Second reading of Bill C-238, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of lamps containing mercury

National Strategy for Safe and Environmentally Sound Disposal of Lamps Containing Mercury Bill

Second Reading—Debate Adjourned

February 15th, 2017

Hon. Jane Cordy moved second reading of Bill C-238, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of lamps containing mercury.

She said: Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise today in support of Bill C-238, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of lamps containing mercury. For clarity, when this bill mentions lamps, it is referring to energy efficient light bulbs and fluorescent tubes containing mercury. I use the terms interchangeably in my speech today.

With support from the Liberal, Conservative, Green and NDP members in the other place, Bill C-238 is before us today.

I would also like to acknowledge my member of Parliament, Darren Fisher, who introduced this bill in the other place. Prior to his election in 2015 for the riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Mr. Fisher served on the Halifax Regional Council and was a member of the city's Environment & Sustainability Standing Committee. As a member of this committee, Mr. Fisher was motivated to address the issue of mercury contamination after visiting an innovative recycling facility in Dartmouth that safely breaks down and recycles every part of a lamp that contains mercury.

As a member of Parliament, he was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to introduce the bill we have before us today. This bill will lead to measures being taken to divert the majority of lamps containing mercury from ever entering our landfills.

Bill C-238 calls upon the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, in cooperation with the provinces and territories as well as other vested stakeholders, to develop a national strategy for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of lamps containing mercury. This national strategy will identify best practices for the safe disposal of these products and will establish guidelines for facilities that will process these products at the end of their life cycle. It is also essential that the strategy include an outreach component to bridge the knowledge gap of the public so that Canadians become more aware of the hazards of these products.

The bill also requires the environment minister to table the national strategy in Parliament within two years of the act receiving Royal Assent. Finally, the bill will require the minister to follow up with regular reporting to Parliament every five years on the effectiveness of the national strategy.

Honourable senators, mercury is a powerful neurotoxin and is appropriately listed as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Particularly susceptible to the effects of mercury exposure are pregnant or nursing mothers and their developing children. Mercury can cause delays in walking and talking, lack of coordination, blindness and seizures. In adults, extreme exposure can lead to health effects such as personality changes, tremors, changes in vision, deafness, loss of muscle coordination and sensation, memory loss, intellectual impairment and even death.

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.

The health issues related to mercury contamination have become a major global issue and have led Canada, along with 137 other nations, to sign 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 releases of mercury throughout its life cycle has been a key factor in shaping the obligations under the convention.

Bill C-238 deals specifically with the development of a national strategy for the proper disposal of mercury contained in fluorescent tube lights and energy efficient light bulbs. The bill calls on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop a national strategy through engaging her provincial, territorial and municipal counterparts. The development and implementation of a national strategy will be a shared responsibility between all jurisdictions.

Honourable senators, according to a 2014 Statistics Canada survey, 50 per cent of urban households disposed of their mercury-containing light bulbs in the garbage. Many of these lamps ended up in landfills where the mercury was easily released into the environment. Of course, we know that the farther from urban areas you are, the fewer opportunities there are for proper disposal and recycling of those products.

As this bill pertains specifically to the safe disposal of lamps containing mercury, I must point out that nearly 98 per cent of the materials in the lamps, including mercury, can be recycled. Since becoming sponsor of this bill, I learned that one of only a few facilities in Canada equipped to recycle these products is located in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Dan-X Recycling Limited was founded in 2009 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 mercury-containing lamps are sent through a state-of-the-art processing plant that separates the phosphorus powder, aluminum end-caps and glass for reuse in other applications.

Honourable senators, there are similar facilities in Alberta, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

I believe that a successful national strategy would create room for this green industry to grow, providing job opportunities across Canada.

The Province of British Columbia has established a nation-leading outreach program called LightRecycle. Over 12.5 million lighting products have been diverted from British Columbia landfills since 2010 through this program. In 2010, about 10 per cent of British Columbia's mercury lighting was safely disposed of through this program. However, in 2013, that number skyrocketed to 74 per cent. LightRecycle clearly illustrates that a successful model already exists.

Honourable senators, even though recycling facilities will be essential to any national strategy, an "if you built it, they will come" strategy will not work on its own. The national strategy must include public outreach initiatives.

The program in British Columbia illustrates this point clearly. When the public became more aware of the LightRecycle program, the uptake in participation increased significantly. Between 2009 and 2012, the Canadian government, through Environment and Climate Change Canada, committed to developing and implementing national extended producer responsibility regulations. These regulations require manufacturers and importers to implement programs to collect and manage light bulbs containing mercury at their end of life.

In the end, however, the government did not follow through on this commitment. Bill C-238 aims to foster a productive partnership with the provinces and territories to move forward on the commitment made by the previous government.

Since 2009, all provinces have committed to implementing a Canada-wide action plan on extended producer responsibility and now have in place the necessary authorities to implement plans to divert mercury light bulbs from landfills and to increase capabilities to recycle such products. Four provinces — British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and Prince Edward Island — have extended producer responsibility regulations in place, while Ontario has a voluntary industry-led take-back program for these lamps.

The territories and Northern Canada face unique challenges and obstacles when it comes to hazardous waste management, and I'm certain they will provide excellent insight during a national dialogue.

Aside from consulting with provincial, territorial and municipal counterparts, Bill C-238 would require the minister to engage environmental groups, indigenous groups, industry and other groups identified as stakeholders in the development of safe and responsible management of lamp products containing mercury. The minister's role will be to facilitate dialogue, to identify gaps and to identify best practices to develop a made in Canada, pan-Canadian strategy.

Of course, an essential aspect of a national strategy plan must include an awareness campaign. Canadians should understand the importance of proper disposal of mercury light bulbs. They should also know how and where they can safely dispose of mercury products.

The national strategy will not be a "set it and forget it" solution, as the bill calls upon the minister to provide follow-up reporting to assure the national strategy is maintaining best practices and is identifying and addressing deficiencies. The bill requires the Minister of the Environment to table a review report on the effectiveness of the national plan every five years after the tabling of the plan in Parliament.

Honourable senators, there have been commitments from every province on this issue to implement a pan-Canadian plan to divert mercury from our landfills, and every province has established the necessary authorities to implement such a plan. As I mentioned earlier, Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island have already established extended producer responsibility regulations, and Ontario promotes an industry led initiative.

It is time to have all the provinces and territories working together on this initiative. A national strategy will ensure that lamps containing mercury are diverted from landfills and incinerators, and are disposed of safely in an environmentally responsible way.

Canada has been and continues to be a strong supporter and advocate for the controlling and phasing out of mercury products internationally. It is time to lead here at home as well and to work with our provincial and territorial partners.

Honourable senators, I look forward to further study of this bill in the chamber and at committee.