Toronto

Province looking into making plastics, packaging producers run the recycling system

Producers of plastic and packaging products could be on the hook for Ontario’s entire recycling bill, as the province looks to shift management of the blue bin system. Ontario Environment Minister Rod Phillips announced Friday the province would look into the move to reduce plastic waste.

Ford government appointed a special adviser Friday to review Ontario’s Blue Bin Program

The province is looking into whether plastic and packaging producers should manage Ontario's blue bin recycling programs. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Producers of plastic and packaging products could be on the hook for Ontario's entire recycling bill, as the province looks to shift management of the blue bin system.

The Ontario Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks Rod Phillips announced Friday the province would be considering the move.

It's one of several changes meant to decrease plastic pollution and litter in the province, an increasing problem in parks, lakes and rivers, he said.

"Ontario's recycling rates have been stalled for 15 years and up to 30 per cent of what is put into blue boxes is sent to landfill," Phillips said in a release.

The cost of recycling in the province is currently split by municipalities and by Stewardship Ontario, a non-profit organization that collects fees from the importers, manufacturers and brand owners of packaging products that end up in blue bins.

The organization contributes approximately $100 million each year, about half the cost of the recycling program, according to its website.

Switching to a fully producer-run system could result in numerous benefits, according to the province and stakeholders.

It could also mean savings to taxpayers, they say.

Workers sort recycling at the Canada Fibers plant in Toronto. (David Donnelly/CBC)

But the switch may affect municipal contracts depending on whether producers decide to fund current recycling programs and facilities or implement their own.

To look at the options, the province has appointed David Lindsay — CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities and the former deputy minister for Natural Resources and Northern Development, Mines and Forestry — as a special adviser to tackle the recycling revamp.

He's expected to report back on July 20.

Producers in charge

Currently, what can and can't be recycled changes from city to city, and in some cases, from homes to office buildings.

According to the province's release, switching to a producer-run system would likely mean recycling becomes standardized across the province, reducing confusion and contamination — when non-recyclable materials like single-use plastics, or garbage enter the recycling system.

In Toronto, about 26 per cent of residential garbage is contaminated

This map shows the recycling contamination rates for a range of cities across the country. (CBC)

Jo-Anne St. Godard, the executive director of the Recycling Council of Ontario,  said a producer-run system could also encourage manufacturers to create materials that are easier to recycle, as opposed to single-use plastics.

"When [producers] have to be fully financially responsible they're going to get closer to understanding how their package is treated in the recycling system," she said.

This country has also come under scrutiny for sending its plastic waste to other countries, such as the Philippines and Malaysia, until those countries recently demanded that Canada take it back.

St. Godard said a producer-run system might also result in better recycling infrastructure domestically.

"They may choose to keep better control, keep materials close here at home and actually invest in more processing capacity," she said.

Impacts on Toronto

Shifting full responsibility for the Blue Box recycling program to producers is estimated to save municipalities more than $125 million annually, the release said.

Matt Keliher, the general manager of Toronto's Solid Waste Management Services, said Toronto spends about $60 million on the collection and processing of blue bin materials each year.

If producers are in charge, Keliher said it could affect the utility rate the city charges for solid waste collections, and for other jurisdictions, it could affect tax rates.

One of the biggest changes for his division will depend on whether the producers run their own collection and processing system through their own contracts or provide municipalities funding to do it on their behalf.

He said he would want the province to give municipalities enough notice to terminate or extend contracts, "so that there would be less impact on potential contract break fees and those types of financial penalties," he said.

In an email responding to Friday's announcement, Stewardship Ontario's spokesperson David Pearce said they're supportive of the review looking at producer responsibility, and they're "confident the transition can be achieved in a thoughtful and orderly way that ensures no disruption to residential recycling services."

Ban single-use plastics?

Still, some say the province isn't doing enough to reduce waste.

The average Ontarian generates nearly a metric tonne of waste each year, and the rate at which that waste is diverted away from landfills has stalled at around 30 per cent for the past 15 years, says Ontario's Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

In a statement Friday, Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner said single-use plastics, such as bags and disposable coffee cups, need to be completely eliminated.

"I urge the Environment Minister to take bold action by announcing a phase out plan for single-use plastics," he said. "To focus only on recycling is to ignore half of the problem."

Schreiner said his party supports a ban on single use plastics by 2025, beginning with a phase-out of the worst offenders in 2020.

In March, Phillips also announced Ontario was weighing a ban on single-use plastics, but it's unclear whether the idea is still on the table.

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