The blue box program in Ontario cost over $180 million (net) in 2009 to recycle 870,000 tonnes of material and is under pressure to find ways to be more effective and efficient. Funding for capital projects and program improvements is often neglected in recessionary times and with pressure from taxpayers to reduce or eliminate tax increases. Municipalities receive funding from paper and packaging stewards in Ontario, but these monies are often diverted to general revenue accounts and spent on the spectrum of municipal services.
Paper and packing stewards seek to have the money they give municipalities invested in continuous improvement and new infrastructure to increase diversion and control program costs. Municipalities appreciate the stewards’ interests, but prioritize their spending to the areas of greatest need each year. Both parties recognize that new investments are required to change the status quo and to implement system-wide cost reductions, but opportunities for major progress are limited in the absence of additional funding. Ontario’s approach to the management of the blue box program, and partial extended producer responsibility (EPR), requires creative ways to move the system ahead.
Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO), Stewardship Ontario, the City of Toronto and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) recognized this problem four years ago and developed its Continuous Improvement Fund (CIF) as a mechanism to direct funding from industry to dedicated blue box improvement projects. The CIF was seeded with over $53 million to work with municipalities to find better and best practices, technology improvements and to have a province-wide perspective on cost saving opportunities. The CIF provides between 25 and 100 per cent of the costs for projects that meet the fund’s priorities.
The CIF has been a success. To date, 368 projects have been approved for a total of $27 million in CIF grants. Adding in other monies, the total value of these projects is $70 million. Many of these project ideas would not have come forward in these difficult financial times, and certainly no one expected leveraging $70 million in program improvements in such a short time. All of these projects advance the blue box program and there are still more opportunities that should be of interest to recyclers in all provinces.
There are too many great projects to discuss, but here are a few examples:
- Over $900,000/year will be saved by nine municipalities by installing rural depot compaction roll-off units and by building medium-sized transfer stations to transport material more efficiently.
- Over one hundred municipalities have undertaken planning initiatives that will increase diversion and control costs by implementing better monitoring and measurement systems and, in some cases, partnering with neighbouring municipalities.
- Construction of a regional MRF will reduce operational costs by over $1 million per year.
- Energy audits identified over $100,000 per year in savings in six MRFs.
- Installation of optical sorters in MRFs to increase plastic packaging diversion while reducing labour costs.
- Investment in private-sector plastics re-processors will build a stable local market for mixed plastics.
- Reduction of the cost to purchase blue boxes and 96 gallon carts by over 30 per cent through joint tendering for all municipalities in Ontario.
- Many of the projects have a financial payback of less than three years.
These initiatives also led Stewardship Ontario to invest over $2 million in additional funds in partnership with the CIF on developing plastics recycling capacity.
The CIF is a negotiated agreement between the parties and demonstrates an effective way to approach solutions in challenging times. Dedicating funds to blue box program projects through a grant program such as the CIF has created a financial instrument that is acceptable to staff, elected officials, industry stewards and taxpayers. It has also become a resource for smaller municipalities who don’t have staff with waste management expertise, and is potentially a centre of excellence for all municipalities.
It’s interesting that the CIF is not a governmental, municipal or stewards’ organization. It’s in the middle, with a clear mandate to improve the system through cooperative efforts. Having a sizable fund allows ideas to become action. (Change isn’t free.)
WDO has succeeded in its initiative and will need to determine this summer if the CIF program will continue with additional funding. Other jurisdictions should investigate if some form of the CIF can improve their recycling and EPR programs. The CIF has demonstrated that creative solutions can be found in difficult financial times.
Andy Campbell, P.Eng., is Director, Continuous Improvement Fund, Waste Diversion Ontario in Toronto, Ontario. Contact Andy at firstname.lastname@example.org