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Ontario’s Bill 151: A long road travelled, an even longer way to go

Isabelle Faucher, Managing Director, Carton Council of Canada
Isabelle Faucher, Managing Director, Carton Council of Canada

From the launch of the Waste Diversion Act’s review in the fall of 2008, to the introduction of the failed Bill 91 in 2013, to the recent passing of Bill 151, the Waste-Free Ontario Act, legislative reform on waste diversion in Ontario has been a long time coming.

While Bill 151 was passed last June, little is known about how the actual on-the-grounds transition to compliance will take place. This is especially true for the Blue Box program, which will undergo a major shift. From a compensation regime in which producers currently offset a portion of municipalities’ blue box program delivery costs, to a system in which financial and operational responsibility will rest with producers. Given our mission to grow carton recycling in Canada, the Carton Council has a vested interest for this transition to be smooth and seamless.

The Blue Box, which has been around for over 30 years, is recognized internationally and is widely embraced by Ontario residents. Given that the government’s Draft Strategy promised producers flexibility to meet their regulatory obligations, preserving the Blue Box collection system as we know it today may be difficult to entrench in regulation. Moving forward, producers will need to work together to ensure the integrity of the system. This does not necessarily require them to work under a single collective. But under a scenario where multiple compliance organizations will co-exist, these organizations would be required to work together to preserve and share the Blue Box collection system. In that case, the operation of these compliance organizations would need to be overseen by a neutral third-party, acting as a ‘services clearinghouse’.

Carton Council’s support for the continuation of the existing Blue Box collection infrastructure should in no way be interpreted as opposition to the development of multiple consortiums. Rather, we believe that these types of solutions can enhance the Blue Box system and even complement it. That’s what we saw in Manitoba with the establishment of a dedicated program by producers to recover beverage containers consumed away from home.

To secure a smooth transition of the Blue Box system, it is critical that current service levels – i.e. collection frequency, the suite of materials accepted for collection, and geographic coverage – are maintained. And the ability of the government to set accessibility, collection and management standards provides some important safe-guards in this direction.

At this point, it is still unclear what role the municipalities, which have been providing collection services since the Blue Box’s inception, will have in the new system. For example, the Act requires producers and their service providers to implement a promotion and education (P&E) program. However, it is municipalities who have been historically consumers’ source of information on recycling services. Consumers, if not informed, may continue to go to municipalities in search of recycling information. In Quebec, under the new regime passed in 2010, industry assumed the full cost of the residential recycling system while municipalities remained in control of service delivery. P&E costs became non-eligible for industry compensation. System contamination increased significantly following this change: from 5.2% in 2006/07 to 12.8% in 2012/13. The little amount of municipal-led education efforts seems to have contributed to this. Now that it is clear that, with the passage of Bill 151, full producer responsibility for Blue Box waste is coming to Ontario, it will be important for producers and municipalities to begin the inevitable discussions to define their new relationship in order to avoid what happened in Quebec.

What is described above are just some of the considerations that policy-makers, producers, current system operators, and other affected stakeholders will have to ponder during transition of the packaging and printed paper program. The definition of targets and the methodology used to measure progress will surely be another source of much discussion during this time.

The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change must be commended for the quality of the consultation process that it has led to date, setting a consultative and open tone for the long road that lays ahead. The Carton Council is committed to working closely with all stakeholders to ensure a successful transition towards a waste-free Ontario framework that overcomes current barriers and harnesses the environmental and economic value of recovered materials, including those that constitute food and beverage cartons.

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