August 2018
Municipal governments play a pivotal role in Canada and around the world in ensuring residential waste is properly managed to ensure the health of our communities and our environment. Significant progress has been made by municipalities to operate integrated waste management systems that keep our communities safe and improve environmental outcomes.

However, waste management is a significant and growing municipal challenge, especially here in Ontario. Costs are steadily increasing, performance has stalled and municipalities are increasingly dealing with issues related to disposal capacity. Problematic products and packaging are impacting the viability of Ontario’s iconic Blue Box program. Less material is being recycled, costs to property taxpayers are escalating, and more material is ending up in our environment including our waterways, parks and communities.

At the same time, on a global basis we are struggling with increasing amounts of plastic waste products and packaging ending up in our oceans, lakes, rivers and other bodies of water. This poses a dire threat to sensitive ecosystems, wildlife, communities, and individuals.  Plastic waste is a growing public health and safety issue as well as an environmental concern.  

Recent studies estimate 8 million tonnes of plastics are ending up in our oceans annually.  An additional 10,000 tonnes per year is estimated to be entering the Great Lakes.  This has profound impacts on marine mammals, fish, birds. Plastics are increasingly being found in our drinking water with uncertain health impacts.  

Property taxpayers should not be responsible to manage and co-fund a recycling system when they have no influence over the types of materials entering the waste stream.  Government policies should focus responsibility on those that can most effectively and efficiently drive change. To fix these problems we should be moving to full producer responsibility manage end-of-life products and packaging.

This is done successfully around the world. Businesses should be made fully responsible to collect and make sure their materials are properly recycled. Producers are in the best position to communicate directly with consumers about whether their products can be recycled and how to best collect them.  They are best informed to invest in the recycling collection and processing system necessary and to create the markets to support their end use. This means making producers directly responsible for ensuring easy access to recycling programs and for continually improving both collection and recycling outcomes. This would allow for competition to drive innovation both at the service provider and producer level and ensure transparency and direct accountability.  

One of the most recent examples of producer responsibility in Canada has been implemented in British Columbia. While the program has many positive attributes, there are some shortcomings including a lack of accessibility targets; minimal transparency on establishing, measuring, reporting and verifying performance; and lack of a properly resourced oversight and enforcement body. A full producer responsibility framework for Canada needs to solve the shortcomings experienced in British Columbia, and be informed by other Canadian and international examples.  

Three existing Ontario programs are currently being transitioned to full producer responsibility (WEEE, MHSW, and Used Tires). The largest and most well-known program in Ontario, the Blue Box, still needs to be transitioned. A great deal of work has already been done by all stakeholders including Stewardship Ontario, municipal governments, service providers and environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs), but unfortunately a successful Plan has not been reached. All stakeholders need to work together to find a reasonable solution that transitions control for the financing and operation of the system to producers and is seamless for Ontarians.