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Ontario's New Blue Box Plan

Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) recently released a consultation paper, Blue Box Program Plan, which details Ontario's proposed waste diversion program for blue box waste. WDO submitted the proposal to ...


Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) recently released a consultation paper, Blue Box Program Plan, which details Ontario’s proposed waste diversion program for blue box waste. WDO submitted the proposal to the Ministry of the Environment for approval under the Waste Diversion Act, 2002. However, the program can only be implemented with approval of the environment minister.

Under the Act, the ministry has the authority to require that WDO develop a waste diversion program for designated waste and, on September 23, 2002, the ministry made this request to WDO for blue box waste. The Act provides that a waste diversion program developed for blue box waste must provide for payments to municipalities such that the total amount paid is equal to 50 per cent of the total cost incurred by municipalities as a result of the program.

Designated stewards

Stewardship Ontario was designated as the industry funding organization for blue box waste by WDO. Incorporated on November 6, 2002, the founding members are: the Food and Consumer Products Manufacturers of Canada; the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors; Refreshments Canada; Retail Council of Canada; Canadian Paint and Coatings Association/Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association; Liquor Control Board of Ontario; and the Canadian Newspaper Association.

The Blue Box Program envisions that 50 per cent of the net cost incurred by Ontario municipalities will be paid through fees collected by Stewardship Ontario from “designated stewards.” Designated stewards are defined as brand owners or first importers of products that are the source of blue box waste. Brand owners and first importers of blue box waste have two options. They can become members in good standing of Stewardship Ontario, and thereby be deemed to be in compliance with the Act, or they can seek approval from WDO to implement an industry stewardship plan to recover blue box waste, which the steward has introduced into the Ontario market.

Definitions

Blue box waste is defined by regulation and includes the following materials: glass, metal, paper, plastic and textile. This encompasses packaging and printed materials and a wide range of consumer products. However, blue box programs currently collect primarily packaging and printed materials, and do not generally collect consumer products. As such, the program addresses only consumer packaging material and printed paper (commonly found in residential waste streams).

Stewardship Ontario adopted a definition of packaging that includes all products made of paper, glass, metal, plastics, textiles or any combination to be used for the containment, protection, handling, delivery and presentation of goods. “Non-returnable” items used for the same purposes are also considered packaging. Stewardship Ontario has designated all printed paper as blue box waste, including: newspapers, magazines, catalogues, directories, calendars, greeting cards, flyers and handbills.

Criticisms

A number of concerns have been expressed regarding the blue box program. Specifically, the setting of fees relies on a complicated formula, and there is debate about whether the brand owner or supplier should be the party responsible for reporting and paying fees on in-store and food service packaging. There has also been some controversy regarding the collection of fees on all packaging material types, even though not all municipal recycling programs actually collect all packaging types.

Another area of controversy relates to the “de minimis” levels which are set out, and which provide for exemptions for certain companies from participation in the program. There has been complaint that the requirement for de minimis violates the objective of a level playing field amongst various stewards. Meanwhile, some companies have claimed that the de minimis levels are set too low, thereby including a number of organizations that should be exempted.

Next steps

Stewardship Ontario intends to begin recruiting a minimum of 95 per cent of affected companies and registering them as stewards under the Act. Contact will take place through Stewardship Ontario membership services staff, industry associations and media awareness campaigns. Once the minister approves the program, all designated stewards must pay fees to Stewardship Ontario. Where blue box wastes are included within an approved industry stewardship plan, these materials are exempt from fees to Stewardship Ontario.

The goal of the program for blue box waste is to increase diversion from disposal in an economically sustainable manner. Consistent records have been kept on the performance of residential waste diversion in Ontario since 1996, and data indicates that although the total amount of recyclables have grown substantially, the growth in recovery rate per person and per household has slowed in recent years. The consultation paper, however, notes that this may be due to changes in packaging materials rather than lack of recycling efforts.

The proposed yardstick for the future will examine how effective the blue box is at recovering materials available for recycling, with the objective of improving this rate over time. There will be municipal waste audits, which will be cross-checked each year against sales and distribution data. Performance of the blue box program will also be measured through the percentage of households receiving service that use the blue box, and the percentage of recyclable materials from participating households that are captured. An assessment will provide the percentage of households that have access to recycling that collect discretionary materials and the percentage of households within the municipality that receive blue box services.

Rosalind Cooper, LL.B. is a partner with Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, with offices across Canada. Ms. Cooper is based in Toronto, Ontario. E-mail Rosalind at rcooper@tor.fasken.com


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