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Compliance Update - Ontario's Waste Free Future

Compliance Update - Ontario's Waste Free Future
by James Gibbs at 07:51 in Circular Economy, Emerging, Environmental, Packaging

In June 2016 Ontario took a major step towards reforming waste management practices and policy. The Waste Free Ontario Bill outlines the framework for the transition to a new system. The system aims to divert more waste from landfills, create jobs and encourage innovation. The Act enshrines in law the obligation for decision makers to implement an expansion of statutory policy that promotes resource recovery and waste reduction. Crucially, the Act delegates real powers to the new Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority to oversee and enforce any and all developments during the transition.

The Draft Strategy

The Draft Strategy ​published in 2015 emphasised financial opportunities in the recovery of materials and highlighted that 'every year approximately $1 billion worth of materials are lost to landfills across Canada'. The key point of note however is the overall intention to 'place full responsibility on producers' for the end-of-life management of products and packaging in Ontario.

The changes outlined give more powers to authorities to dictate targets and obligations and to make a regulated free market approach to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). A broad framework is to be outlined which obligates industry to meet targets and this can be done through a number of ways such as the creation of collective schemes. The overall effects for waste producers is hard to determine until specific frameworks and statutory instruments are developed.

Whilst the statutory mechanisms have not yet been developed, the Strategy clearly involves transferring all financial burdens from consumers and taxpayers onto industry. This will be done primarily by changing the way existing programs are funded and the involvement of local authorities in waste collection. Further, the Strategy involves eliminating some existing industry led organisations. These organisations often set fees passed on to consumers through environmental handling charges. Following these proposals, producers may be right to assume they will have to absorb these additional costs. ​

The New System

A full EPR system is comparable to many EU countries and historically we have seen that through collective schemes, efficiencies can be made. This transition provides opportunities for more effective waste collection and also to make savings for both producers and the taxpayers of Ontario. Whilst an EPR based system is similar to EU countries, the Draft Plan does include some alternative ideas.

Waste Free Ontario not only plans to make producers responsible for their waste, but also for promoting the education of the general public. The promotion of education is a key part of Ontario's strategy to reduce, reuse and recycle waste. The Act provides that producers and those involved in the waste industry may be obligated to promote or provide educational material about recycling and waste management initiatives to encourage consumers to effectively dispose of, and create less waste. If Ontario is successful it may provide a useful case study for other countries to implement similar initiatives which involve producers in the provision of education.

As the EU developed the 'Action Plan for the Circular Economy' Ontario has also published their Draft Strategy for a 'Waste Free Ontario: Building the Circular Economy'. The plan does not just aim for an expansion of producer responsibility for financing and carrying out waste management. It outlines Ontario's commitment to collaborate with stakeholders to promote innovation and to reduce, reuse and recycle in all waste streams. Interestingly the Draft may lack specifics but the emphasis on principle values and clear goals, provides a strong foundation for any reform. If the Circular Economy is to be a success in Europe or Canada, both product innovation and consumer education are key.

What does Waste Free Ontario look like?

The plans do not lack ambition. The Draft Strategy outlines the 'visionary goal' of zero waste in the province. The Strategy highlights the need for an Action Plan and the desired outcomes such as promoting public awareness, minimising the need for waste disposal and growth in the material recovery sector. However, the specific details of any initiatives are not yet developed enough for the waste sector to react or prepare for the future.

There is some broad indication of likely changes. Producers and consumers will most likely see waste diversion in the form of disposal bans. The Strategy highlights the success of existing bans under the Waste Diversion Act​ for hazardous materials. Residents and producers can expect the new waste free Ontario to contain initiatives and disposal bans for specific materials, such as 'beverage containers, corrugated cardboard and some paper materials, fluorescent bulbs and tubes', alongside materials designated under existing Waste Diversion Act programs.

Conclusion: The Future

Until legislation is finalised it is difficult to predict what the likely effects on producers in Ontario will be. The timeline for the development of Ontario's Action Plan and consultations extends until 2019 so it could be years until any major overhaul of waste management is seen. However, the Act represents a significant step towards an EU style system and a Circular Economy and it may be a precursor for other provinces to follow suit and build upon any success Ontario enjoys.

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