Shifting the Waste Burden: Municipalities to Producers

September 9, 2021

Twelve years after the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment introduced a Canada-Wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), it’s time for Nova Scotia to consider shifting the burden of waste management from municipalities to producers.

In a traditional waste management system, municipalities are responsible for operating waste collection and management. With EPR systems, producers are fully responsible for collecting and managing the waste that arises out of the consumption of their products.

Think of everything from single use plastics to electronics. Under a traditional waste management model, when a consumer discards these products, they lose much of their value. Taxpayer-funded programs are then expected to manage their removal.

The EPR model shifts the costs of waste management onto producers. It incentivizes producers to find new ways to reduce waste resulting from their products and encourages them to recover, reuse, and recycle. More importantly, EPR shifts our understanding of waste and frames it as a resource that, rather than being squandered, should be recovered, and reintegrated into production and the economy.

Why is EPR Important?

EPR acknowledges that, if the value in waste is to be fully extracted, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. The waste coming out of electronics differs from that coming out of plastics or paper. Traditional management of waste fails to capture this important nuance in waste management.

Producers, on the other hand, fully appreciate the content of their products. They are best equipped to create products and packaging that limit waste while also reintegrating them into their production cycle. EPR acknowledges these realities and ensures producers assume responsibility for the lifecycle of their products.

Of course, EPR also offers a myriad of other benefits, including:

  • Saving taxpayers’ and municipalities money;
  • Making recycling easier and more accessible to small rural and remote communities;
  • Encouraging proactive waste reduction;
  • Incentivizing producers to reintegrate waste as a resource in their production.

Ontario’s Recent EPR Implementation

British Columbia was one of the first Canadian provinces to implement EPR for packaging and Ontario has also concluded that its traditional recycling system is not sustainable and has recently passed its own EPR legislation. Ontario plans to begin transferring responsibility to producers starting July 1, 2023. The goal is to ensure that by December 31, 2025, producers will be fully responsible for providing recycling (“blue box”) services across Ontario.

Ontario’s new regulations shift operating costs from municipalities and taxpayers to producers and, presumably to some extent, to consumers. The shift to an EPR system will not only promote greater efficiency and innovation in waste management but will save Ontario municipalities an estimated $156 million a year.

Interestingly, the Ontario regulations specifically provide for a standardized process of what can and cannot be recycled throughout the province. This means that there is now a consistent list of waste and materials that all Ontario residents can recycle. The regulations also stipulate that residents will gain access to more recycling locations across the province. Therefore, recycling for Ontario residents will be easier, more convenient, and accessible – and far cheaper for municipalities and taxpayers alike.

A Model for Nova Scotia?

In Nova Scotia, solid waste is provincially regulated and municipally operated. Municipalities have been asking the Province for EPR standards for a long time.

Under Nova Scotia’s traditional system, municipalities must provide systems for the appropriate waste collection and management of all residentially generated waste materials. This means that as the costs of waste management increase, municipalities’ only option is to increase taxes.

Operating these traditional programs involves complex logistics in waste collection, transfer, and pre-processing, processing, and sale of recyclables in sometimes volatile markets. If Nova Scotia shifts to a full EPR program, responsibility for most of the blue bag materials will transfer to producers.

In 2019, the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities estimated that its 50 members spent a collective $25 million annually on residential recycling programs. Savings of that magnitude could present significant funding opportunities for new programs and projects that will help taxpayers and municipalities.

Nova Scotia has already implemented stewardship programs for electronics, tires, paint, used oil, filters, containers, glycol, and even dairy products. These programs remain limited as they operate like cost-sharing models. For the most part, municipalities in Nova Scotia currently build, maintain, and operate their own waste management programs for all other waste.

For Nova Scotia, shifting to a full EPR program would mean many other benefits, notably:

  • Significantly decreased costs and risks associated with municipal curbside recycling programs;
  • Municipalities, and their taxpayers, would save over $14 million per year;
  • Producers would be incented to innovate in both product designs and recycling methods;
  • Create more jobs in the recycling industry;

With national pricing structures from the large brand producers, Nova Scotians are already paying for cost increases from EPR programs implemented elsewhere. We are paying twice to recycle those products: once at point of sale and again through municipal taxes. In the absence of our own EPR program, Nova Scotia’s municipalities will have no option but to continue to shift the burden back to residents in the form of taxes and eco-fees.

Extended Producer Responsibility seems to be a program that would benefit Nova Scotia’s municipalities and taxpayers. Other jurisdictions have successfully implemented this approach to waste management and are reaping the benefits. Now appears to be an opportune time for Nova Scotian businesses, government, and consumers to think about what implementation of EPR would mean for our province.

A copy of Ontario’s Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act can be found here.

This article was written with the assistance of Haneen Al-Noman, a law student working at Cox & Palmer.

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