I was pleased to see an article making the rounds, penned by Michael Harris, Environment Critic for the Ontario Conservatives, who currently sit in opposition, with parliament shuttered and the Liberals trying to figure out who might replace Premier Dalton McGuinty who resigned this fall. (Note that this is not “Mike Harris” the former Tory premier.)
The article gets things just about right in envisioning a different approach to product stewardship or what I prefer to call extended producer responsibility (EPR). To simplify, Harris envisions taking responsibility for policy and program development from Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) and closing that agency, and instead returning oversight to the Ministry of the Environment. Most importantly, he says the Tories, if elected, would have government set standards and enforce requirements for end-of-life management for discarded products and packaging, but let the individual producers or “stewards” figure out the best way to meet those standards.
The concept is to let free market forces play a greater role, where government-mandated industry funding organizations (IFOs) have traditionally faltered with their central-planning approach, and anti-market decisions, such as choosing a very small number of designated service providers to collect and process material. Ontario’s IFO for electronics (Ontario Electronic Stewardship or “OES”) provides a good example of an IFO that has favored certain recycling contractors, failed to recycle as much material as hoped, and run financial deficits, in turn leading to it collecting less material.
I agree with what Michael Harris suggests in the article below, and if fits nicely with some editorials and columns I’ve written on this topic, and an op-ed piece by expert Usman Valiante that will appear in the forthcoming December/January edition of Solid Waste & Recycling magazine. Watch for that, but in the meantime enjoy this version of Michael Harris’s article that was picked up by the Kitchener, Ontario-based newspaper, The Record.
Here’s the link, and the article reproduced in full below.
Ontario’s waste diversion rate remains dismal
by Michael Harris, MPP
We all value a clean environment and want to ensure hazardous materials and old electronics that can be recycled don’t end up in our landfills.
To achieve this goal, provinces across Canada and countries around the world have engaged industry to deliver effective recycling programs through extended producer responsibility systems.
Under such systems, producers and importers (referred to as stewards) are responsible for ensuring waste from their products is diverted away from landfills.
Many governments deliver these results by setting waste diversion targets that stewards must meet.
But after nearly a decade of Liberal rule, the Ontario government still lacks the ability to set clear, enforceable recycling targets even as the province’s waste diversion rate remains at a dismal 23 per cent, lagging behind British Columbia., Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
To make Ontario a leader once again, I introduced a bold Conservative plan last week to divert more hazardous materials and electronics from disposal by injecting competition into the recycling marketplace and improving government oversight.
Under the Conservative plan, the government would set measurable and achievable waste diversion targets, establish environmental standards and monitor outcomes.
Stewards would then be free to determine how to achieve those targets either on their own or through a collaborative effort, rather than having to be a part of industry-funding organizations that manage Ontario’s recycling programs as government-mandated monopolies.
These reforms would stimulate economic growth, drive down recycling costs for businesses and, ultimately, lead to greater waste diversion.
Currently, Ontario businesses that produce or import electronic goods or hazardous products (such as paint, batteries and antifreeze) are obligated to pay government-approved eco-taxes to industry-funding organizations that the Ministry of the Environment has created to administer recycling programs developed by an arm’s length body, Waste Diversion Ontario. Sounds confusing, doesn’t it?
Well, don’t feel bad. Everyone agrees with you, including the Liberal government.
In fact, the Liberals highlighted in their own report that this bewildering maze of bureaucracy, in which the Environment Ministry and Waste Diversion Ontario duplicate oversight roles, has led to a complete lack of accountability.
In 2011, for instance, Waste Diversion Ontario idly stood by as both Stewardship Ontario, which manages the municipal hazardous or special waste program, and Ontario Electronic Stewardship, which manages the waste electrical and electronic equipment program, racked up massive multimillion-dollar deficits.
Now, nearly two and half years after the Liberals’ eco-fee fiasco and with both of its programs bankrupt, the Liberal government remains on the sidelines, failing to present a credible plan to improve waste diversion in Ontario. This is unacceptable.
To fix this problem, the Conservatives would abolish Waste Diversion Ontario and turn over full oversight responsibility to the Ministry of the Environment where it truly belongs. Additionally, our plan would hold individual producers accountable for recycling, rather than government-mandated monopolies.
The Conservative plan doesn’t deregulate; it creates direct accountability.
The federal government sets standards for vehicle safety, but it doesn’t design and install your airbags. So why is it any different for recycling?
In a free-market economy, government should simply establish standards, set targets and ensure everyone plays by the rules — not centrally plan economic activity around a boardroom table with unaccountable arm’s length bodies and government-mandated monopolies.
Left to its own devices, the private sector, as it has in other provinces and around the world, will find the most efficient and cost-effective way to deliver recycling services in Ontario.
Michael Harris is the MPP for the riding of Kitchener-Conestoga and the environment critic for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.