Recent developments suggest municipalities the general public may be ready to endorse full EPR. Indications include the following:
Shopping bags: Ontario grocers recently agreed to charge customers five cents for each single-use plastic grocery bag. (See news item, page 60) This will encourage people to purchase reusable shopping bags. Such bags have been made available at a nominal price (e. g., around one dollar) by major retailers for several years. Examples include Loblaws, Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire (among others). This is a true “win-win” situation since the provision of plastic bags can represent a significant ongoing expense to retailers, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars per store annually. The agreement neatly sidesteps any need to “ban” plastic bags. Simply put, if someone wants a plastic bag, they can have it, but “the polluter pays.” Some chains (e. g., Loblaws) have announced they’ll expand the bag fee program nationally; others (e. g., some Wal-Mart stores) have agreed to take back plastic bags for recycling (including bags from other merchants).
Plastic water bottles: Plastic water bottles have become a kind of “poster child” for the throwaway society, and citizens and local governments are starting to take action. Toronto, for example, is considering a ban on plastic water bottles in its own buildings, and the province could eventually ban or limit them altogether. (See news item, page 60.) Yes, the bottles are recyclable, but people recognize that tap water is less expensive to distribute and consume, is at least of similar quality to bottled water. The energy and environmental profile of shipping tiny water bottles all over the place is not favorable from a lifecycle perspective.
Coffee cups:Tim Hortons and other fast food or grocery establishments recently got sideswiped by the City of Toronto when a staff report demanded such businesses encourage and reward people financially for using refillable cups (to keep paper cups with plastic lids attached out of municipal recycling plants) and also discontinue in-store packaging (like the plastic clam shells in which your precooked BBQ chicken is packaged). Toronto staff even went so far as to suggest fast food chains use standard washable plates and cutlery, or allow customers to bring their own reusable packages. Industry reps quickly pointed out the health hazards this would pose, and the city’s ideas on this front may not lead to a quick solution. But more sabre rattling of this kind from municipalities is occurring, the public is hungry for solutions, and ready-serve restaurateurs would be wise to come up with safe, eco-friendlier packaging solutions soon. (Biodegradable/compostable “PLA” plastics might be the solution, but everyone agrees a way must be found to keep them from contaminating recyclable resin streams that look highly similar. Maybe they could be colored deep green…)
Sorting fatigue: As residents in more and more communities are forced to pay for waste services on a fee-for-service basis (e. g., bag tags) and sort their recyclables into one or more boxes or carts, and also set out their kitchen organics in green bins, it’s not difficult to imagine they’re getting fatigued. But this could be converted into their also awakening to the consequences of the consumer society. The public viewed the introduction of deposits for wine and alcohol containers very favorably, even though this requires more sorting and trips to The Beer Store. It’s likely they’ll respond favorably to similar programs for HHW, WEEE, batteries and any number of other products.