Guide to understanding the Canadian Environmental Protection Act: chapter 10

10. Hazardous wastes

10.1 What is hazardous waste?

Hazardous waste includes a wide range of residues from industrial production including used solvents, acids and bases, leftovers from oil refining and the manufacture of chemicals and metal processing. Several common consumer products, including old car batteries and oil-based paints are also hazardous once they are discarded. The nature and concentration of certain chemicals in many wastes makes them potentially hazardous to the environment and human health. They have characteristics such as flammability, toxicity and corrosivity. They may represent an immediate danger, such as ability to burn skin on contact, or longer-term environmental or human health risks due to accumulation and persistence of toxic substances in the environment.

Every year, approximately six million tonnes of hazardous waste are produced in Canada. Imports of hazardous waste total about 417 000 tonnes, of which approximately 55% is destined for recycling. Exports of hazardous wastes total about 320 000 tonnes, of which approximately 65% destined for recycling. Until ways can be found to avoid creating hazardous waste, it must be managed in a way that minimizes risks to the environment and human health.

10.2 How is CEPA 1999 used to manage hazardous waste?

Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), transboundary movements (imports, exports, or transits across provincial or territorial borders) of hazardous wastes or hazardous recyclable materials cannot take place unless the Minister is notified and a permit is issued. The prior informed consent of the countries of transit and destination are required. Shipments are also tracked from point of origin to destination. Notification information is made public in the Canada Gazette, Part I and on the CEPA Registry. These provisions allow for the implementation of Canada's obligations under three international agreements:

  • the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal
  • the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development'sDecision of the Council concerning the Control of Transboundary Movements of Wastes Destined for Recovery Operations C(2001)107/Final and
  • the Canada-United States Agreement on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste


  • define hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material, which will enable progress towards a federal-provincial-territorial harmonized approach to the management of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material
  • regulate exports and imports of prescribed non-hazardous wastes destined for final disposal (for example, municipal solid wastes)
  • develop environmentally sound management criteria to consider prior to refusing to issue an export, import and transit permit, to form an opinion as to whether the hazardous waste or hazardous recyclable material will be managed in a manner that will protect the environment and human health
  • require exporters of hazardous wastes to develop and implement reduction plans for exports of waste destined for final disposal and
  • control interprovincial movements of hazardous wastes and hazardous recyclable materials

The Minister may also issue a Permit of Equivalent Level of Environmental Safety for export, import and transit of hazardous wastes, hazardous recyclable material or prescribed non-hazardous waste being sent for final disposal, or for interprovincial movement of hazardous waste and hazardous recyclable material. By these permits, the Minister can vary or set aside provisions of regulations governing these activities if satisfied that the level of environmental safety under the permit will be equivalent to what would have been achieved under the regulations.

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