Twelve years after the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment presented a pan-Canadian Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) action plan, it is time for Nova Scotia to consider shifting the burden of municipal waste to producers.
In a traditional waste management system, municipalities are responsible for the collection and management of waste. With EPR systems, producers are fully responsible for the collection and management of waste resulting from the consumption of their products.
Think of everything from single-use plastics to electronics. In a traditional model of waste management, when a consumer throws these products away, they lose much of their value. Taxpayer-funded programs are then supposed to manage their elimination.
The EPR model transfers the costs of waste management to producers. It inspires producers to find new ways to reduce the waste resulting from their products and encourages them to recover, reuse and recycle. Most importantly, EPR changes our understanding of waste and presents it as a resource that, rather than being wasted, should be recovered and reintegrated into production and the economy.
Why is EPR important?
EPR recognizes that while the value of waste is to be fully extracted, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. Waste from electronics is different from waste from plastic or paper. Traditional waste management fails to capture this important nuance in waste management.
Producers, for their part, fully appreciate the content of their products. They are best equipped to create products and packaging that limit waste while reintegrating it into their production cycle. The EPR recognizes these realities and ensures that producers take responsibility for the life cycle of their products.
Of course, EPR also offers a myriad of other benefits, including:
- Save taxpayer and municipal money;
- Make recycling easier and more accessible to small rural and remote communities;
- Encourage proactive waste reduction;
- Encourage producers to reintegrate waste as a resource in their production.
The recent implementation of EPR in Ontario
British Columbia was one of the first Canadian provinces to implement EPR for packaging and Ontario also concluded that its traditional recycling system is not sustainable and recently passed its own EPR law. . Ontario plans to start shifting responsibility to producers from July 1, 2023. The aim is to ensure that December 31, 2025, growers will be fully responsible for providing recycling (“blue box”) services throughout Ontario.
Ontario’s new regulations shift operating costs from municipalities and taxpayers to producers and, presumably to some extent, to consumers. Switching to an EPR system will not only promote greater efficiency and innovation in waste management, but will save Ontario municipalities approximately $ 156 million per year.
Interestingly, Ontario’s regulations specifically provide for a standardized process of what can and cannot be recycled across the province. This means that there is now a consistent list of waste and materials that all residents of Ontario can recycle. The regulation also states that residents will have access to more recycling locations across the province. As a result, recycling for Ontario residents will be easier, more convenient and accessible – and much cheaper for municipalities and taxpayers.
A model for Nova Scotia?
Solid waste in Nova Scotia is regulated by the province and operated by municipalities. Municipalities have long asked the Province for EPR standards.
Under the traditional Nova Scotia system, municipalities must provide systems for the proper collection and waste management of all waste generated by residences. This means that as the costs of waste management increase, the only option for municipalities is to increase taxes.
The operation of these traditional programs involves complex logistics in the collection, transfer, pre-treatment, treatment and sale of recyclable waste in sometimes volatile markets. If Nova Scotia moves to a full EPR program, responsibility for most of the blue bag materials will shift to growers.
In 2019, the Federation of Nova Scotia Municipalities estimated that its 50 members collectively spent $ 25 million
annually on residential recycling programs. Savings of this magnitude could present significant funding opportunities for new programs and projects that will help taxpayers and municipalities.
Nova Scotia already has stewardship programs in place for electronics, tires, paint, used oil, filters, containers, glycol and even dairy products. These programs remain limited because they function as cost-sharing models. For the most part, municipalities in Nova Scotia currently build, maintain and operate their own waste management programs for all other wastes.
For Nova Scotia, moving to a full EPR program would bring many other benefits, including:
- Significant reduction in costs and risks associated with municipal curbside recycling programs;
- Municipalities and their taxpayers would save over $ 14 million per year;
- Producers would be encouraged to innovate both in product design and in recycling methods;
- Create more jobs in the recycling industry;
With national pricing structures from major brand producers, Nova Scotians are already paying for cost increases for EPR programs implemented elsewhere. We pay twice to recycle these products: once at the point of sale and again through municipal taxes. In the absence of our own EPR program, municipalities in Nova Scotia will have no choice but to continue to shift the burden to residents in the form of taxes and eco-fees.
Extended Producer Responsibility appears to be a program that would benefit Nova Scotia municipalities and taxpayers. Other jurisdictions have successfully implemented this approach to waste management and are reaping the benefits. Now appears to be the time for Nova Scotia businesses, government and consumers to consider what implementing 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 help of Haneen Al-Noman, a law student working at Cox & Palmer.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.