Among Ontario’s key waste management stakeholders and corporate leaders, there is a sense of urgency around Bill 91, the proposed Waste Reduction Act, 2013.
As retailers, producers, recyclers, politicians and environmental groups gathered at the Recycling Council of Ontario’s annual general meeting on February 4, 2014, these stakeholders were fearful that if Ontario rejects Bill 91, currently stalled at second reading, it could take years for new legislation to emerge.
Something … anything, the argument went, is better than the status quo.
“This all registers the importance of surrendering some of the prejudices we have been living with for the last little while, putting down the posturing and ensuring the dialogue that’s about to begin on Bill 91 is as productive as it possibly can be,” said John Coyne, VP, corporate secretary and general counsel for Unilever Canada, who addressed the meeting’s delegates. “This is something we need to do now, or we’ll lose the opportunity going forward,” he added.
Among other things, Bill 91 intends to do is create a Waste Reduction Authority (essentially a transformed Waste Diversion Ontario) that would have an enforcement role to ensure diversion targets are met. The Bill would also allow for a restructuring of Blue Box funding formulas and eliminate eco-fees by embedding them into the product price.
But mostly, debates about Bill 91 are about what it doesn’t do.
Many stakeholders are hopeful that the divisive Bill 91 will find a saviour at the committee level. Every participant who spoke at the general meeting agreed that the Bill is flawed — the only debate was to what extent.
PC Environment Critic Michael Harris, however, warned that it’s simply too risky to leave a “haphazard” Bill 91 solely to the committee level.
“Businesses plan according to risk, and when the province has no idea how much overhauling the province’s recycling sector will cost, that presents too much risk,” warned Harris. “If the Bill isn’t fixed in committee, there’s no turning back. Is it worth the risk?” he asked delegates.
The backdrop of the Bill 91 debate is that Ontario has one of the worst recycling rates in Canada. For decades, the province has had a diversion rate stuck at around 25 per cent, while some four million tonnes of industrial commercial and institutional waste are exported to U.S. disposal facilities each year, according to the Ontario Waste Management Association.
“We can’t continue to kick this issue down the road. We have to do something about it now,” said NDP Environment Critic Jonah Schein. “We’ve lost track of the 3-R hierarchy, and there’s a lack of market incentive for producers to reduce packaging and improve product design,” he added.
Product packaging was one of the most popular topics among speakers and delegates at the general meeting. Producers and retailers in attendance unanimously failed to understand why Bill 91 doesn’t reward companies already making an eco-effort with product lines, and penalize those companies that fail to consider the long-term implications of bulky, unrecyclable packaging.
“Design for the environment is not in this Bill,” Coyne told a panel of industry experts. He did concede, however, that consumers have become more demanding about eco-packaging, which has driven some corporations to make changes.
Coca-Cola Canada’s Public Communications Director David Moran agreed with Coyne. “It would be appreciated if [Bill 91] was structured in some way that rewarded innovation,” said Moran.
For example, Moran explained that Coke has been moving towards plant-based plastics that have 25 per cent less impact on the environment. If there were financial incentives, he said, there would be no oil-based bottles in Ontario.
Moran said that smaller companies could use financial incentives to help move in a similar innovative direction. He clarified, however, that jurisdictional packaging regulations could be difficult for companies like Coke, which operate on a global scale.
The other primary stakeholder criticism of Bill 91 is its failure to give producers adequate levels of control or authority.
“What makes business uncompetitive is when government puts restrictions on the competitive forces in that market place,” said Moran. “This is why a lot of businesses talk about B.C. [British Columbia] as a good model. Their government has set [diversion] targets, and then challenged the private sector to go on and achieve those targets,” he added.
B.C.’s producers work with recyclers and municipalities to achieve those diversion targets, said Moran.
“You need the authority to deliver the outcome required,” said Moran, who noted that Bill 91 merely maintains Ontario’s controversial and monopolistic system of leaving process decisions with government agencies, not businesses.
Harris said Bill 91 needs to be shown the door at Queen’s Park in order to “end the collusion, favouritism and monopoly” that it promotes. However, Harris said he has a sense that the NDP will prop up the Liberal-introduced Bill when debate resumes later in February 2014.
This news item originally appeared in EcoLog News. To learn how to subscribe, visit www.ecolog.com