For some time rumours have circulated in Ontario that Environment Minister Jim Bradley and his staff have been working on a new piece of legislation to move a file forward that got dropped unceremoniously by a previous minister, who had developed legislation for extended producer responsibility (EPR) only to have it become a political liability when different retailers started charging a wide range of different “eco fees” on various products.
The “eco fee fiasco” was front page news in Ontario for several weeks and the government of then-Premier Dalton McGuinty put the whole thing on hold, pending a thorough review. (The eco fees in question related to an expanded class of household hazardous wastes and their packaging for which producers were to be made responsible. It was galling that the provincial government picked up the tab for these materials pending the figuring out of what to do next.)
Having looked into this issue for years, I oppose visible fees (eco fees) on products. I agree with legislation that works against companies hiving off their environmental responsibility to collectives and, instead, forces companies into “individual producer responsibility.” I like the idea of businesses having to build their environmental costs into the price of products, which in turn will incentivize them (so the thinking goes) to produce more eco-efficient products and packaging, as there’s an inherent pressure from the market for them to bring the price of their products down over time, and/or for producers to lower their own costs.
It all comes down to whether you prefer programs that the government approves, or simply that the government legislate the results it wants, then lets the marketplace find the most efficient way to achieve those outcomes.
So, like Santa and his elves, Bradley have worked away on this file, finally coming up with a new Waste Diversion Act that proposes to usher in an era of individual producer responsibility and encourage true change in how goods are produced and distributed, which is the whole point of the exercise. They’ll get little opposition now dispensing with eco fees, after the cockup last time.
Whether the proposed new legislation does all this, I can’t say yet for sure, but that is apparently the intent. I’ll need time to read the draft legislation myself and solicit opinions from experts who are smarter than me.
In the meantime, the forthcoming June/July edition of Solid Waste & Recycling magazine features an article from Rob Cook, Executive Director of the Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA) that looks at this, and compares Ontario’s proposed new system with that of British Columbia.
Cook approves of the new legislation, which the OWMA says reflects many of the principles promoted in its recent policy position paper. BC has traditionally been held out as the model of EPR in Canada (and North America), having created programs for more materials than any other jurisdiction. But the programs generally encourage the management of discards through a collective.
Cook writes: “Over the past five years, British Columbians have paid almost $500-million in eco-fees on various products that do nothing to drive innovation, efficiencies or recycling.
“Without incorporating recycling costs directly into the price of products, stewards are neither motivated nor encouraged to find innovative ways to reduce both waste and costs. Costs are simply passed directly on to consumers rather being borne by producers in their profit margins. They are therefore not scrutinized, but treated as a tax.”
So, with a sense of irony, Cook writes that it’s now time for BC to catch up!
Stay tuned… Now you can scroll down and read an editorial from the Toronto Star on all this, that reprises some of what I’ve said above and makes some additional worthwhile points:
This about sums it up.
Ontario’s new Waste Diversion Act good for environment and economy: Editorial
Queen’s Park politicians should rally behind the environment and pass Ontario’s proposed Waste Diversion Act.
CARLOS OSORIO / STAR FILE PHOTO
Ontario Environment Minister Jim Bradley is introducing sweeping legislation that, if passed, will turn Ontario into a nationwide leader in recycling.
Published on Mon Jun 10 2013
It’s rare day when a government takes the bold step of transforming an entire industry, but Ontario’s proposed Waste Diversion Act will do exactly that. So Environment Minister Jim Bradley deserves a shout-out for replacing old stagnant rules with sweeping legislation that, if passed, will turn Ontario into a nation-wide leader in recycling. It’s a win-win scenario for the environment and the economy.
Clearly, the environment will benefit from increased waste diversion rates that should rise from the overall low of 25 per cent to 40 per cent as the plan rolls out, with an eventual target of 60 per cent. The economic impact of those increases will be significant: studies show that Ontario’s blossoming recycling industry could invest up to $1 billion in the sector, adding 5,000 direct and 17,750 indirect jobs.
Few can argue with that potent combination — especially those in the Progressive Conservative opposition who have deliberately slowed the passage of other Liberal bills. When the new Waste Diversion Act is debated next fall, Tory Leader Tim Hudak should give it his full support or rightfully face criticism for playing a cynical game that blocks economic growth.
Change is crucial. As a series of recent Star editorials made clear, Ontario’s existing waste diversion act is stifling recycling innovation. In some cases, it allows companies to collect eco-fees from consumers and still see materials end up overseas with abysmal Third World recyclers. This was witnessed by Cindy Coutts, president of Sims Recycling Solutions in Peel Region, who photographed a bulldozer at a south China recycler pushing Ontario’s leftover electronics plastic into a nearby river. At another, Coutts witnessed Chinese workers sniffing smoke from burning plastic to determine its chemical makeup.
The new act must stop these shoddy practices. Bradley promises it will eliminate the current toothless watchdog called Waste Diversion Ontario, replacing it with a more powerful “Waste Reduction Authority.” The authority is to police producers’ actions, imposing “significant” fines on those with errant practices. For it to be truly effective, the minister must also ensure that recycling companies shipping materials overseas face the same tough rules.
In another dramatic move, the act would dissolve the industry-funded organizations (“cartels,” as he calls them) in favour of “individual producer responsibility.” That means companies will be forced to recycle their own materials, theoretically striving to find the most innovative — and cheapest — methods.
Of course, the eco-fees paid by consumers on electronics, tires and hazardous household waste (roughly $180 million in 2011) will not disappear. Instead of materializing at the checkout counter, they will be absorbed into the overall price of a product.
If the basic principles of competition hold true, companies will try to keep costs down to offer the lowest price to the consumer. Indeed, when Germany disbanded its similarly problematic program eight years ago the country’s annual recycling costs dropped by 50 per cent. It’s a good thing.
Bradley’s announcement was just the first step. He must get the new act passed and proceed with regulations that will govern the industry. Only then will real action begin. It will start with packaging in the laggardly industrial-commercial-institutional sector, where recycling rates of 13 per cent are pathetically low. Next, the government would say goodbye to industry-funded organizations: the Ontario Electronic Stewardship, Ontario Tire Stewardship and Stewardship Ontario (dealing with household hazardous waste).
Bid them farewell, but not fondly. Their existence stymied growth. In the recycling industry, where jobs and success depend on the freedom to innovate, the new possibilities are invigorating.
Transformation will not happen without co-operation between all parties in Ontario’s minority Legislature. The opposition leaders should make their support clear. As they say, time’s a wasting.