Nova Scotia

Municipalities want industry to pay for recycling of packaging waste

Municipalities in Nova Scotia want industry to start contributing to the costs of recycling packaging and printed paper and they're calling on the provincial government to make it happen.

Nova Scotia government weighing call for extended producer responsibility

Municipalities in Nova Scotia want to see industry start contributing toward the cost of processing and marketing recyclables in Nova Scotia. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Municipalities in Nova Scotia want industry to start contributing to the costs of recycling packaging and printed paper, and they're calling on the provincial government to make it happen.

In a proposal submitted to Environment Minister Gordon Wilson last week, and publicly released Wednesday, the Nova Scotia solid waste-resource management regional chairs committee called on the government to bring in extended producer responsibility, or EPR.

"Our waste system is world class, but it also has a world-class price tag," spokesperson Andrew Garrett said in a release that accompanies the report.

"The taxpayers of the province have been paying the bill for too long and we think it is time that the producers of the waste pay their fair share."

In an interview, Garrett said the costs of solid waste management have increased by 56 per cent in the last decade and municipalities in Nova Scotia now spend $25 million a year on recycling.

The idea of EPR is that it forces industry to find markets for waste as well as more efficient ways to design and produce packaging.

Andrew Garrett, communications manager for Valley Waste, is spokesperson for the group that produced the proposal. (CBC)

Even more frustrating for municipalities, said Garrett, is that EPR is already built into the cost of many products because the system is in place in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which accounts for 80 per cent of the country's population.

"Essentially, when you buy that cereal box or cookie box at the grocery store, you are essentially paying for the post-consumer management of that package, plus when you pay your property tax you're paying for your municipality to manage it. So why are we paying twice?"

Municipalities are facing a particular strain as it becomes more expensive to deal with the materials that go out in blue bags and some markets, such as China, are no longer taking waste materials such as plastic bags.

Exemptions for small business

The proposal calls for a harmonized approach based on the model used in B.C., so there would be no adjustments for companies already subject to EPR in other provinces. If enacted, it would then be up to industry stewards and the government to determine fees related to processing materials and finding new markets.

Garrett said residents would see no change in what happens at the curb.

"It's after it leaves the curb where you'll see the change," he said, adding that based on the B.C. model it's estimated the change would save municipalities up to $16 million.

The proposal includes exemptions for small business. Companies with revenue less that $2 million, with only one storefront and no affiliation with a chain, and that supply less than one tonne of paper and printed packaging a year would all be exempt.

Newspapers (not including flyers) and registered charities would also be exempt. The proposal estimates fewer than 250 businesses in the province would be affected, with most of the burden falling to businesses outside Nova Scotia that already deal with EPR.

"We're not reinventing the wheel," said Cape Breton Regional Municipality Coun. Amanda McDougall, a member of the committee. "We're doing what's already being done out there."

An issue of fairness

There are concerns about the proposal.

Jim Cormier, Atlantic director of the Retail Council of Canada, said a key concern for his organization is the $2-million revenue threshold. He said the number is simply too high when considering the size of Nova Scotia relative to other provinces, noting $2 million is the threshold in Ontario and $1 million is what's used in Quebec.

"We look at it as an issue of fairness," he said.

"If everybody is contributing to the problem, which in this case is the environmental footprint we leave behind, then why should you ask only 250 businesses to pay for everybody else?"

Cormier said the "starting point" for his organization would be a $1-million threshold.

Jordi Morgan of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said his members also want to ensure any changes don't come with additional administrative burdens.

Province waits for more info

Garrett said $2 million was selected because it's the highest threshold used by any of the other five provinces, but he said they'd consider a lower figure and noted it would ultimately be up to the government to set the mark.

"It's just what we're suggesting," he said. "We're certainly open to lowering that."

Whether the province will act on the proposal remains to be seen. Although municipalities have been calling for it for years — McDougall said more councillors are hearing about the issue from residents on a regular basis — there have been repeated delays at the provincial level.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Wilson, the environment minister, said he would not make a decision until he also receives a review on the efficiency of the entire solid waste management system in the province, something that isn't expected to be ready until July.

'Just do it already'

McDougall expressed disappointment with that approach, saying it's time to get on with bringing in EPR. She said the two projects are "distinctly separate."

"It was just by chance that we were working on these at the same time, but they are not linked," she said.

"It is the people of Nova Scotia that are demanding that there be action taken on single-use plastics and to us it is prime time that we just do it already. To me, to link this to the efficiency study is just one more delay tactic."

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About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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