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Producers have had a good, long run — time to pay up

Competition must of course be fair, but not necessarily ethical


Clarence Decatur Howe

Clarence Decatur Howe

U
pping the discourse about Ontario’s dearth of waste and recycling legislation was warmly welcomed at a C.D. Howe Institute luncheon yesterday.

The short and tasty event brought together great minds to expound on C.D. Howe’s recent report, An Opportunity not to be wasted: Reforming Ontario’s Recycling Program, written by upstart Aaron Jacobs.

I had the pleasure to sit with Jacobs and three other quick, young minds from the Institute, who helped ease my anxiety about the future a little bit. (It’s always reassuring to meet inspired youth.)

As the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change prepares stakeholder consultation sessions in advance of another legislative kick at the can — effectively summoning a new waste management bill — the luncheon offered some good venting space for the legislatively frustrated. Like me.

People often ask me at these events, “What’s your interest in this?” The answer has been the same for some time now. “Design for Environment,” I say.bananas

As is so often the case at these functions, discussion is geared towards a plan of action that still leaves most problems intact. In other words, we all seem intent on letting producers and businesses do whatever they like, then we’ll come in at the end with a broom and a dustpan, sheepishly shrugging our shoulders and tsk-tsking. It is simply taken as a given that producers are going to “do their thing,” design any product they wish, and package that product any way they want, as if it’s they’re earth-given right. We’re intent on maintaining a certain status quo in the name of preserving the very system that is destroying our environment. The rub is that it’s the same system that keeps our capitalist society afloat, and the markets happy, or at least semi-functional in theory.

New products are released constantly. New packaging. Bold packaging. Excess packaging. Loads of materials entirely unconducive to municipal recycling processes. We all turn to each other and ask how we’re going to cope with it all and manage these products’ full lifespans.

Our packaging laws are entirely geared towards whether a product’s labelling is misleading. Whether it’s easily managed by the waste management system appears to not be on the radar. Why not? Should companies have free reign to design whatever they want? Personally, I don’t think so. I wish our world would bring down the hammer more and demand that companies operate within a framework that takes waste and recycling into account from day one. Which materials are being used? What’s in that potion? These principles are not meant to be forced as a distant afterthought.

We’re more interested in protecting proprietary secrets and bottom lines than land and sea. Competition must of course be fair, but not necessarily ethical.

It’s so baffling. Why in the world can we not create incentives for companies to create more sustainable packaging?

I don’t believe in the statement that “consumers should speak with their wallets,” and refuse to buy products that they feel are excessively packaged or not easily recyclable. That’s a cop-out position that I often hear from companies because they know it would never have any significant effect. This removes accountability. It simply doesn’t matter what actions a minority of individuals take, if the majority remain a juggernaut of indifference.

While I don’t honestly believe that strict packaging laws are on the horizon — ones that would have to be enacted on a massive scale across Europe and North America — I do think industrialization has had a good long run. So, while our factory-based employment system crumbles, and people find new ways to line their pockets, it’s hard to argue against producers not paying their fair share to protect the earth from themselves. Because once the CEOs are gone, most of their products will still be here for generations to come. For those generations, maybe money won’t be quite as critical.


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