On February 2-3, 2009 a group of 150 waste management stakeholders convened in Toronto to discuss the future of Ontario’s waste management policy, at a two-day Wealth Without Waste forum. The forum was lead by a partnership between the Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO) and Corporate Policy Group with funding support from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. Other partners included the University of Toronto Departments of Economics’ Faculty of Law and the Centre for the Environment, Blakes Lawyers, the Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA), Nestle Purelife and Solid Waste & Recycling magazine.
The timing of the forum appropriately coincided with the review of the Waste Diversion Act (WDA) and the comment period for John Gerretsen’s Toward a Zero Waste Future: Review of Ontario’s Waste Diversion Act, 2002 Discussion Paper for Public Consultation that ends on April 1, 2009. The forum examined and discussed Gerretsen’s WDA proposal to achieve zero waste. Before the forum, extended producer responsibility (EPR) was identified as a key mechanism to achieve this goal. EPR ensures that producers take responsibility for the final disposal of their wastes.
The two-day forum was held at Hart House at the University of Toronto’s St. George Campus. The first day provided a theoretical explanation of EPR as a policy mechanism and provided the Canadian context for examining these issues. The second day examined EPR from a European perspective; speakers discussed the successes and failures of their country’s experiences with EPR, and made recommendations for Ontario. The forum concluded by discussing successful North American EPR case studies. The forum was presentation-based, with a question answer period for each speaker. It was not designed to allow for much back and forth debate and discussion among all participants, which occurred during breaks.
Dr. Dewees, a professor at the University of Toronto, emphasized how economic policy instruments can influence environmentally-friendly practices. He suggested that if producers are responsible for the entire costs associated with their products’ impact on the environment (on a make and model basis) this will provide producers with incentives to lower disposal costs and environmental harm.
A large proportion of the forum compared EPR systems that manage waste collectively with those that manage waste individually (by each producer). It’s clear that there are advantages and disadvantages to both systems, both of which have been implemented in Europe. Joachim Quoden, General Manager of the Packaging Recovery Organization Europe, explained that Germany’s experience with a competitive individual EPR system has not been successful and diversion rates have decreased from when Germany used a collective EPR system. However, Dr. Chris van Rossem, professor at Lund University, cautioned that a non-competitive collective EPR system would disadvantage industries that want to develop their own innovative waste diversion methods.
A number of other issues were raised at the forum. Navin Joneja, a lawyer at Blakes, and Chris Busuttil, Director of Advocacy Coordination at the Competition Bureau of Canada, both raised the issue that a collective EPR system could conflict with section 45 of The Competition Act. There seemed to be consensus that a revised WDA should carefully address freeloading, historically-produced products and orphan products. In addition, there was discussion about who should be responsible for performing the waste collection services — industry or municipalities?
The forum was open to the public; there was a registration fee of $250 dollars for RCO members and $300 dollars for non-members. Participants included municipal, provincial, and federal government officials, non-governmental organizations, community groups, interest groups, and representation from various industry sectors. The majority of the participants were Canadian; international representation included the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, and Sweden. The remarkable diversity of stakeholders promoted interesting and controversial responses to the speakers’ presentations.
The forum ended on a positive note, describing EPR programs that have been implemented successfully. Jeff West, Director of Environmental Affairs for Shaw Industries, described his company’s cradle-to-cradle flooring program that recycles and reuses old flooring. Jo-Anne St. Godard, Executive Director of RCO, discussed the success of the Take Back the Light program, a system that recycles florescent lamps. These programs developed innovative systems to take back products, and represent private-sector-driven EPR. Hopefully, all jurisdictions in Canada will learn from these programs and those implemented in Europe, to develop a effective EPR in this country.
Catherine Leighton is doing her Masters in Environmental and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo and recently received the SWANA Cliff Chan Memorial Scholarship. Contact Catherine firstname.lastname@example.org