Ford government reveals proposed changes to blue box recycling program

The Ontario government has released a new proposal to dramatically change how recycling is handled in the province — one that transfers responsibility for dealing with waste to producers.

Government aiming to transition to a model where producers take responsibility

The Ford government says its coming changes to Ontario's blue bin recycling rules will save municipalities millions every year. However, environmentalists are warning the government needs to get the changes right. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The Ontario government has released a new proposal to dramatically change how recycling is handled in the province — one that transfers responsibility for dealing with waste to producers.

The concept, called extended producer responsibility (EPR), would replace the current blue box system with the goal of ensuring that producers take on the full financial and operational responsibility for the end-of-life management of what they sell to Ontarians.

"The government's intention is for producers to be responsible for designated products and packaging, including compostable materials," the proposed plan states. 

The government also wants to expand the list of materials accepted in the blue box to include items like paper and plastic cups, as well as other single-use items like plastic cups, foils, trays and bags.

Single-use items such as stir sticks, straws, cutlery and plates will also be permitted in blue bins under the proposal, Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said.

The province will also expand blue box services to more small and rural communities with populations under 5,000, he said.

You can find the full set of proposed changes here.

Some environmental groups already concerned

The City of Toronto, which has indicated its desire to join the program, has said in reports that EPR would mark a "fundamental change" in how it deals with waste and it will also affect what homeowners pay.

It's still unclear how much solid waste bills would change as a result.

Yurek has previously said the change will save municipalities millions of dollars and encourage the industry to minimize and improve packaging. The government pegs the savings to all municipalities at $135 million per year.

Environmental groups, however, have urged the government to get the change right and are already suggesting they have concerns. 

"The thinking at this point is really focusing exclusively on residential waste — it's potentially going to see some Ontarians not receiving recycling service, and we have some concerns about the way the recycling targets have been established," Ashley Wallis, the plastics program manager at Environmental Defence, recently told CBC Toronto

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner applauded the move but said it needs to happen much faster. 

"Shifting the cost of recycling off of municipalities and property tax payers and on to businesses that produce the waste in the first place is a very positive step forward. But the province is delaying that step far too long into the future," he told CBC News.

Some of the most problematic items such as plastic water bottles and coffee cups need to be banned, saying both are "contributing significantly to landfill," he said.

Province seeking feedback until Dec. 2

Schreiner says he spoke to Yurek on more than one occasion about stronger standards for the "worst offenders," and that he will be submitting recommendations on how to improve the regulations.

"If they don't, then they'll have to be accountable to the people of Ontario."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the savings created by the change must be passed on to communities, which have historically paid for recycling programs.

"The devil is going to be in the details," she said. "What I certainly would hope is that there's no claw back from municipalities."

The president of the Canadian Beverage Association said that group supports the province's proposed changes and will roll out its own new standards to meet increased diversion targets.

"Our sector plans to introduce a new, comprehensive beverage container recycling program that will complement the Blue Box collection system with convenient public space recycling at parks, public buildings and special events," Jim Goetz said in a statement.

The province is seeking public feedback on its proposed blue box program changes until Dec. 2.

Monday's announcement comes as Canada starts marking waste reduction week.

CBC News has done a series of stories looking at the successes and failures of recycling and waste management. You can find more here on our "Rethink Recycling" page.

With files from The Canadian Press


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