On May 19, 2011, British Columbia’s Department of Environment regulated all packaging and printed paper used in the province. Any person or company that produces a material that falls under this regulation will be required, by law, to manage and pay for the end-of-life management of that material.
A close look at the documentation and conversations with people close to the government suggests that this is big news. BC may be the first jurisdiction in North America to introduce real extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging and make producers pay the full cost of end-of-life management. The new requirements affect recyclable material collected by municipalities via curbside programs. The provincial deposit-refund system is maintained and is not affected by introduction of the new requirements.
The regulation doesn’t immediately affect material produced by the industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) sector. However, the definition of “producer” has been modified in such a way as to make it easier for the environment minister to designate IC&I materials when he chooses, as is presumed to eventually happen.
The regulation comes not a moment too soon, as various companies and industry groups are attempting to pre-empt the introduction of EPR across North America with misleading studies and PR campaigns. In the US, the Consumer Packaged Goods companies represented by the Grocery Manufacturers Association hired the McKinsey Company to do a report on EPR for packaging that claims industry has dealt with packaging design (mostly lightweighting) and that the consumer, which they erroneously equate with the taxpayer, should be responsible for recycling, and that it’d be financially ruinous for them to pay for it.
After BC introduces its EPR for packaging and printed paper – and especially after it extends this to IC&I materials – experts will sift data in the years ahead and measure the real environmental and economic impacts. Other provinces and states will no doubt monitor all this closely, and some (perhaps many) will follow BC’s leadership in this area. (BC’s plan is similar to what Ontario’s former Environment Minister John Gerretsen proposed last year before mishandled eco fees for a household hazardous wastes derailed both EPR in that province and Gerretsen’s cabinet career.)
The regulation works under the authority of the British Columbia Environmental Management Act (2003). The new rules amend the existing Recycling Regulation that already includes a host of other products such as paint, solvents, electronic and electrical goods, beverage containers, etc. BC’s environment ministry simply added “packaging” with some minor amendments.
Under this legislation, producers will be required to divert 75 per cent or more of the designated materials from disposal (landfill or incineration). Obligated producers must create a stewardship plan (on their own or via an umbrella organization) describing how they will undertake their stewardship obligation. They must complete public consultations prior to submitting a plan to the environment ministry by November 19, 2012. Once complete, each plan will be filed with the ministry and ultimately approved by the designated director.
The stewardship programs must establish a launch date and implementation plan, and begin no later than May 19, 2014. Once in place, British Columbia will be on its way to becoming one of the world’s leading packaging EPR jurisdictions, comparable in some ways with Germany and its famous Green Dot program.
The new rules may in fact capture some IC&I materials even now. According to a brief issued by industry stewardship group CleanFARMS, “The type of packaging targeted is very broad and it’s understood that it includes agricultural products such as bale wrap and twine and other industrial packaging for items like industrial chemicals and disinfectants.” The program targets any person or company that manufactures, brands and/or sells a product into any market in BC that is packaged in any way or is used as a package during its lifecycle.
The new definition of producer casts the net wide; it includes not only manufacturers, but also the owner or licensee of a trademark under which a product is sold, and importers of products. Even some farmers could be defined as a producer.
As CleanFARMS states, the requirements are quite onerous; producers can go it alone, or they can contract a stewardship organization to manage their obligations for them. They might pay municipalities to collect and recycle material for them, but for some packaging types it’s possible that “manufacturer’s networks” and other alternate systems will evolve.
BC producers have to get busy consulting with the public on their proposed plans and engage local governments, recyclers, small businesses, non-government organizations and the general public. They’ll have to devise reporting systems on packaging sold and collected, plus fee tracking and overall program operation. There will be advertising and consumer education to consider, timelines (including program phasing), and steps to eliminate or reduce product and packaging environmental impacts.
It’s going to be a busy and exciting process, and our magazine will report on it in the coming months and years. Stay tuned.
Guy Crittenden is Editor of this magazine. Contact Guy at firstname.lastname@example.org