Solid Waste & Recycling


Blue box needs rethinking, group says

The current Ontario approach to residential recycling through the blue box faces major challenges, according to a b...

The current Ontario approach to residential recycling through the blue box faces major challenges, according to a broad industry coalition of product manufacturers and packaging material suppliers.

The group has issued a detailed “report card”-style study of the blue box program — the full pdf file is posted on this website. (Look under “Posted Documents” at left.)

“We support the blue box like most Ontarians,” says John Mullinder, chair of the Coalition for an Efficient and Rational Blue Box, (CERB). “However, it has some key systemic problems that need to be addressed.”

CERB has compiled its first report card on the blue box’s performance for the year 2003, with its grade teetering between C and D, meaning the system needs major efforts to improve overall.

“We’re aware that data for 2004 is about to be released and we anticipate some improvements,” says Mullinder, “but the fundamental challenges remain.”

These include whether collecting everything in the blue box makes sense any more. In the mid-1980s and early 1990s at least seven materials were collected for recycling from Ontario homes. Today, municipalities handle up to 24 different material categories, frequently mixing them together, causing contamination and impacting both revenues and overall system costs. Container glass used to go back into new glass containers. Now most of it goes into road aggregate or landfill because of contamination caused by the way it’s collected.

“While we all appreciate the convenience of the blue box,” says Mullinder, “the fact remains that after 20 years of operation, it’s still only recovering just over 50 per cent of blue box materials from Ontario households. That’s clearly not good enough. In addition to the 40 per cent plus that we are missing, there is also contamination of some of the material that is collected, increasing residue downstream and that also heads to landfill, putting the blue box in danger of becoming a form of secondary garbage pick-up.

“Is the current approach the right one? Perhaps we need to rethink the system.”

CERB notes that efforts are being made by both municipalities and industry to improve the efficiency of the blue box such as rationalizing the number and location of material recovery facilities and increasing recycling in apartment buildings. But there is significant room for improvement.

The coalition says the province failed to ensure that the potential economic impact of today’s “Blue Box Plan” (a funding program) on markets, the waste management industry and consumer prices was studied prior to the launch of the program. The group charges that the province is more concerned with whether or not the industry contribution is perceived by the public as a tax than whether the funding formula is fair or not. In fact, CERB says, the industry funding formula penalizes those materials that are highly recovered through the blue box over those that are less widely collected or not collected at all.

The province needs to analyze the best recovery option for each group of materials in Ontario households, says CERB. Is recycling the best option in each case? Is the blue box the only means of recovery? There are other options and we need to do better, says the group.

CERB is concerned at the overall impact of the current blue box system on Ontario. The province needs to carry out an economic impact study on the long-term implications of costs to municipalities and the municipal tax base, on industry competitiveness, on consumers and the ability of the curbside system to divert waste in an efficient and rational manner.

About CERB

Coalition for an Efficient and Rational Blue Box (CERB) is a voluntary industry coalition of product manufacturers and material suppliers. It currently represents over 3,300 companies directly, and through national or provincial industry associations, employs over 300,000 Ontarians directly, and thousands more, indirectly. CERB members include Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC), Packaging Association of Canada (PAC), Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA), Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC), and the Canadian Toy Association.

Contact John Mullinder at 416-626-0350 or via email at or

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