Leaders in the Canadian waste and recycling industry are currently wrestling with the implications of Ontario Environment Minister John Gerretsen’s discussion paper “Toward a Zero Waste Future” that proposes to move the province toward European-style Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). The discussion paper was put out in association with the five-year review of the province’s Waste Diversion Act, under which the Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) agency was created that oversees program development for product stewardship and blue box funding.
Under the current blue box recycling model, industry “stewards” pay 50 per cent of net municipal curbside recycling costs for certain packaging materials and fibre. Yet much material doesn’t find its way into the blue box and non-designated materials may still end up in landfill. The programs are expensive for municipalities, and the cost for towns and cities as well as stewards is likely to soar in the months ahead as prices in commodities markets have dropped precipitously.
In an EPR scheme, brand owners and producers would pay the full cost of end-of-life management for their products and packaging, the idea being that with this pressure the private sector will establish the most eco-efficient system; this may include recycling but also other approaches, including reuse and reduction, that some say have been neglected in the focus on recycling.
No one knows what the outcome will be of Minister Gerretsen’s discussion paper, but the timing (well away from any election) and the text of the discussion paper itself suggest the government is serious. The paper indicates the government plans to enforce waste diversion for the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors that, despite producing twice as much waste as the residential sector, have largely escaped waste diversion requirements and send large amounts of material (including recyclable wood, fiber, plastics and metals) to landfill, simply because it’s cheaper to do so. In an EPR scheme such practices would be banned. Having to pay directly for end-of-life management for their products and packaging could trigger change in the way goods are produced and sold, including deposit-refund programs for many materials, private systems to collect wastes for reuse by the manufacturer, and possibly even a resurgence of beverage-container refilling by the soft drink industry.
Such changes will no doubt upset the apple cart (as is likely intended) and those industries that have benefited from a status quo recycling system will be resistant to change, including any waste disposal company that simply hauls garbage to landfill with no added value. Yet for bold companies, the new system will present tremendous opportunity; new ways of doing things will emerge and vastly larger amounts of recyclable materials will be processed into new products. The landfill’s loss will be the recycling plant’s gain. Some municipal waste management staff may find new work in private industry; those that stay will perhaps find themselves presiding over a waste stream that is by and large compostable organics.
Waste experts have wasted no time starting to think through what the new system might look like. Usman Valiante — principal of Corporate Policy Group (CPG) in Orangeville, Ontario — has already proposed a system that, among other things, envisions a re-formulated Stewardship Ontario put in charge of managing product waste, along the lines of the Dualles system in Germany. Other concepts are emerging in rapid succession.
Readers can access Valiante’s presentation slides in Acrobat PDF format by looking under the most recent entry at Editor’s Blog at www.solidwastemag.com
The forthcoming December/January edition of Solid Waste & Recycling magazine will feature a Cover Story devoted to analysis of issues related to the Ontario “Toward a Zero Waste Future” discussion paper.