Don't say we didn't warn you!
For years we've promoted the 3Rs hierarchy in these pages, and the concept of extended producer responsibility (EPR). My very first editorial here 14 years ago ruffled feathers among blue box policymakers by questioning the status quo of publicly-funded curbside recycling programs. Regular contributors such as Usman Valiante and Clarissa Morawski have been stalwarts on reuse and deposit-refund systems, and the need for competition within product stewardship schemes (often when these were very unfashionable positions).
Yet even we are surprised by the sudden conversion of Canada's two most populous provinces -- Ontario and Quebec -- with the country's largest economies, to EPR. It's no understatement to say that not only is the waste management system about to be transformed, but also the way goods are produced and sold. It looks like the era of cradle-to-cradle "clean production" is approaching.
Ontario's plan, released in October 2009 as part of the mandatory five-year review of the Waste Diversion Act, 2002 will implement EPR and launch manufacturers in the waste management business. They'll be fully responsible for recycling and waste disposal, paying 100 per cent of costs.
Most of the plan is adapted from policy papers developed by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), the Waste Management Association (WMA -- formerly the Association of Municipal Recycling Coordinators), the Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO), and the Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA).
Of note is that Ontario's proposal goes beyond EPR and enshrines Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR -- see article, page 54), meaning individual companies are legally liable, not just collectives. Like Quebec, Ontario plans to narrow the cost gap between diversion and disposal by adding a surcharge to landfill disposal. Designated materials will eventually be banned from landfill. It affects everyone: small companies will no longer enjoy de minimis exceptions in the Waste Diversion Act, 2002 and in the IC&I recycling regulations.
Ontario has also just released draft compost guidelines, suggesting indirectly that municipalities may eventually focus on organics, as industry takes over more and more responsibility for its "product waste."
Quebec released three draft regulations on November 16, 2009, with a comment period ending January 24, 2010. The province aims to reduce each Quebecers waste from the current annual 810 kg per capita to 700 kg and , like Ontario, make industry pay for 100 per cent of the end-of-life management of products and packaging.
Quebec's plan is for five years, with certain targets stretching out longer. The "3Rs" hierarchy will be institutionalized with its addition to the Environment Quality Act along with the addition of a "V" for "valorization" (3R-V); this term refers to energy recovery, which will be allowed only for materials that cannot be reused or recycled. It appears the government is thinking about such things as anaerobic digestion here, where methane is captured to generate power.
The draft Recovery and Reclamation of Products by Enterprises Regulation introduces a new stewardship program for fluorescent and mercury lamps, batteries and waste electronics and electrical equipment (WEEE), batteries. This stewardship regulation will facilitate the designation of many other consumer products in the years ahead.
The draft Charges Payable for the Disposal of Residual Materials Regulation practically doubles the provincial surcharge on waste sent to landfill, adding an additional $9.50 to the current $10.67 per tonne. The additional $9.50 per tonne will be in place for only five years, and will be given to municipalities to help build organics processing infrastructure.
The draft Financial Guarantees Payable for the Operation of an Organic Matter Reclamation Facility Regulation requires organics processors to post a bond with the government. Quebec has pledged $650 million for organics recovery, part of which will be funded from its carbon tax, on the premise that methane from composting or bioreactor plants constitutes greenhouse gas capture. This will be followed by materials-specific landfill bans, starting with fibres. Organics disposal will be banned once a province-wide organics infrastructure is in place.
As in Ontario, producers will pay 100 per cent of end-of-life management costs for their products and packaging. As for used beverage containers, with the exception of beer, producers will be able to opt out of the mandatory deposit-refund system if they can demonstrate that curbside recycling can achieve the same diversion rate (70 per cent) as the deposit-refund system (and at a lower cost).
Both provinces seem to have understood the importance of forcing producers to internalize costs. In order to drive economic and eco-efficiency (and avoid producers fobbing off their recycling costs as some kind of "tax") a "stewardship fee" is not allowed at the cash register. The exception is tires, for which the current $3 levy on new tires in Quebec will continue until existing stockpiles of scrap tires are eliminated.
These are big changes, few of which are yet on the radar of either business or the general public. Start reading up and get ready. EPR is arriving.
The Ontario and Quebec plans are available for download (respectively) at
www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External (EBR Registry Number 010-8164)
Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine. Contact Guy at email@example.com