THE TIPPING POINT: DRIVING CHANGE IN WASTE
Municipal governments play a pivotal role in Canada and around the world in ensuring residential waste is properly managed to ensure the health of our communities and our environment. Significant progress has been made by municipalities to operate integrated waste management systems that keep our communities safe and improve environmental outcomes.
However, waste management is a significant and growing municipal challenge, especially here in Ontario. Costs are steadily increasing, performance has plateaued and municipalities are increasingly dealing with issues related to disposal capacity. Problematic products and packaging are impacting the viability of Ontario’s iconic Blue Box program. Less material is being recycled, costs to property taxpayers are escalating, and more material is ending up in our environment including our waterways, parks and communities.
At the same time, on a global basis we are struggling with increasing amounts of plastic waste products and packaging ending up in our oceans, lakes, rivers and other bodies of water. Recent studies estimate 8 million tonnes of plastics are ending up in our oceans annually. An additional 10,000 tonnes per year is estimated to be entering the Great Lakes. This has profound impacts on marine mammals, fish, and birds. Plastics are increasingly being found in our drinking water with uncertain health impacts.
Property taxpayers should not be responsible to manage and co-fund a recycling system when they have no influence over the types of materials entering the waste stream. Government policies should focus responsibility on those that can most effectively and efficiently drive change. To fix these problems we should be moving to full producer responsibility to manage end-of-life products and packaging.
This is done successfully around the world. Businesses should be made fully responsible to collect and make sure their materials are properly recycled. Producers are in the best position to communicate directly with consumers about whether their products can be recycled and how to best collect them. They are best informed to invest in the recycling collection and processing system necessary and to create the markets to support their end use. This means making producers directly responsible for ensuring easy access to recycling programs and for continually improving both collection and recycling outcomes. This would allow for competition to drive innovation both at the service provider and producer level and ensure transparency and direct accountability.
One of the most recent examples of producer responsibility in Canada has been implemented in British Columbia. While the program has many positive attributes, there are some shortcomings including a lack of accessibility targets; minimal transparency on establishing, measuring, reporting and verifying performance; and lack of a properly resourced oversight and enforcement body. A full producer responsibility framework for Canada needs to solve the shortcomings experienced in British Columbia, and be informed by other Canadian and international examples.
The shift to full producer responsibility for the (Used) Tires Program happened on January 1, 2019. Presently underway are the transitions of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and the Municipal Hazardous or Special Waste (MHSW) programs.
At this time, there has been no direction from the Ministry to transition the largest and most well-known program in Ontario – the Blue Box program. In June 2019, the Province appointed a Special Advisor on Recycling and Plastic Waste, David Lindsay, to urgently address the issues of plastic waste and litter, improve recycling, increase products that can go into the Blue Box, and ensure producers are responsible for managing plastic and other packaging at end-of-life. On July 22, 2019, Minister Yurek confirmed that Mr. Lindsay’s report had been submitted.
A great deal of work has already been done by all stakeholders and there is an opportunity to make progress on moving waste diversion in Ontario into a circular economy once and for all. As AMO earnestly waits for the announcement on the Blue Box program, we are hopeful that the plan the province puts forward incorporates the advice provided by municipalities and allows for adequate time and certainty for all stakeholders to plan and collaborate successfully.