Toronto

Ontario's new blue box plan will recycle more, but it'll cost you more as well, experts say

With the Ontario government proposing a new recycling system that relieves municipal governments of running blue box programs, experts are expecting to see the cost passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for packaged goods.

Price of packaged goods expected to go up as costs of recycling shift entirely to producers

There are 240 municipal blue box programs across Ontario. The government is proposing to standardize the system and make producers responsible for it. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

With the Ontario government proposing a new recycling system that relieves municipal governments of running blue box programs, experts are expecting to see the cost passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for packaged goods.

That's because the proposed regulations revealed by the government of Premier Doug Ford Monday shift responsibility for recycling onto the companies that produce packaging.

If passed, the government estimates the proposed regulatory changes will see municipalities save $135 million annually as producers take over the blue box program.

But Calvin Lakhan, a York University researcher and an expert in Ontario's recycling program, says Ontarians shouldn't expect companies to absorb the added cost. By his analysis, the change will see the average grocery bill in province go up between $40 and $50 a month.

"It's really a matter of producers recouping the cost by passing it on to consumers," Lakhan told CBC Toronto. He expects the cost of packaged items to increase anywhere from 6 to 12 per cent under the proposed changes.

What's more, Lakhan says the shift to producer responsibility (and added consumer cost) will affect some groups more than others. He says lower income, northern and rural Ontario communities tend to use more packaging.

In remote areas, more packaging is required to transport and conserve food longer. And while farmers' markets and bulk stores that allow customers to bring their own containers are reducing the need for packaging for some shoppers, Lakhan says they aren't as common in lower income neighbourhoods.

"To be a good environmental citizen is a luxury and privilege as opposed to a right," Lakhan said.

The proposed changes will see more recycling happen in Ontario. The aim is to expand the blue box program to northern communities, apartment and condo buildings, schools, retirement homes and some public spaces.

The government is also proposing that what goes into blue boxes will also expand to include paper and plastic cups, wraps, foils, trays, as well as single-use bags, stir sticks, straws, cutlery and plates.

"By harnessing the innovation and ingenuity of industry and expanding recycling opportunities for people and businesses across the province, we can divert more waste away from landfills by finding new purposes for products and reinserting them back into the economy," Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said in a statement on Monday.

Sebastian Prins, director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada, agrees the cost of industry taking over the recycling program will be passed on to consumers.

The government is also proposing to expand what goes into blue boxes, including paper and plastic cups, wraps, foils, trays, as well as single-use bags, stir sticks, straws, cutlery and plates. (David Donnelly/CBC)

But Prins says there will be major benefits.

Under the proposed changes, producers will operate a standardized system across the province, so what you can and cannot recycle wouldn't change depending on what municipality you were in.

Prins forsees eventual cost savings in having blue box programs "bundled" into a province-wide system.

"Give us the room to innovate," he said. "You can start to get some very interesting efficiencies."

While Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner criticized the government's plan for taking too long, (municipalities won't start transitioning until 2023, some as late as 2025) he said shifting responsibility to producers is "the right thing to do."

"That creates an economic incentive to reduce the amount of materials out for waste in the first place."

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