Environmental groups lay out concerns with province's Blue Box overhaul

With the government well into the process of drafting new recycling regulations, a coalition of environmental groups are sharing concerns.

Plan in the works for Ontario to shift responsibility for recycling to producers

Environmental groups have released a statement laying out concerns that some communities, building types and sectors will be excluded from the province's recycling overhaul. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

As the province begins the process of retooling Ontario's recycling system, a coalition of 52 environmental groups is imploring them to "get it right" by making sure smaller communities, as well as industrial and commercial sectors, are included in the new plan.

One year ago, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek announced that Ontario would move toward making product producers responsible for the waste they create. 

The six-year Blue Box overhaul, Yurek said, would save municipalities millions of dollars and encourage the industry to minimize and improve packaging. 

Now, with the government well into the process of drafting the new regulations, groups like Environmental Defence, the Toronto Environmental Alliance and the Recycling Council of Ontario have released a statement laying out 11 concerns.

Ashley Wallis, the plastics program manager at Environmental Defence, said she's been "disappointed" by what she's heard from the drafting process. 

"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," she told CBC Toronto. 

'Lion's share' of waste not in residential sector

Jo-Anne St. Godard, executive director of the Recycling Council of Ontario, said the current system puts the onus on industrial, commercial and institutional sectors, which account for the "lion's share" of Ontario's waste, to procure private recycling services.

"Because it's on a case-by-case basis it can be cost-prohibitive," she said. 

The statement from the environmental group calls for those sectors to be pulled into the fold of the new system — if not immediately, said St. Godard, then in the years ahead. 

Leaving them out, wrote St. Godard in a statement, would ignore "nearly 70 per cent of packaging and plastics waste generated across Ontario that ultimately ends up in landfill or lost to the environment."

Worries about far north, overly broad targets 

A section of a provincial presentation on the blue box overhaul obtained by CBC Toronto shows the province mulling the costs of having recycling collection in all communities outside of the far north, as well as in places like schools, long-term care homes and condos. 

The environmental groups say it's important that all of those locations are seen as non-negotiable participants in the new recycling program. 

"All communities in the province should have access to recycling and diversion programs — and that includes communities in the province's far north," said Wallis.

Wallis says the environmental groups also want more of a focus on "strong environmental outcomes," including a ban on toxic packaging and, more specifically, enforceable targets for producers. 

"If producers can meet their targets just by picking up the easy stuff, like heavy laundry detergent bottles, there might be no incentive for them to go out of their way to collect [waste like] styrofoam," she said. 

According to the province, Ontario's recycling rates have been stalled for 15 years, and 30 per cent of what is put in the blue box ends up in landfill.

In their statement, the environmental groups say only about seven per cent of Ontario's overall waste is recycled. 

Province responds 

In its response to CBC Toronto, the provincial Environment Ministry addresses the environmental groups' concerns, writing that "all communities with a blue box system will continue to have recycling under producer responsibility. This includes municipalities with populations under 5,000."

Ministry press secretary Andrew Buttigieg adds the plan will also put the onus on producers to bring some form of recycling to "more communities — including northern and Indigenous." 

As for non-residential sectors, the statement says a review will be launched this fall of the framework for industrial, commercial and institutional collection. 

Addressing the concerns about the targets for producers laid out in early drafts, Buttigieg writes that the targets have not been finalized, but that they would be "the highest current targets among North American jurisdictions that require producers to meet a diversion rate."


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