As of the beginning of this year every member plant of the Ready Mixed Concrete Association of Ontario (RMCAO) was required to comply with the association’s Eco Certification program.
About 95 per cent of the 280 active concrete plants have met the certification requirements. The remaining operations have been given extensions, by-and-large to complete the required technical studies for noise and air quality to prepare their submissions to the Ontario Ministry of Environment (MOE).
The certification efforts have been "very successful" to date, says Bart Kanters, technical director of the association.
"It's fairly progressive for a voluntary association of concrete producers to start implementing mandatory environmental certification requirements," he adds, pointing out the RMCAO's board of directors gave the mandatory certification move the thumbs up largely because of how important sustainability has become to concrete purchasers and its members.
"Some of our members were asking why we are getting directly involved in what the ministry of environment is there to enforce. The response from our board was that we are a local product, we are local producers, we care about our communities and we don't need to wait for complaints to come in or government agencies to be looking over our shoulder to do the right thing."
The RMCAO has 80 members operating 300 concrete plants across Ontario. Since concrete has a short shelf life, plants have to be close to projects, Kanters says, noting about 20 years ago the RMCAO created a voluntary environmental certification (best practices guide) for its member producers that many members have been using for decades.
Kanters says not many members were against mandatory certification," he said.
"Some of the issues we heard were from plants in operation for more than 30 years. When they were constructed there wasn't as much of a focus on environmental issues."
Some of these plants were built prior to urban development that today encroaches on their plant sites. To be in compliance with MOE noise regulations, these plants often require a substantial cash investment – in some cases upwards of $100,000 — to build sound barriers around their property.
Noise issues often occur when cement tankers unload using high-capacity air blowers to move cement powder into silos, says Kanters.
"As an industry we learned that an environmental problem which wasn't a concern years ago could become a significant problem today."
Another hurdle for some of the older plants is site grading to ensure that rainwater runoff stays on plant property, says Kanters. "That wasn't a consideration when they first set up but now they might require a lot of earthwork and even ripping out concrete materials around the plant to make sure all rainwater is captured."
Kanters says the concrete industry has learned that when planning to set up new plants it needs to pay special heed to possible problems on prospective sites, not just now but in the future.
Property on industrial zoned land outside an urban area, for instance, might seem perfect now but if residential development creeps to its edge, plant operations could face problems.
Residential subdivisions within 500 metres, for instance, may require operators to install sound barriers and address other environmental issues.
Under the new Eco Certification program, operations have two options: seek an Eco Green certification which meets MOE plant requirements; or, Eco Gold certification, which surpasses MOE standards. Members are required to use a third-party engineer for the evaluation.
"We see a lot of references to sustainable purchasing etc. but few people ever define what that really means," said Kanters.
"We're trying to take the lead as an association to ensure that our members are fully compliant and we will also recognize those that implemented additional measures beyond the environmental standards."
Kanters says each plant will be provided with an opportunity to install large signs indicating their status of Eco Green or Gold.
In 2006 the association set up its Eco Certification Program, which included a formal checklist of provincial environmental requirements.
"We probably had 20-30 concrete plants that jumped on the bandwagon in the first year," says Kanters. "The program wasn't mandatory at the time."