The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and the Association of Municipal Recycling Coordinators (AMRC) have released a discussion paper to suggest an alternative approach to the current provincial blue box funding model.
Ontario’s Blue Box Program has been in place for five years and municipalities have identified fundamental flaws in the design of the program, says the AMO and AMRC Discussion Paper For An Alternative Approach to Ontario’s Blue Box Funding Model, which was released at the end of August, 2008. “The current design of the program encourages industry to do the ‘wrong thing’ and produce non-recyclable packaging where levies do not exist instead of minimizing packaging and improving the recyclability of packaging,” the paper adds. “For five years, industry has effectively avoided the costs to manage packaging material as litter and garbage.”
The discussion paper says municipalities are becoming more vulnerable to the rising waste management costs. While Section 25(5) of the Waste Diversion Act says industry stewards are supposed to provide funding to municipalities equal to 50 per cent of the total net cost of the Blue Box program, municipalities say funding has not come close to 50 per cent. They estimate they are still paying more than 60 per cent of the Blue Box program costs. If nothing changes, they expect this number to increase, as more and more difficult to recycle post-consumer packaging and printed paper enters the waste stream and with the anticipated designation of programs for kitchen organics and yard wastes, which have no stewards.
AMO and AMRC argue that industry should assume “nothing short of 100 per cent” of the costs to manage all post-consumer packaging and printed paper, including those that end up in the litter stream. “Whether it is through the Blue Box, litter or landfill, municipalities are the ones that deal with the material once it reaches the waste cycle, and yet we have no control over the decisions of design in packaging or printed paper,” says the report.
The paper says the current Blue Box funding model indirectly encourages industry to move to more non-recyclable packaging. The cost-sharing model between municipalities and industry is based only on the materials that actually end up in the Blue Box and does not reflect the costs of managing all packaging and printed paper produced and introduced into the market.
The discussion paper says moving more responsibility to the stewards that produce packaging and printed paper makes sense for a number of reasons. Shifting this responsibility to the private sector would provide for consistency of decisions across the province, helping to establish a more uniform Blue Box program. It would provide stewards with the ability to achieve higher recovery rates through their involvement in the management of the entire life cycle of the product. Waste management costs would be reflected in the product price, instead of being subsidized through municipal taxation. Municipalities could then use funds to manage other diversion initiatives, including kitchen organics and yard wastes.
In fact, if industry were to pay the full cost of the Blue Box, municipalities would see a significant cost saving of over $234million, which could be then used to strengthen other diversion programs that are coming on line.
AMO and AMRC recommend increasing financial obligation of industry for all costs associated with all post-consumer packaging and printed paper produced. They recommend that industry become responsible for 100 per cent of the Blue Box costs under an expanded list of designated Blue Box materials to include all post-consumer packaging and printed paper. They also say industry would become responsible for 50 per cent of the costs for packaging and printed paper in the waste and litter stream. This recommends would require three years to implement. Key changes to be made would include changing section 25(5) of the Waste Diversion Act and revising the Blue Box Program. After fully implementing these recommendations, the municipalities would like to see industry become fully responsible for all costs of post-consumer packaging and printed paper including what is managed in the litter and waste stream.
AMO and AMRC also have several recommendations for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. These include setting strict recovery targets within the timeframe of the pending Michigan border closure so that 90 per cent recovery is reached by 2011. The ministry also must enforce non-compliance penalties for industries that “free load” off of other stewards. It should also establish directives for foreign importers so that they meet packaging guidelines set out by the province. The ministry should also require producer management of problematic materials through a specialized recovery plan or deposit-return system.