Recycling programs in Nova Scotia could change drastically as the environment minister considers introducing a new system operated and paid for by companies that create the products that need recycling. 

All of Nova Scotia recycling programs could fall under one set of rules — and mean municipalities would no longer have to foot big bills, Andrew Younger said in speech at an Oct. 23 meeting of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities in Truro.

"We have an expensive and fragmented approach in Nova Scotia and it is costing us more than any other jurisdiction in Canada," Younger said, according to a transcript of his speech.

Nova Scotia pays an average of $657 per tonne to recycle, more than double what New Brunswick pays, he said. 

The switch isn't guaranteed and won't happen right away because Younger said he wants to hold more consultations. The minister was not available Wednesday for an interview.

Recycling would be a cost of doing business

In some provinces, the "extended producer responsibility" means large companies pay half of municipal recycling program costs. In other places, such as British Columbia, those large companies operate and pay for everything, including paper and plastic recycling costs.

If that became the rule in Nova Scotia, Sobeys, for example, would have to take on the job of recycling its Compliments canned goods. 

Andrew Younger

Environment Minister Andrew Younger said in a speech Oct. 23 he will be consulting about a producer-pay model for paper and plastic recycling in Nova Scotia (CBC)

Nova Scotia has something similar right now for electronics. Consumers pay a recycling fee at the cash register. 

If the change happens, Nova Scotia will go all-in with the full B.C. model, Younger said. The hope is it would encourage consumers to use products with less packaging and spur businesses to make products with easily-recycled packages.

"[Extended producer responsibility] has to have a strong business case, not just for municipalities, but for Nova Scotia," Younger said. "It must improve our environmental footprint and performance, not just be a shifting of costs and regulatory burden."

Municipal 'costs weren't being covered' in B.C.

British Columbia fully transferred recycling responsibilities to producers in May 2014. While there have been a few "bumps," the transition has been fairly successful, according to Brock Macdonald, executive director of the Recycling Council of British Columbia.

There are almost 20 different programs coordinated by a single group in charge of curbside pickup contracts, and private and formerly municipal recycling centres. 

That's taken the financial responsibility away from municipalities that previously struggled to subsidize it with taxes, Macdonald said.

"Their costs weren't being covered in many case because the international commodity market for those materials — the plastics, the fibres, the metals — were dropping," Macdonald said. 

In terms of enforcement, companies provide a third-party audit report to Ministry of Environment, he said.

Right now, recycling in Nova Scotia is managed by municipalities and by the province through the Resource Recovery Fund Board. Curbside collection in Halifax gets taken to a recycling depot in Bayers Lake.

Possible effect on Halifax unclear

What will happen to that city-owned facility and various already-signed city recycling contracts worries Matt Keliher, the head of Halifax's solid waste department.

"The devil's in the details," he said. "We're not sure how it's going to be rolled out, when it's going to be rolled out or even if it's going to be rolled out to see kind of the extent of how it affects Halifax."

He said he's been told there could be a three-year grace period if the new regime is brought in.

With files from Pam Berman