New Legislation Shifts Recyclable Waste Responsibility to Producers

At last week’s Council meeting, Peterborough County’s Manager of Waste Management Kerri Snoddy outlined changes in legislation surrounding recycling across the province.

The objective of the new regulations which come into effect in January 2024 across the County is to shift the burden of managing recyclable waste generated by products and their packaging to the companies that make and import those products.  In the current model, recycling costs are shared equally by the producers and municipal governments.

The government hopes that this shift in responsibility for managing the waste generated from their products and packaging to producers will promote innovation, reduce waste and lower costs for taxpayers.  The program incentivizes producers to create products and packaging with less waste, using more materials that are easier to recycle.  Producers will also be motivated to reintegrate these recovered materials into new products and packaging as they will have reliable streams of recovered materials.

Kitchener, Ontario introduced the world’s first curbside recycling program in 1981, and blue box recycling was legislated across the province in 1994.  There has been high buy-in to recycling, in part due to a (mistaken) belief amongst consumers that every time they put an item into a blue box, they are reducing waste and helping the environment.  According to a report by the Special Advisor on Recycling and Plastic waste produced in 2019, as much as 30 percent of what is put into the blue box in Ontario can end up in landfill.

Revenue generated from the sale of blue box contents was supposed to cover the cost of the recycling process.  However, the evolving mix of paper and packaging materials and the declining markets for recyclable products have changed, and the economics of selling blue box content is challenging.  With the shift in blue box content from easily recycled products such as newsprint to more expensive products such as plastic films, has resulted in an increase in the average cost of recycling a tonne of blue box materials by 50 percent between 2003 and 2017. In addition, some countries such as China which used to accept imports of our recyclables have now banned them.

During the transition to producer responsibility, the province will continue to ensure that there will be no disruption to public services.  The industries that produce these products will be completely financially and operationally responsible for recycling as of January 2026.  All municipalities in Peterborough County will transition to the new system on January 1, 2024.

Peterborough County operates the blue box program on behalf of all member municipalities.  Emterra collects recyclables at the curbside and local depots and processes all the collected material.  The County provides the bins at the local depots and receives some offset funding based on the revenue generated from the sale of the material that is collected and resold.

Under the new program, producers are required to collect and absorb the cost of blue box materials from many but not all locations across the province.  Among the mandatory collection sources for producers are residences, multi-residential buildings, not-for-profit long term care homes and retirement homes, schools and public spaces.  Excluded are locations identified as industrial or commercial, municipal buildings and facilities, day care centres, churches, campgrounds and commercial farms.  These have been excluded because they already have contracts for waste collection and diversion.

Producers who will be assuming responsibility for recyclable waste costs include companies such as McDonalds, Coca Cola, Loblaw and Nestle, to name a few.  To streamline the process, producers will team up with a service provider called a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) which will collect and process the materials on their behalf.  In Ontario, Circular Materials Ontario (CMO) has become the primary PRO and will oversee the collection system, collect curbside and depot materials, determine depot locations and designate where the public will take the materials and then transfer them to the recycling facility.  Municipalities decide whether or not to sign a contract to allow CMO to use their existing transfer stations for a fee.  CMO must maintain the same number of depots that are now operating in each municipality. This organization will meet with each municipality in the County over the next few weeks to better understand the options.

How will this legislation affect consumers?  Curbside collection of blue boxes will remain unchanged, but the depot location where these items can be dropped off may change.  Eventually, the contents of those boxes will become standardized across the province.  Property taxes will no longer include the cost of recycling programs, but producers will likely incorporate any extra costs into their own prices.  The best outcome would be the intended one: that producers find creative ways to reduce packaging and increase the use of recyclable material to reduce the financial and environmental cost of our consumption.  KG

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