Producers Could Finally Be Responsible for Packaging Waste in Ontario

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. CityofMarysville

The Canadian province is overhauling its recycling program, which would include holding producers accountable for their wasteful packaging designs.

I do not agree with most of the cuts made by my provincial Conservative government in recent months. Numerous important public services have been slashed, leaving individuals and rural communities in the lurch. But I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to hear on CBC Radio that it is planning to overhaul the provincial recycling program. The plan is still vague, and skeptics such as Toronto city councillor Gord Perks have pointed out that every premier for the past twenty years has promised the same thing:

There is, however, an aspect to this latest version that seems TreeHugger-worthy. The province would hand over responsibility for dealing with packaging to producers, instead of forcing consumers to shoulder the cost through their municipal taxes. This is exactly what we've been arguing on TreeHugger for years, that people have accepted the recycling myth for far too long and need to understand that dealing with single-use disposables would be easier and more effective if products were designed differently in the first place. As the Ellen MacArthur Foundation states in its principles for a circular economy,

"Waste and pollution are not accidents, but the consequences of decisions made at the design stage, where around 80 percent of environmental impacts are determined."

For Doug Ford's Conservatives, the argument is financial. Environment minister Jeff Yurek said, "It costs municipalities and taxpayers millions of dollars a year and those costs are expected to increase by approximately $10 million a year after 2019." CBC says that shifting responsibility for the recycling program to producers would save municipalities more than $125 million annually.

The CEO of Retail Council of Canada, Diane Brisebois, supports the report, saying that reducing waste has become a global trend and that consumers are asking for less packaging.

The report also recommends streamlining the province's list of recyclable materials, rather than leaving it up to municipalities to determine what gets recycled and what does not. This would reduce confusion for residents and make it easier to educate the entire population through mass media.

According to Environmental Defence, a Canadian environmental action group, this streamlining process should include the elimination of certain non-recyclable or difficult-to-recycle materials, such as multi-layered coffee cups and black takeout food containers, and limit the amount of disposable plastic used. A provincial ban would force retailers to come up with greener alternatives.

The bad news is that the plan isn't set to be implemented until 2023, which is absurdly far away. The citizens of Canada would like to see action taken immediately.