As the observation states:
The federal government has a number of tools it can use to achieve policy objectives, including legislation, regulations, guidelines, and codes of practice. An important addition to these is moral suasion, and the committee believes this is an area where the federal government can and should lead by example. As a large purchaser of goods and services and owner of a considerable real property portfolio, the Government of Canada can demonstrate leadership by recycling all mercury-containing lamps in federal workplaces and Crown-owned buildings when they reach their end of life. A review of the current and recent Federal Sustainable Development Strategies and selected departmental sustainable development strategies and policies reveals no clearly articulated single, comprehensive national strategy or plan to do so. We believe there is a significant opportunity here for the federal government to provide leadership on this issue.
Honourable senators, as I have mentioned, Canada has been a world leader when it comes to eliminating mercury from the marketplace. Canada, along with 137 other nations, signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2013. The Minamata Convention on Mercury signed by the previous Conservative government is a global treaty, which strives to protect both human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury. Controlling the release of mercury throughout its life cycle has been a key factor in shaping the obligations under the convention. Canada is one of 50 countries that have ratified the convention. It will come into force and become legally binding on all parties, including Canada, on August 16 of this year.
There were questions raised at the committee hearings about the effectiveness such legislation will actually have on diverting mercury from the environment. I would like to quote Senator Fraser, who took part in the discussion.
She said: “Such bills surely constitute a bit of a poke with a sharp stick to all of the people who have not been getting around to doing anything about it.”
Honourable senators, I hope that Bill C-238 will be that sharp stick to start the conversation about diverting mercury from our environment across the country, motivating stakeholders from every jurisdiction in Canada to move forward with the development of a national strategy for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of light bulbs containing mercury.
Honourable senators, that would be a very positive step for all Canadians.