As discussed previously in the July 4th issue, Ontario Blue Box Program to Transition to Full Producer Responsibility, the Ontario Government is looking to transition the Blue Box curb side recycling program to full producer responsibility meaning manufacturers and brand owners will be responsible for managing and paying 100% of the costs of the program.  

The program is currently run by Stewardship Ontario and the cost is split 50-50 between product stewards and municipalities.

On August 6th, David Lindsay, appointed in June as a special advisor on the management of recycling and plastics, gave his report to the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), Jeff Yurek after six weeks of research and meetings on the issue.

“It’s clear that Ontario’s current Blue Box Program is unsustainable,” Yurek said in a statement.

Lindsay’s report notes that recycling rates have stalled for 15 years and up to 30% of what is put into blue boxes is sent to landfill.

No uniform standards currently exist for blue box contents, and Yurek says that is a problem.

“Over 240 municipalities have their own separate lists of accepted recyclable materials, which affects cost savings and contamination,” Yurek said. “Program costs are expected to increase by approximately $10 million per year after 2019.”

“The blue box will still be at the curb side. The producers will find a new way of collecting or utilize existing municipality’s infrastructure,” added minister Yurek.

Yurek says that while any such change would be phased in over the next seven years, he believes there will be cost savings for municipalities.

Municipalities, however, have yet to determine exactly how the new system will affect them. Cities or regions cover the costs of curb side pickup and are partially reimbursed by Stewardship Ontario.  A new system could involve producers taking over the process entirely or hiring the city to operate the program at a reduced cost to taxpayers.  In either scenario, it hopefully results in come cost-savings for municipalities.

“Hopefully by the end of the day we create a new economy of recycled products here in Ontario because of the program that’s going to be put in place.”

The recycling costs currently incurred by cities and towns will eventually be borne by producers, says Yurek.

“The cost of the program will be transferred over to the producers of the waste, the businesses and industries creating the waste they will be the ones who will be paying for the recycling program when this change occurs.”

Emily Alfred with the Toronto Environmental Alliance says Yurek’s ministry has an opportunity to design a province-wide recycling program that is more robust.

“We need to be sure that the new system has high recycling targets, especially for plastic, to make sure this actually works,” she said.

The environmentalist is also optimistic that a reconfiguration of the current system will make corporations more accountable.

“This will save money for municipalities, but most importantly it gives companies that are designing packaging and products an incentive to reduce waste and make their products easier to recycle.”

This latest consideration comes in the midst of growing concerns that has some outlets, such as The Globe and Mail, asking serious questions over the efficacy of continuing our faulty recycling programs, as well as concerns over where to dump our waste now that many Asian countries are banning waste dumping from Canada.

So, how much of our plastic actually gets reused? According to the Canadian group Environment Defence, which tracks these issues, about 11% of our recyclables gets reused. 89% does not. Most has been routinely shipped overseas, mainly to China, where they have bought the already made plastics so that they can focus on exporting their own.

However, as these countries have grown economically, they’ve stopped buying our plastics and their concerns have turned to making their countries cleaner and more environmentally friendly.

“The extended holding pattern the scrap was forced to endure is a symptom of a much wider emergency engulfing the global recycling industry,” reports The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Lewis and Molly Hayes. “It followed on China’s decision, one year ago, to ban the import of 24 types of recyclable commodities. The hard-line new policy, dubbed National Sword, was a response to environmental and health concerns, and also to the “contaminated” state in which recyclables arrived: often in filthy condition, and with random materials lumped into single bales.

“A Globe and Mail analysis of international trade data shows that Canadian exports of scrap plastic dropped by one-fifth last year, with especially steep reductions in the amounts sent to Hong Kong and China—72% and 96%, respectively. (Chinese imports of Canadian used paper also plunged, by 65%; that drop poses less of a challenge—paper is a homogeneous commodity and generally easier to recycle).”

The analysis goes on to detail just how desperate the effects of China’s ban on recycling imports will be on the world’s recycling industry. China’s refusal to continue being a dumping site for the world’s unwanted scrap has already increased recycling costs by up to 40%, and this is just the beginning.

“Something’s got to give—Canada needs to step up,” claims Keith Brooks, program director at the Canadian group, Environmental Defence. “We have been pushing the feds to come up with a strong national plan to deal with the 89% of plastic not being recycled in Canada each year.”

“Right now there is no national recycling target,” Brooks said in an interview with The Weather Network. “There are no rules requiring or even encouraging plastic producers to use recycled plastic. Hard-to-recycle or toxic plastics like Styrofoam are not banned. Producers are allowed to put any kind of packaging onto the market, and municipalities have to figure out how to deal with it.”

The coming overhaul in the recycling industry has already become quite expensive for Canada.

“Some Alberta municipalities have nixed select plastic packaging from blue-bag collection, opting to send it to landfills,” explains Lewis and Hayes. “In Fort Saskatchewan, just outside Edmonton, fees paid for dropping recyclables at a sorting centre have tripled in the last year. Now, the company that sorts the city’s recyclables wants only those plastics that it can easily sell, such as clear pop bottles and laundry-detergent jugs.”

Though, these are just anecdotes. The quantitative, nation-wide effects of this change in both recycling and waste disposal are likely to be far-reaching and much more costly than current projections predict.

As Asian countries, and possibly African countries in coming decades, claw their way out of third-world status, first-world countries won’t be able to lean so heavily on their previous dependence of used materials. Instead, we, in first world countries, will actually have to find a way to deal with our own wastefulness, rather than simply outsourcing our problems.

Stewardship Ontario Receives Further Direction on MHSW Wind Up

Meanwhile, Stewardship Ontario has also recently received further direction from the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) regarding the wind up of the Municipal Hazardous or Special Waste (MHSW) Program.

The new direction letter has been posted on the MHSW Wind Up webpage.

Upon wind up, materials collected under the MHSW Program will be managed according to an individual producer responsibility (IPR) framework under the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, 2016.

Below is a summary of the Minister’s new direction:

  • The program to manage all designated materials except single-use batteries will now cease operation on June 30, 2021 instead of December 31, 2020.
  • The program to manage single-use batteries will continue to cease operation on June 30, 2020.
  • Stewardship Ontario is to develop a proposal to return surplus funds to Ontario consumers of MHSM in its proposed Wind Up Plan:

          – For MHSM categories whose recovery is managed by Stewardship Ontario, the plan  will set out rules governing a fee elimination during the wind up period;

          – For MHSM categories that are managed through industry stewardship plans, the plan will include options to return surplus funds to MHSM consumers, for example, through a consumer rebate program.

  • Stewardship Ontario is to submit a revised Wind Up Plan to RPRA by September 30, 2019.
  • The Minister anticipates RPRA will approve the Plan no later than December 31, 2019.

Stewardship Ontario will be consulting with MHSW stakeholders on proposals related to the new Ministerial direction over the next few months. 

Source: Global News, City News, The Globe and Mail, Stewardship Ontario