Ontario is the latest province to charge companies for processing the paper, plastic and metal thrown into the blue bins every week.
The idea behind the change is to make industry responsible for recycling – both in terms of the financial bottom-line and targets for the amount of waste actually kept out of landfills.
The plan will be rolled out from July 1 and gradually implemented over the next two years.
Environmental groups have welcomed the approach, known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), because it places the responsibility on industry.
“The companies that sell us the packaged goods will be responsible for managing the waste,” said Karen Wirsig, plastics program manager at the advocacy group Environmental Defense.
But gaps remain — and environmental groups and experts say they reflect wider problems with the recycling approach adopted across much of Canada.
The program’s focus is primarily on households, which generate less than half of all waste in Ontario, Wirsig said.
It also doesn’t include a deposit and return system for non-alcoholic beverages (although the Ontario Ministry of the Environment is now looking into the idea), nor does it address what experts say is an increase in hard-to-recycle packaging.
EPR not a ‘cure solution’
All Canadian provinces now have some form of packaging EPR system. The Ontario plan will expand to many types of plastic and standardize what people can put in their blue boxes in each municipality.
In addition to plastic, paper and cans, residents can eventually also store disposable products and packaging, such as plastic cups, stir sticks, straws and cutlery.
Calvin Lakhan, a postdoctoral researcher and co-investigator of the Waste Wiki project at the University of York, said EPR is often characterized as a “cure” for recycling programs because it theoretically saves taxpayers money and allows for the expansion of recycling programs at the expense of industry.
But he said that was not the case in practice.
“What many people don’t realize is that just because you throw it in the bin doesn’t mean it’s being recycled,” he said.
“Things like newsprint and water bottles, steel cans, aluminum, those are easily recyclable materials that have very healthy markets. On the other hand, you have these lightweight composite multi-resin plastics that are not recyclable in the mechanical recycling system or the cost is thousands of dollars per ton.”
Lakhan gave the example of a cookie bag, which consists of multiple materials that are difficult to separate and recycle.
Deposits would be a boost
A deposit and return system for non-alcoholic drinks would be a good first step, Lakhan said — one that already exists in much of the country.
“It increases the likelihood of them being recycled and also increases their value on the open market,” he said.
Wirsig agrees that it could be an effective resource, and that a similar system in Alberta and Saskatchewan resulted in an increase in the proportion of bottles being recycled.
British Columbia recently expanded its deposit program with milk cartons. Glass is also recycled separately, which prevents pollution. Quebec, on the other hand, has repeatedly delayed expanding its beverage container deposit program.
The Ontario government has mandated the industry to recover 80 percent of all beverage packaging by 2030. Wirsig says the county and industry must act quickly to meet that goal — and prevent “billions of plastic bottles from ending up in landfills and incinerators and in nature.” environment in Ontario.”
A recent report found that only 46 percent of non-alcoholic beverage containers were diverted from Ontario landfills.
The Canadian Beverage Container Recycling Association, the trade association representing major beverage manufacturers, did not immediately respond to a question from CBC about the possibility of a deposit system.
In a statement, the CBCRA said it is placing 250,000 new trash cans in common areas such as arenas, malls and stadiums in an effort to meet the goal.
“With more than 30 percent of beverage packaging consumed out of the home, it is a proven way to increase recycling levels and lead the industry towards its regulatory goals,” said Ken Friesen, the group’s executive director.
Ultimately, Lakhan said the focus will have to shift from recycling to other two “Rs.”
“Canadians have a recycling problem. We’re so good at it. We have a love affair with it. But reduce, reuse, recycle isn’t just the slogan. It’s the order in which we should do things.”