Industry to cover the full cost of curbside recycling programs
New Ontario legislation makes producers responsible for the lifecycle of their goods, relieving municipalities of the expense
WITH THE PASSAGE OF the Waste-Free Ontario Act last November, municipalities all over the province are preparing to transition to a new waste management system, one that places the responsibility for Ontario’s blue box program fully in the hands of producers.
The idea is that since producers create waste products such as paper and packaging that eventually find their way into people’s blue bins, they ought to take charge for how those products are disposed off. How this will affect the region’s waste collection is still up in the air.
“Going forward, that entire [recycling collection] process, the producers will be fully accountable for operational and financial control of that,” said Jon Arsenault, Waterloo Region’s director of waste management.
This means that municipalities will no longer be responsible for picking up your blue box off the curb on a regular basis. Instead, that job will fall to waste producers, who will have to pay for the program and organize recycling collection for the residents.
“The way the legislation is written ... it’s very clear in that the responsibility to recover and to manage end-of-life designated products and packaging is with the producer. So it will be with that brand owner or that first importer or that responsible party has that obligation,” explains Dave Gordon, senior advisor at the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO).
AMO has been consulting with municipalities across the province about the changes, says Gordon, noting they have been supportive of placing full responsibility for waste management on the producers.
Arsenault explains that currently, the cost for region’s recycling program is split 50/50 between the municipality itself, and the producers that create the waste. The region contracts its recycling collection requirements to private companies – Miller Waste Systems and Halton Recycling, which handle collection in the cities and townships, respectively – that come by and pick up recyclables on a bi-weekly basis. Taxpayers then split the cost with businesses, charging them a fee depending on how much garbage they produced.
With the adoption of the Waste-Free Ontario Act, that cost will be entirely borne by the businesses, who will also be responsible for handling the waste management operation. This could mean that businesses selling products in Ontario could join collectives, like Stewardship Ontario, which already handles recycling requirements on behalf of producers. The collective would work with private organizations and municipalities to ensure people were still getting their recycling, award contracts, and pay the appropriate costs.
Municipalities, in turn, have a few options available to them about how they handle recycling collection. One option is to simply keep doing as they have been doing. The Waterloo Region could continue to handle collection by contracting to private companies - the municipality would then charge business to reimburse themselves of the cost. Or, in other words, producers would be paying the region to handle waste collection.
Alternatively, the region could stop offering waste collection all together. The colour of the iconic recycling bins could change, or the waste collection trucks could be new. But the quality of services, however, should remain the same, said Arsenault.
“The caveat to all that is no matter who’s doing, from a province’s point of view, the standard level of service can’t be reduced from what it is today,” he explained.
Ultimately, though, the municipal involvement will depend a great deal on business. One of the key elements behind this initiative is to let the free-market decide how recycling is handled.
“If producers want to contract with municipalities to continue to provide that service, but ultimately it is going to be up to producers. Producers have the responsibility to now provide those services,” said Gordon.
By the same measure, as producers will be expected to field the full costs of waste management, the province hopes this will spur them to cut down their waste production. Gordon acknowledges though that businesses are likely to pass some of increased costs onto the consumer.
Waterloo Region council will receive a report outlining how it will tackle the transition to the new system under the Waste-Free Ontario Act.